20 January: Feast of Saint Sebastian. Born into a noble family in Gaul (present-day France), Sebastian was educated in Milan. He was an undercover Christian most of his life. He joined the Roman Imperial army to keep his cover as a typical noble pagan so that he could minister to persecuted Christians. He moved quickly through the ranks of the army. Known for his valor, determination and strength, he soon became an officer and then the dearest soldier of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian spent much of his time converting fellow soldiers, as well as prisoners, to Christianity. During the period of prosecution of Christians, he is believed to have visited a soldier’s wife in prison and cured her of her illness by drawing the sign of the cross on her forehead. He was known to be a gifted healer. Sebastian was discovered to be a Christian when he converted the Roman governor, Chromatius, to Christianity. Upon his conversion Chromatius resigned from his post and freed sixteen fellow converts from prison. Because of this, the Emperor Diocletian came to the conclusion that Sebastian was a Christian and ordered him to be tied to a stake in a field and shot to death by arrows. Archers riddled his body with arrows. His body was described as “full of arrows as an urchin.” Believed to be dead, the archers left his body for burial. He was recovered by Saint Irene of Rome, whose Christian husband was a servant to Diocletian and also martyred. Irene discovered that Sebastian was still alive and she hid him and nursed him back to health. As soon as his strength returned, Sebastian went off to confront Diocletian. He found the emperor on the steps of the imperial palace. Furious that Sebastian was still alive, Diocletian demanded of his entourage, “Did I not sentence this man to be shot to death with arrows?” But Sebastian responded “the Lord kept me alive so I could return and rebuke you for treating the servants of Christ so cruelly.” This time, the emperor took no chances. He ordered his guard to use clubs to brutally beat Sebastian to death, right there on the palace steps, while he watched. Once he was certain that Sebastian was truly dead, Diocletian had the martyr’s body dumped into the Cloaca Maxima, Rome’s main sewer. Christians recovered his body and secretly buried Sebastian in a catacomb known ever since as San Sebastiano. Nearly 80 years after his death, his remains were moved and one of the seven principal churches of Rome was built over his relics and burial site. Saint Sebastian is the patron of archers, athletes, and dying people.
Saint Sebastian is also invoked as a patron against plagues. Once, a plague was afflicting the Lombards. When they built an altar to Saint Sebastian in the Church, the plague ended.
Saint Sebastian, incredible healer, evangelist, and model Christian, Pray for Us!
Ideas for celebrating in your home:
- St. Sebastian’s Day is marked in Sicily and in Kerala, India, with huge celebrations. Try a Sicilian or Kerala dish for dinner tonight: Here is a Kerala recipe for chicken curry.
- For dessert, enjoying a red velvet cake is always a fitting way to remember a martyr. A red tablecloth, napkins, or candles also remind us of the liturgical color for martyrs.
- If you have an athlete in your family, teach them the athlete’s prayer to Saint Sebastian.
- Click here for a free St. Sebastian coloring page!
(sources: CatholicCompany.com and Catholic.org)