Feast Day: January 20th
We all know the story of St. Sebastian. Who? Soldier, in the Praetorian Guard of Diocletian. What? Christian, converting others. Where? From Gaul, now in Rome. When? 300s. Why? …
Why did a sturdy, young man, in the prime of his life, rising towards the highest ranks of the Roman army, make such a big deal out of his faith that he got himself killed for it? Sebastian knew Diocletian was not a fan of Christians, and was looking for somebody to scapegoat and throw the power of Rome against. He knew, as a Praetorian guard, that his actions were going to be doubly scrutinized for fidelity to the emperor. He knew that Marcus and Marcellian, twins also in the guard, and deacons in the Church, had been imprisoned after refusing the usual sacrifices. And yet, when the twins’ affluent parents, Tranquillinus and Martia, came to try and convince their sons to just offer the incense and not get themselves killed, Sebastian converted them, and then he converted the prefect, Chromatius, who had imprisoned them to the true faith.
Diocletian had Sebastian tied to a stake and shot at for target practice. He survived! He came back to Diocletian and called him out for his persecution of Christians! The emperor, shocked that he was alive, and that this minion had the gall to confront his emperor, had him beaten to death and thrown in a sewer. This time, the crown of martyrdom was granted to him.
Why make a scene? Why convert others to the faith when it was just going to get them, and him, killed? Why go backafter you survive martyrdom the first time around? Why not just go along with the incense thing, drop a pinch on the charcoal, say a prayer to Jesus under your breath, and live a normal life?
Because as Christians “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Cor 8:6). Perhaps you have heard those words before? Perhaps you have not realized that Paul is taking the most important prayer of the Jewish faith, the shema, the great prayer professing belief in one God – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord;and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. (Dt 6:4) – and St. Paul finds Jesus within that prayer. It is a breathtaking, marvelous, astonishing twist in the saga of salvation history. God is one, and God is three.
Everything the Jews practiced – keeping the sabbath holy, circumcision of their sons, following the dietary laws, reciting daily prayers and psalms, following the decalogue and torah – all these were cultural means of maintaining their worship of the one true God. As Christians, we do not have such cultural norms, instead, we, from every culture under heaven, must conform our lives completely to Christ, Our Lord.
Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Ephesians 2:5-11)
Because every time we receive Holy Communion, we are giving our lives as living sacrifices in union with the one sacrifice of Christ. We are offering ourselves crucified with Christ to the one true God, committing ourselves to adoring Him alone. We choose to announce Him as the only true King, and to conform our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, to be like His, and to be His alone!
St. Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers, athletes, and plague-victims. His Eucharistic faith, His Eucharistic commitment, His Eucharistic self-sacrifice must be an example to all of us of our Eucharistic belief in One God, and a reminder that every day offers us the chance to recommit ourselves to that belief.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin once was with Bishop for a Confirmation and realized that 6 of the young guys, who had all conveniently, and humorously, arrayed themselves in the front row, had all taken St. Sebastian as their Confirmation patron. My usual vocation spiel immediately changed as I challenged those guys, and myself, to be willing to lay down our lives for our One Lord.