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Saint Sebastian
Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: 3rd Day of Sacred Heart, Year of Our Lord 2024
Colmar – Unterlinden Museum – Saint Martin, Saint Euchaire, Saint Sebastian – Anonymous, 1512 – Oil on wood.jpg

Saint Sebastian – Born 255, received his crown 287

His name means the blessedness of the heavenly city, because, as Saint Augustine says, he acquired the kingdom by his poverty, joy by his sorrow, rest by his labor, glory by his trouble, and life by his death. It also might mean the help of Christ, which is said to refer to the custom he had all his life of going to comfort those facing martyrdom.

Our saint was born in Narbonne in southern France and educated at Milan to be a knight for the emperors of Rome, two of which, Diocletian and Maximian, very much admired him and made him a captain of the Praetorian guards. This position he accepted with all of its pomp and grandeur (for instance, wearing a belt of gold) not because he loved these earthly rewards, but because he saw in it an opportunity to comfort the Christians who were being persecuted under those emperors.

The most famous martyrs which he comforted were two twin brothers, Ss. Marcus and Marcellianus, who were nobles of Rome and deacons in the Church, captured and commanded by the emperor to offer sacrifice to idols. They were imprisoned for thirty days in order to decide whether to apostasize. During this time, their friends were allowed to visit them in order to convince them to betray Jesus Christ and their faith. Their parents and friends did so, saying, “Whence cometh this hardness of heart that ye despise the old age of your father and mother which be now old? Ye get unto them new sorrows, the great pain that they had in your birth was not so great as the sorrow that they have now, and the sorrow that your mother suffereth is not to rehearse, wherefore right dear friends we pray you that ye will to these sorrows put some remedy, and depart you and leave the error of the Christian men.” Their mother came also and entered in weeping and tearing her hair, showing the parts which she used to nurse them when they were babes, and bewailing herself for losing the two sons which she had nursed, calling them sweet and fair, and begging them to have mercy and not choose their own death. Their father, too, returned and made similar entreaties. Can any of us imagine such great temptations as these which those martyrs faced?

It almost stole the faith of the glorious martyrs from them, but then our saint came to them, seeing their distress, and saying, “O right noble knights of Jesus Christ, wise and hardy, which be come to the victory and now go aback, and for a few blandishing words vain and miserable, ye will lose the permanent victory, lose ye not the everlasting life for the blandishing words of women, be ye example to other Christian men for to be strong in the faith, direct ye your hearts above the world, and lose ye not your crown for the weepings of your wives and your children. They that now weep, certainly should this day be glad and joyous if they knew what ye know. They think that there be none other life but this which they see before their eyes, which after this shall come to nought: if they knew what is that other life without death and without heaviness, in which is joy permanent and everlasting, without doubt they would haste them for to go with you unto that life and should repute this life as vain. For it is full of misery and also false, and since the beginning of the world hath deceived all its friends and conquered all them that have affection for it, for the world, she hath lied in her promise, yet doth she daily in this life more harm, for she maketh gluttons, and other she maketh lecherous, she maketh thieves for to slay, and the angry cruel, and the liars false and deceivable; she putteth discord among wedded and married people, and debate among the peacable, by the world cometh all malice and also felony. This evil do they that in this life put their desires and think to live long therein, and when they that thus serve the world have used their life in doing this evil aforesaid, then giveth she to them, her daughter, which is called death perpetual; that is the reward that the life of this world giveth to her servants that depart from this world unprepared, and bear nothing with them but their sins.”

Sebastian then turned to their parents and friends and said, “O ye my friends, lo, here the life of this world which deceiveth you in such wise that ye dissuade your friends from the everlasting life, ye burden your children that they should not come to the company of heaven, and to the permanent honor and friendship of the celestial Emperor, by your foolish words and your false weepings; if they should assent to your appeal, they should but a while dwell with you, and after should depart from your company where ye should see them in torments that should never end, whereas cruel flame devoureth the soul of miscreants and worshippers of idols, and the dragons eat the lips of cursed men, and the serpents destroy them that be evil; there where is heard nothing but wailings, weepings, and horrible cries of souls which burn continually in the fire of hell, and ever shall burn without dying. Suffer ye that your sons escape these torments, and think how ye may escape and let them suffer death for the love of Jesus Christ. Think not but they, when they shall be thus departed from you, go for to make ready your place and your mansion in heaven, where ye and your children may be in joy perpetual.”

When our saint had finished saying these words, a young man appeared clad like a knight with a great light, a white mantle, and seven angels. This messenger of heaven confirmed Saint Sebastian in grace. A woman saw this who had been mute for seven years and begged Sebastian for his intercession using hand signs, who prayed that the same who gave Saint Zachary his speech back would do so for this woman, which then occurred, and she opened her mouth to declare the sign of the angels which she had seen. Then, all those that had tempted the martyrs, and everyone present, converted and received baptism from Polycarp the priest who was present. They were seventy-eight in number. They spent ten days in prayer together afterwards. The father of the martyrs had been lame in his feet and hands for eleven years, and he was healed of this as soon as he received baptism.

