I was recently reading Leo Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych while waiting for a flight out of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Ivan is a dying government bureaucrat, who in his final days begins a conversation within his own soul:

“What is it you want?”

“I want to live and not to suffer,” his answer came back.

“To live? How?” his soul asked in return.

“Why to live as I used to—well and pleasantly,” Ivan responded.

And then, in his suffering, Ivan realizes that he never did live well and pleasantly.  In Ron Highfield’s God, Freedom, and Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture, Highfield discusses Ivan Ilych as a manifestation of Kierkegaard’s idea of worldliness:

…spiritually understood, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however selfish they may be for all that.

While reading this passage I looked up and caught sight the following advertisement for a Baltimore plastic surgery clinic:

BWI 768x1024 The True Beauty of St. Agnes of Rome

My head filled with thoughts of Ivan Ilych, I just had to stop and stare for a couple minutes.  The attractive woman in the ad seems neither old nor young.  With her long hair she looks as if she could be a carry over from the rebellious youth culture of the 1960s, which today, having won their rebellion and indoctrinated those who came after them, now dominate our every waking moment.  Unlike Ivan who suffered actual physical pain, modern culture now sees even aging itself as unnecessary suffering and alienation from the true you.

The Holy Virgin Martyr Agnes of Rome was born about the year 291 AD, and possessed great beauty at a young age.   Many young men pursued her for her looks, including one son of a powerful city official who asked her to marry him.  But Agnes had taken a vow of chastity when she betrothed herself to Christ.  When Agnes rebuffed his offer of marriage, the young man decided to destroy Agnes.  He reported her as a Christian, after which she was stripped and thrown in a brothel, burned, and finally martyred by a stabbing to the throat.  She was thirteen years old.

When I took the picture above I hadn’t even noticed the name of the clinic on the right side of the ad, promising passersby that they could “look like you again” at the St. Agnes Plastic Surgery Institute

Today, January 21st, is the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome. Holy Virgin Martyr Agnes, pray for us.