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January 20th
Memorial of St. Sebastian

Patron of athletes

Today we celebrate the patron of athletes and soldiers. I suppose it’s fitting that I’m writing this on the treadmill at the gym.

Sebastian was born in Gaul and educated in Milan. Around 248 he entered the Roman army. He was, by all accounts (and the painting by El Greco above), a very fit man. He had been raised a devout follower of the Way – a Christian- and his plan in enlisting was to infiltrate and try to be a source of comfort to his fellow Christians who were being lead to slaughter by the thousands every day. And it almost worked.

He had found favor with Emperor Diocletian; but when the latter moved East to Byzantium, Sebastian had to curry up to Dio’s co-adjutor, Maximian. This, too, very nearly worked. If it had, however, the rest of the story would not have happened and we would not be talking about this great man as a saint.

He was quickly “found out” by the emperor and sentenced to death. The exact sentence? Shot to death by arrows. You didn’t expect bullets, did you? And so, tied to a tree, Sebastian was shot up and left for dead.

A true athlete, my confirmand, Bobby. Go Cougars!

But like the line in Monty Python he could exclaim “I’m not quite dead yet!!!”. Seems his peak physique had saved his butt. A pious widow unstrapped him and nursed him back to health. Again, his next move might not have been his wisest but you know him today so let’s go with it. He showed himself to Maximian who first freaked and then ordered the job be finished for good – this time with clubs. And this time he went home to God. Again, it was a holy Christian woman who retrieved his body and gave it a proper burial in the catacombs of Rome.

Perhaps owing to his being extremely jacked he has always been invoked by athletes. As in “St. Sebastian, my lungs just collapsed on this bike! Help!!!”

But if you think about it, Sebastian did what he had to do. Do you think he wasn’t afraid? I’m sure he was since he hid his faith at first. What he did that was extraordinary was to reach out to his people in need – some simply in need of a kind smile on their way to the lions. And for this he was martyred… TWICE!

Now if only Bruce Jenner could find the patron of bad facelifts…

Poor Bruce…