There have been some pretty tough times in the history of the Catholic Church, perhaps none so much as the the period known as the Great Persecution, which happened under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Wanting to renew the worship of Roman gods, he was determined to put an end to Christianity and return the people to their former pagan ways. As a means of achieving this end, Christians under his rule were persecuted more severely than at any other time. Many were forced to make sacrifices to pagan gods, and when they refused, they were tortured, beaten and killed… it was a very difficult time to be Christian. Yet it is precisely at difficult times like these, that God will pour His Spirit into just souls that are willing to give Him everything… willing to use the very blood that runs through their veins in order to condition the land so that the Faith may flourish and grow, spreading to others…That brings us to Saint Sebastian, and how he used the gift of his life to convert many others to the Christian Faith.
Sebastian was the son of Christian parents. His father was a noble man, so Sebastian had all the comforts that his family’s nobility could afford. By the time he was a young adult he had seen plenty of Christians persecuted. Even though he had an aversion to military life, he joined the Roman Imperial Army so that he could minister to the prisoners. He also saw it as an opportunity to try and convert the Roman soldiers. Of course, throughout it all, he would remain under the guise of being the perfect pagan… one could argue that he was the ultimate undercover operative for Christ.
Sebastian had a gift for healing and could often bring healing to those who suffered, just by praying over them, and doing the Sign of the Cross. Because of this gift, his reputation spread. With God’s influence, he was even able to convert the Governor of Rome, Chromatius. Not only was he a successful undercover agent for the Lord, he had a strong work ethic and was promoted to Captain in the Praetorian Guard. He was tasked with the specific duty of being the personal body guard of Emperor Diocletian. And for awhile, things went along as usual…so well, that Diocletian even developed a fondness for Sebastian… never suspecting that Sebastian was leading a double life… as a devout Christian pretending to be the perfect pagan. But after Sebastian healed a woman who had been mute, Sebastian’s cover was blown and Diocletain learned that one of his most trusted guards was in fact a Christian. This outraged the Emperor, not only was he furious that Sebastian was a Christian, he was also mad that Sebastian had been able to gain his confidence while living this double life, and working against his plans of returning Rome to her former pagan glory....
Letting his pride guide him, he demanded that Sebastian immediately be put to death. He had his soldiers strip Sebastian of his clothing and then had him tied to a tree. He ordered the soldiers to shoot arrows into Sebastian…hoping to inflict tremendous pain into his once trusted companion. It seems that the Emperor was trying to choose a most agonizing way for Sebastian to be killed.
After the Roman soldiers had used Sebastian as a target for their archery…and he hung from the tree, seemingly lifeless... the soldiers left his body tied where it was and returned to the Emperor to tell him that Sebastian was dead. After his body was abandoned, a woman named Irene came to remove the body for burial, but to her great surprise, Sebastian was still breathing. She immediately called for help and gathered up his damaged body and carried him to her house where she nursed him back to health.
Instead of hiding from the Emperor, as soon as Sebastian was able, he went to find Diocletian and let him know what he thought of his cruelty. He hid in a passageway, and as Diocletian approached, he stepped into the emperor’s path, startling the Emperor who momentarily fell into a state of shock at seeing Sebastian, whom he thought had died. But once he recovered, he ordered that Sebastian be put to death again, this time he ordered that he be clubbed to death. The guards seized the willing martyr and led him to his death. Clubbing him in a public square so that all could see…and more importantly so that all could verify that he was in fact dead.
After Sebastian was clubbed and his death was verified, his body was thrown into the sewers that ran along the city. After the Romans left, a Christian woman named Lucia, retrieved his body from the filthy sewers and buried it near near the catacombs under Rome. About eighty years after his death his remains were moved again, this time a cathedral was erected over his burial site, it is one of the seven principal Churches in Rome.
Saint Sebastian is often invoked for protection against the plague. Because in Roman times, the people thought that the petulance was being shot down from the heavens by angry gods who were shooting arrows of disease into the people. Millions of people were affected by the plague and died. In their desperation,the people constructed an altar and prayed for Saint Sebastian’s intercession, almost immediately the great plague came to a miraculous end. Saint Sebastian’s intercession has proven quite powerful for many areas that suffered from the plague, so much so, that he is often sought after in hopes that his intercession with God, will save the ravaged lands from the dreaded plague.
Saint Sebastian lived his life as a true soldier for the Lord. Oftentimes risking great danger or the threat of death to bring God’s hope and healing to those who were suffering in prisons. It takes great courage to constantly be putting oneself in such close contact with danger. It shows us that Saint Sebastian was totally committed to doing God’s Will in all things. We may never have to risk as much, but as Christians we should always be looking for ways to spread God’s Word. We should be actively working to convert and comfort those who have lost their way…those who have lost their hope. It may make us uncomfortable at first… but just think, if Saint Sebastian was able to give it all back to the Lord… just what might God want from us?