The Roman General— St. Eustachius.
Feast Day: September 20th.
BEFORE introducing to our reader the extraordinary records that have come down to us regarding the great St. Eustachius and his martyred family, it may be well to contemplate for a moment a grand and consoling feature of triumph which Almighty God vouchsafed to His servants in the days of persecution. Although hundreds of martyrs have gone to heaven from the arena of the Coliseum, yet few have been killed by the wild beasts. This strange fact is a beam of sunshine amid all its horrors of cruelty and bloodshed. He who knew how to change the ferocious nature of those animals which prowl through their native mountains and deserts in search of food, so that they became the protectors and even companions of His hermits and solitaries, made them (instead of being the instruments of the most awful death) the defenders of the chastity of His virgins, and the witnesses of the sanctity of His saints. The great Creator of all things intended the dumb animal to be the servant of man, and, with a few exceptions, He refused to allow it to be the executioner of the innocent. One of the most consoling pages in the history of these terrible times, is the oft-repeated miracle of Daniel in the lion’s den; not, however, in the silence and darkness of the gloomy cavern into which the youthful prophet was cast, but under the noon-day sun, in the great amphitheatre of the capital of the world, and before 100,000 spectators. Miracles have been destined by God to be the handmaids of truth and the medium of conviction. In the visible interposition of His power in preserving His servants from the fury of the beasts in the Coliseum, He presented to the pagans of Rome an incontestable proof of the divinity of Christianity, and a mercy they knew not how to appreciate. If the old walls of the Coliseum could speak, they would tell us some consoling scenes of the triumph of the martyrs and their wonderful preservation. St. Eusebius, who was eye-witness to some of those terrible scenes, describes with eloquence and feeling how the furious wild beasts were unable to harm the Christians, and would turn on the pagans with destructive rage. “Sometimes,” he says, “they rushed on the naked and defenceless champions of Christ, but checked as if by some divine power, they returned to their dens. This happened repeatedly, and excited the wonder of the spectators; at their demand the first wild beast having been abashed, a second and third were sent against the same martyr, but to no effect.
“You would have been filled with admiration,” he continues, “at the steadfast intrepidity of those holy champions, and at the immovable fortitude displayed by persons of the most tender years. You might have seen a youth who had not yet completed his twentieth year, standing motionless in the midst of the arena with his hands stretched forth in the form of a cross, as he prayed with fervour to God, and not shrinking from the spot in which he stood, even when the bears and leopards, breathing forth rage and death, almost touched his very flesh with their jaws. Again, you might have seen others thrown before an enraged bull, which attacked the pagans who came near him, tossing them with his horns into the air, and leaving them to be taken away half-dead. But when with rage and bellowing he rushed upon the martyrs, he could not approach them, but stamping on the ground with his feet, tossing his horns to and fro, and breathing forth rage and madness, by reason of his being irritated by red-hot goads, the infuriated animal was, in despite of all, held back by an invisible hand. Other wild animals having been tried to no purpose, the Christians were at last put to death by the sword, and their relics, instead of being interred, were consigned to the surges of the deep” (Eccles. Hist., book viii).
The scenes described by Eusebius were frequent all over the Empire. Wherever the name of Christian was found the persecution raged. It would seem that Almighty God adopted this means to give His infant Church publicity and a sign of the stamp of divinity. Hence in His mercy and goodness He made the persecutions the fruitful harvest of souls. Baronius mentions (An. 307) that in the persecution of Diocletian, when the slain were counted by thousands daily, the holy Pope Marcellus had to appoint twenty-five new parishes in the city, to baptize and instruct the people who multiplied beneath the sword. The hideous and execrable character of the barbarities to which the Christians were subjected, with a view not only to force them to apostatize, but to deter others from embracing the proscribed belief, had the very contrary effect. As to the martyrs, persons of both sexes, and of the tenderest and most infirm age, not only bore their sufferings with superhuman fortitude, but hailed them with joy, as tending to the greater glory of God and the conversion of the pagans. Their very persecutors were forced to applaud the heroism of those whom they so bitterly hated, and to feel disgusted and afflicted at the atrocities they were once so vociferous in demanding.
The reverence which the animals shewed the martyrs is touchingly displayed in a scene we will quote from the Acts of three martyrs of Tarsus, given in the Annals of Baronius, under the year 290. They did not suffer in the Coliseum at Rome, yet their martyrdom took place in another amphitheatre of the Empire, and the records of their death serve as a sample of what generally happened in those days of horror. These martyrs, Tharasius, Probus and Andronicus, had been tortured in a most cruel manner at Tarsus in Cilicia; they were conveyed thence to Mopsueste, and were again submitted to the most horrible barbarities, and a third time they were tormented at Anazobus; so that being covered all over with wounds, and their bones being broken and wrenched from their sockets, when the Governor Maximus wished to have them finally exposed in the amphitheatre to the wild beasts, it became necessary for the soldiers to press men from the streets in order carry thither their almost lifeless bodies.
