Walking with young adults on their faith journey over the past twenty years has been one of the greatest privileges of my life! There are of course many challenges, but overall all I am filled with hope and optimism as I watch the Holy Spirit touch so many young lives, especially on our college campuses.
One of these challenges is seeking new ways to invite young people to enter more deeply into a life of faith or perhaps to take a fresh look at Christianity. That is why I wrote Agnes’ Gift.
Agnes’ Gift centers on an agnostic teenager going through a difficult time. Her friendship with a faith-filled, elderly neighbor and an unopened Christmas gift under the tree lead her on a journey with her guardian angel through the mysteries of the Rosary, where she discovers the power of the Gospel and its relevance to her own life.
Please enjoy this excerpt, where Jenna’s extraordinary journey begins.
It was nearly midnight, but Jenna was still wide awake, because she was on school vacation and had slept late the past few mornings. She had just returned from spending Christmas Eve with her father and his side of the family, and she’d come home with bags full of opened presents. She hadn’t eaten much of the elaborate Italian feast that was a Christmas Eve tradition in her family. Her depression over losing Agnes surely contributed to her loss of appetite, but she also sensed there was more to it. Even deeper in her heart than her grief was a feeling of restlessness, a sense that a significant change was beginning to take place inside her, but she was unable to perceive what it could be.
In the time leading up to Christmas, Jenna had been bored. Christmas had always been her favorite time of year — the anticipation of gifts, her family coming together, vacation from school — but this year seemed different. Jenna was becoming aware of a longing for something more meaningful in her life, and she sensed that this had something to do with her friendship with Agnes. It felt as if something in Agnes had rubbed off and begun to work inside her. It was like a spark jumped from Agnes’ heart into hers and was moving around within her.
As Jenna sat beneath the Christmas tree, her gaze kept returning to that unopened present from Agnes. As long as it remained unopened, it was somehow as if Agnes were still alive, as if there would be one last conversation, one last precious word from her. Knowing that Christmas Day was almost there, Jenna began to dread opening that gift, and for the first time in her life, she dreaded the arrival of Christmas Day.
Just after this anxious feeling came upon her, peace gently washed over her coming to her like a surprise visit from an old friend. It brought with it a sense of well-being that reminded her of the peace she once knew as a young child, surrounded by a loving family and before turmoil had entered her world. At first, she thought she could feel Agnes present, sitting right next to her. This feeling put her at ease, then faded as she became aware of an even deeper peace.
While Jenna sat resting in this sensation, she saw a bright light next to the Christmas tree, out of which stepped the most exquisite creature she ever saw. He was tall and slender with long wings that ran from well above his head to the base of his back. His white garment had gold trim around the collar and base of the sleeves, and he wore a golden rope tied around his waist. His entire being radiated gentleness, and a soft hue, barely perceptible, surrounded him, giving him a consoling quality.
Although there was a softness about him, his eyes burned with a love that seemed to purify all he looked upon. As she gazed upon the angel, she felt as though she was standing before the most beautiful sunrise. The experience absorbed her whole being.
The burning question in Jenna’s heart jumped out from her lips, so that the sound of her own voice took her by surprise. “How are you so beautiful?”
The angel smiled in a way that drew Jenna out of herself, and she could feel her grief melting from her heart. “God made me this beautiful for you.”
With those words, she felt love envelop her entire being so profoundly that she did not know if it rose up from within or embraced her from outside, but a feeling deep in her heart told her that she was looking upon her guardian angel.
The angel moved closer with an outstretched hand, carrying a white rosary and offering it to Jenna. It was brighter than any white she had ever seen. He looked expectantly toward Jenna, who sensed he would not proceed until she accepted the rosary.
She hadn’t prayed the Rosary since she was a young child, but many times when she would stop in to visit Agnes, her friend would be slowly moving the beads through her fingers, deep in prayer. Although Jenna took it for an old-fashioned habit that she didn’t want to waste a precious visit with Agnes asking about, there was one time that she inquired.
Jenna could still see the expression on Agnes’ face, as though she longed to share something meaningful and close to her heart. “This prayer is my gateway to Heaven.” Jenna often wondered about those words but could never quite figure out what they meant. How could such an apparently monotonous prayer bring Agnes so much joy?
Strengthened by this memory of Agnes, who seemed so close, Jenna took the rosary into her hands. She didn’t dare speak, but rather stood watching for what the angel would do next. It was the first time in nearly two weeks that her heart didn’t ache from losing Agnes. Jenna felt alive in the angel’s presence and every care, every anxiety, melted away. He had come from the place that is the source of every consolation, and Heaven’s residue ac-companied him. It was as if pain was not permitted into that moment.
“Jenna,” the angel said, “Come with me on an adventure through time, and indeed beyond time, into the eternal. We will enter the mysteries that are the source of all life and that possess the power to make your heart whole. In your hands, you hold the key. Let us go together on this unforgettable journey.”
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About the author: Kristelle Angelli has worked full-time in young adult ministry since 2000. She is currently the Catholic Campus Minister at Emerson College, Boston, and Framingham State University. Kristelle holds a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA, and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from St. Michael’s College, Winooski, VT. When she is not working, Kristelle enjoys Taekwon-do, or can be found kayaking or snowshoeing near her home in Andover, MA.