Today we honour the memory of the Italian Dominican nun Saint Agnes of Montepulciano, noted for her piety and simplicity of life. She was revered as a mystic and many miracles were attributed to her both before and after her death. Saint Agnes died on this day in 1317 and was canonised by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
Saint Stephen was chosen by the Apostles to take care of the distribution of material goods among the poor, because this task was taking up too much of the Apostles’ time. The Apostles were supposed to be praying, preaching, and teaching, but they also knew that practical ministries like food distribution were just as important. So they took extra care to choose deacons of exemplary character and holiness as well as the ability to serve.
But what do we see Saint Stephen doing? He worked miracles, he countered opponents’ objections, and he was the very first to suffer martyrdom.
Some of us may like to take centre stage and perform more visible ministries instead of the humble, hidden tasks that may come our way. But far more important than what we do is how we do it. Anything, from preaching and teaching to cleaning the community toilets, can be done either in our own strength or with God’s grace. What counts with God is not that we get our name in the headlines, but rather the attitude with which we do whatever job we have been asked to do. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that greatness consists in doing small things with great love.
Many saints have followed in Saint Stephen’s footsteps. For example the Canadian Holy Cross brother Saint André Bessette wasn’t considered clever enough to become a priest, and so he spent his life scrubbing the floors, cleaning toilets and answering the priory door. He gave all the credit to Saint Joseph when people began to experience miraculous healings when he prayed for them. Saint John Vianney struggled to become a priest and spent most of his ministry hidden in the confessional—and yet people flocked from all over Europe to find their faith resurrected in his presence.
Let us ask all these saints to help us accept whatever we are asked to do, and to do it in the power, not of our own strength, but of the Holy Spirit.