St. Sebastian: Story of a Catholic Jock
I’ve always admired athletes and average people alike who go the distance at their chosen task… and then go further still. As a personal trainer, I get immense satisfaction encouraging individuals to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. This inspired me to research saints who were known as much for their faith and piety as physical endurance and general jock-ness.
The primary character that comes to mind is St. Sebastian, the patron of athletes and a natural choice for an article about saintly studs. During the time Sebastian served in the Roman army, Diocletian was carrying out the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
All the while, our hero used his proximity to Christian prisoners to encourage and uplift them. His persuasiveness and charisma were such that he convinced Ss. Marcus and Marcellianus, who were being shaken in their determination by the tears of friends, to stay the course and accept God’s plan for their life (and death). In the course of these events, he also brought about the conversion of these prisoners’ parents, the jailer, and sixteen other prisoners.
What a powerful experience it would have been to hear St Sebastian orate to his fellow Christians, encouraging and strengthening them for the divers hardships ahead. Not only was Sebastian a motivational speaker of the first order, but he was a straight-up jock.
St. Sebastian served in the Roman army during one of its historical high points. A powerful and organized force, these men were in peak physical fitness. Outside of the military sphere, soldiers played a role in constructing bridges, ports, public buildings, and even entire colonies. Sebastian’s own job as Praetorian meant he also held a role in the elite, inner circle of soldiers. This guy was the best of the best.
The story of Sebastian’s “double martyrdom” is well known. Upon discovering his Christian beliefs, Diocletian ordered that Sebastian be shot to death by archers. Though he was riddled with arrows until he “resembled a porcupine.” St Sebastian miraculously survived.
Rather than cutting his losses and getting out of Rome, Sebastian returned to full health, only to stake out a spot he knew Diocletian would pass by and proceeded to call him out and condemn him for his persecution of Christians. For this, he was brutally flogged to death and thrown in the gutter.
Not only did Sebastian secretly and effectively encourage early Christians on the sly, he accepted his own martyrdom once, and then came back and practically begged for it a second time. I can see him staring down Diocletian and yelling, “BRING IT ON!”
God willing, we won’t be tested with torture and execution in our own life, but we can certainly look to St. Sebastian when we are feeling discouraged on our personal journey. Perhaps he can offer us an inspiring pep talk, butt heads with us, and send us back out on the field.