Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Sebastian who was martyred in Rome in 288AD. Born to a wealthy Roman family and educated in Milan, he became an officer in the Roman army and a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. Unfortunately, his political connections didn’t help him in the end.
During the persecution of Diocletian, Sebastian visited imprisoned Christians and brought them supplies. It is said that he healed the wife of a fellow soldier by making the sign of the cross over her. He also converted many soldiers and even a governor.
Of course, we know what comes next. Arrested and charged as being a Christian, Saint Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows and left for dead. He did not die but, with the help of Saint Irene, survived. Once recovered, he went on to preach to the Emperor, ensuring certain demise. Arrested again, he was beaten to death for his crime.
Devotion to St. Sebastian arose in the 14th century during the plague. Because the spread of the plague seemed so random, people likened to being shot by “an army of natures archers”, and so Europeans invoked his intercession. Having survived the emperor’s arrows, they desperately prayed for Saint Sebastian’s intercession to help them survive the arrows of the plague. Thus, this 3rd century saint became a symbol in art of the suffering of the 14th century.
Now this is one of the things I just love about being Catholic: our deep, rich history as a people. In most walks of life, who remembers a captain in the army 1100 years earlier? Really, no one remembers unless, in the eyes of the world, he did something notable.
In the eyes of the world Saint Sebastian did nothing notable. In the eyes of the Church and those with faith, he did remarkable things. His notoriety most likely stems from the fact that he was a favorite of the Emperor, and yet, the Emperor executed him. How many others during that time period were killed simply for being Christian and remain unnamed and unnoticed by the world? How many others suffered the same fate through history? How many others suffer it today?
As Catholics, we know not their names, but we venerate them; we pray to them; we pray for them; with pray with them. We honor their sacrifice and their lives of virtue. They are part of the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) that surrounds us and cheers us on in “running the race” (Heb 12:1).
I delight in this imagery. Stop and think about it for a minute. A cloud of witnesses surrounds us and cheers us on. We don’t see them, but they’re there – all our saint buddies and their buddies and their buddies….a whole cloud. They want us to share completely in the glory of God – fully alive!
We never know what God may call us to do. As hard as it is to imagine, we may be martyrs for the Faith. Regardless, the call is the same: faithfulness to gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of His Church – in big things, like martyrdom, and in little things, like loving our neighbor as ourselves. One thing we do know for sure, is that He “who calls you is faithful” (1Thess 5:24) and will equip you for the call. For God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.
St. Sebastian, pray for us! Anne
As I write, my good friend and co-author, Barbara, is in the hospital with severe bronchitis complicated by asthma. Would you please join me in praying for her complete healing and recovery and restoration to health invoking St. Sebastian’s intercession? Thanks!