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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On St. Sebastian the Great Encourager by Chris White

Saint Sebastian (martyred c. 288 ad) is the patron saint of archers and protector against plagues which seems a bit absurd to me as archery was the method of the first attempt on his life. Failing to die being shot full of arrows, Diocletian ordered him to be clubbed to death. By that same logic, Sebastian should also be the patron saint of people who join clubs, go “clubbing”, or hunt baby white seals in the arctic! Actually St. Sebastian has a long history of being a beloved martyr of the Christian Church because of what he did with his life more than for his heroic death. Sebastian became a Christian in Rome during a terrible time of persecution. Rather than keep a low profile he did what some would call ‘hiding out in the open’ and joined the Praetorian guard. A skilled soldier, Sebastian was well-liked by his fellow soldiers and even the emperor. By being on the inside, Sebastian frequently dealt with Christians who were taken into custody and would encourage them to remain steadfast. In other situations he was able to relieve their suffering and give them humane treatment without drawing undue attention to himself. Eventually Sebastian was found out and was subjected to death by being shot through with arrows. When some of his fellow Christians came to bury him, they found him clinging to life and took him home and nursed him to health. Now out in the open with his faith and strong enough to walk around, Sebastian paid a surprise visit to Diocletian and denounced his cruel treatment and persecution of the Church. This criticism was met with a couple of Roman soldiers who were ordered to bludgeon him to death outside of Rome on the Appian Way. Of course Sebastian’s bravery in standing up for his fellow Christians is an example we all need in this era where the politically correct thing to do is marginalize people of faith or ignore those persecuted (as in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and China). But I believe the greater example from Sebastian is that he made it his mission in life to encourage and strengthen those who were in a fiery trial of their faith. Never underestimate the power of encouragement. Sebastian lived out Hebrews 10:24-25 which enjoins Christians to consider how they may stimulate one another to love and good deeds and encourage each other as the day of the Lord draws near. May we all have a heart like St. Sebastian!