After the ten days, the provosts of Rome called for the father who had been healed, who was named Tranquillanus. He told them that it was good they had given thirty days to his sons, because they would have died but instead had received life. The authorities interpreted this as meaning the two holy martyrs had decided to offer sacrifice to idols. They said they would call for them and see them make such abominable sacrifices, but the father corrected them, saying that “the name of Christian men is of great virtue”. They entered into dispute with him then. He demonstrated to them the folly of paganism, saying for instance, “Saturnus whom ye worship for god was lord of Crete, and ate the flesh of his children, how? Is not he one of your gods? And Jupiter his son, whom ye adore, which slew his father, and took his sister to his wife, what evil was this? How art thou in great error that adorest this cursed man, and sayest to the image of stone: Thou art my god, and to the stock of tree: Help me.” The provost said: “If there be none but one God invisible that ye adore, wherefore then adore ye Jesus Christ whom the Jews crucified?” Tranquillanus the father answered: “If thou knewest of a ring of gold in which were a precious stone, lying in the mire of a valley, thou wouldst send they servants for to take up this ring and if they might not lift it up, thou wouldst unclothe thyself of thy clothes of silk and do on a coarse coat and wouldst help to take up this ring and make a great feast.” At their confusion, he explained: “The gold of the ring is the body human, and the precious stone signifieth the soul which is enclosed in the body, the body and the soul make a man, like as the gold and the precious stone make a ring, and much more precious is the man to Jesus Christ than the ring is to thee. Thou sendest thy servants for to take up this ring out of the dirt or mire, and they may not. Thus sent God into this world the prophets for to draw the human lineage out of the ordure of sins, and they might not do it. And like as thou shouldst leave thy rich clothes and clothe thee with a coarse coat, and wouldst descend into the privy, and put thy hands into foul ordure to take up the ring, right so the majesty of God hid the light of his divinity by a carnal vestment, which he took of our nature human, and clad him therewith and descended from heaven, and came here beneath into the privy of this world, and put his hands in the ordure of our miseries in suffering hunger and thirst, and took us up out of the filth and washed us from our sins by the water of baptism. And thus he which despiseth thee because thou shouldst descend in a foul habit to take up the ring, thou mightest well put him to death. Thus all they that deny or despise Jesus Christ because he humbled himself for to save man, may in no wise escape from the death of hell.”

The officials called everything that this man said from the instruction of a mere ten days in the company of saints and martyrs “fables”, but they could not deny the healing of his infirmities, which they could see for themselves. So they demanded that he show them the medicine used, and he said it was belief in Jesus Christ that did it. They then demanded to see the man who had healed him, and Tranquillanus brought to him both Polycarp the priest who had baptized him and Sebastian our saint.

One of the provosts also suffered from infirmity and had offered Tranquillanus gold for the cure which he had found. Tranquillanus warned him of the crime of simony. Sebastian and Polycarp instructed him further in the faith, but Sebastian demanded that they destroy their idols before receiving a healing and promised him his health for permission to do it himself. The provost desired his servants to do it, but Sebastian told him that they were too afraid, because the demons who occupied the idols might wound them, and so it would be better for Sebastian and Polycarp to do it. They then received permission and destroyed more than two hundred idols. The provost did not receive his health. Sebastian accused him of hiding more idols. Then the provost revealed a secret chamber where his father had told the future by means of the stars shining upon goldwork on the floor. The son of the provost would not allow them to destroy this work because of the art and skill involved in it, unless they should prepare two furnaces to be burned in if his father did not receive his health. They agreed, had the furnaces prepared, and then destroyed the chamber. An angel appeared to the provost and restored to him his health, who then wished to kiss the feet of the angel, but the angel denied him because he had not been baptized. Then the provost, his son, and fourteen hundred of their household were all baptized.

The great company of martyrs began then to receive their crowns one by one, the first being the woman who had been mute and was tortured to death, which caused the father of the martyrs to declare, “Alas! Why live we so long? Women go tofore us to the crown of martyrdom.” He was then stoned to death and received his crown. The son of the provost then was next commanded to walk on hot coals, which when he made the sign of the cross, felt to him like walking “upon rose flowers”. He was then beheaded. The original brothers, Marcus and Marcellianus, were bound to pillars and tormented, and yet felt such great consolation that they said, “We were never so well fed, we would that thou wouldest let us stand here till that the spirits should depart out of our bodies”, and they were pierced to death with spears.

Our great saint, the comfort of martyrs, was accused to the emperor Diocletian because of this marvelous work of his. He was brought to the emperor, who declared his admiration for our saint, and then asked him why he had hidden his Christian faith from him when it so wounded the emperor and his gods. Sebastian answered that he had always prayed for the emperor’s health and that of the state of Rome to Jesus Christ, and to do so to stones was a great folly. The emperor in a fury then had him brought out to a field where he was bound to a stake and shot completely full of arrows such that he was compared to an urchin being full of quills. The next night a Christian woman went to bury him but found him alive, took him into her house, and cared for him until he was recovered. Many Christian men told him thereon to avoid the emperor, and yet he went to a stair where the emperor should pass by, and when he saw him, he said to Diocletian, “The bishops of the idols deceive you evilly which accuse the Christian men to be contrary to the common profit of the city, that pray for your estate and for the health of Rome.” Diocletian said, “Art thou not Sebastian whom we commanded to be shot to death?” Sebastian said, “Therefore our Lord hath rendered to me life to the end that I should tell you that evilly and cruelly ye do persecutions unto Christian men.”

Then the emperor brought him into prison and had him beat to death with stones. He had his body thrown into a privy. Our saint appeared later to a holy widow named Lucy and told her where to find his body, that it was hanging on a hook that was not defiled by the contents of the privy, and that she should wash it and bury it in the catacombs by the apostles.

Saint Sebastian, pray for us!