Virgin and martyr. These titles are those that the Church has chosen to sum up the crowning achievements of Saint Agatha, whose feast day we celebrated this past Friday. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Catholic traditions surrounding the veneration of saints, labeling a person according to her sexual habits (or lack thereof) and cause of death might seem a peculiar way to extol someone’s holiness. Those who are more familiar, however, likely glance over these designations without giving them a second thought. In fact, it seems like whenever a woman saint’s feast day comes around we are celebrating yet another virgin and martyr.
This preponderance of female virgins and martyrs populating the Church’s liturgical calendar might give one the impression that the only way for a woman to achieve sainthood is to swear off men, die for the faith, or (better yet) both. One might wonder, “What’s up with the Church’s fixation on virginity?” Truth be told, this fascination is not limited to the Catholic Church. In our present day and age, when gratuitous sex is the entertainment industry standard, meeting a virgin—at least for adults in some circles—can seem like the equivalent of encountering an endangered species or perhaps a unicorn. (They do exist!)
Take for example “Jane the Virgin”. This title could easily be lifted from a book on the lives of the saints, but in fact it is a relatively new comedy series. (With witty writing, colorful characters, and hilarious pokes at the telenovela genre, the show is very much worth watching.) Motivated by a childhood promise to her beloved abuela and her desire to avoid repeating her mother’s mistakes, the show’s protagonist has maintained her commitment to save herself until marriage well into her 20s. Needless to say, Jane is quite surprised when she discovers that she is pregnant, as it turns out, on account of an emotionally distraught doctor mistaking Jane for another patient who was supposed to be artificially inseminated.
Throughout the series, other characters are typically shocked when they learn that Jane is a virgin. Even her own mother seems to think it would do Jane good to satisfy her natural desires from time to time. Only her devoutly Catholic grandmother, a relic of an era gone by, unfailingly supports Jane in her (relatively) chaste lifestyle. Despite sometimes feeling like a bit of a freak, Jane is determined to achieve her plans for a perfect life, which she believes would be compromised should she lose her virginity and become pregnant. When she does improbably (miraculously?) become pregnant, Jane is initially distraught. It was all for nothing. Her life is ruined despite all her sacrifices. However, as the series progresses, Jane comes to look upon her motherhood as the greatest blessing of her life. Read More