“When we beheld this,” say the three devout Christians who wrote the Acts, and interred the relics of the martyrs, “we turned away out faces and wept; but when their mangled frames were cast down from the men’s shoulders on the arena, all the spectators were horrified at the sight, and began to murmur at the president for this order, and many of them rose up and left the theatre, expressing their dislike of this ferocious cruelty; on which Maximus told his guards, who were near him, to take down the names of all who acted thus, that they might be afterwards brought to an account. He then commanded the wild beasts to be let loose on the martyrs and, when they would not touch them, he ordered the keepers to be scourged. A bear was then let out which had devoured three men that day; but crouching at the feet of Andronicus, it began gently to lick his wounds, and continued thus mildly to demean itself, not withstanding that the martyr plucked its hair and tried to irritate the animal. Then the president, in a fury, ordered the lancers to run the bear through the body: and Terentianus (the editor of the games) dreading the president’s anger, determined to make sure by letting in on the martyrs a lioness which had been sent from Antioch by Herod; but the lioness, to the terror of the spectators, began bounding to the place where they were reclining; and when at length she came to the martyrs, as it were kneeling down before Theracius, who dragged and annoyed her, she seemed, by cowering down submissively, to attest her veneration, conducting herself less like a lioness than a lamb. Shouts of admiration burst forth from the whole amphitheatre, overpowering Maximus with confusion; who screamed to the keepers to infuriate and goad on the lioness. But the beast, with another bound, broke through the palisade back to her den, and the manager, Terentianus, was ordered to proceed, without further interlude, with the gladiators; directing them first to dispatch the martyrs with their swords.”
There are on record one or two extraordinary facts where animals refused to touch slaves who were cast to them; but these were exceptional cases of recognition and gratitude a trait of nobility often found more practised in the brute creation than in reasoning man. Our readers are familiar with the story of Androclus and the Lion.
Seneca also mentions in his 2nd Book, and 9th chap., De Beneficiis, that a lion would not touch one of his keepers who was condemned to be exposed to the wild beasts. In the life of St. Sabba, a fact similar to that of Androclus is mentioned, and the grateful lion lived at the monastery with his monks.
These facts, interesting and strange as they may be, were not miracles. There was no more of the supernatural about them than there is in the fidelity of a dog, who would lose his life in defence of even an unkind master. It is only the interposition of the divine power that can stay the enraged animals in their spring upon a defenceless victim, or make them crouch at the feet of persons they could never have seen before, whilst at the same moment the very men who fed them become victims of their rage. These wonders Almighty God worked in behalf of His servants; and the great St. Eustachius, with his family, is another instance of this wonderful preservation.
In the life of this great martyr we have one of the extraordinary sacred romances of the second century, a conversion more wonderful than St. Paul’s, a life of trial and affliction like the patriarch Job, and a glorious death by martyrdom, the most terrible in the annals of persecution. No sensational novel of modern days ever detailed the imaginary vicissitudes of life more strange and more interesting than what we have here in reality, and handed down to us with all the authority of history. There are men accustomed to doubt of everything strange in history, and they smile with sarcasm at our credulity in believing some of the most sacred records of the past; but we will first give an epitome of the extraordinary events of the life of St. Eustachius, and then show that we are recording a scene from the pages of ecclesiastical history, the truth of which there is no reason to doubt.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
Of the Consideration of the Misery of Man.
II. Many unstable and weak men are apt to say: Behold how well such a one lives, how rich, how great, how mighty and powerful!
But attend to heavenly goods, and thou wilt see that all these temporal things are nothing, but very uncertain, and rather burdensome! because they are never possessed without care and fear.
The happiness of a man consisteth not in having temporal things in abundance: but a moderate competency sufficeth.
It is truly a misery to live upon earth. The more a man desireth to be spiritual, the more this present life becomes distasteful to him; because he the better understands and more clearly sees the defects of human corruption.
For to eat, drink, watch, sleep, rest, labour, and to be subject to other necessities of nature, is truly a great misery and affliction to a devout man, who desires to be released and free from all sin.–Thomas à Kempis–Imitation of Christ Bk I, Ch XXII pt II.
September Devotion: The Holy Cross.
Virtues to practice: Piety, fervor in the performance of sacred duties, the spirit of prayer.
Mary, most holy Virgin and Queen of Martyrs, accept the sincere homage of my filial affection. Into thy heart, pierced by so many swords, do thou welcome my poor soul. Receive it as the companion of thy sorrows at the foot of the Cross, on which Jesus died for the redemption of the world. With thee, O sorrowful Virgin, I will gladly suffer all the trials, contradictions, and infirmities which it shall please our Lord to send me. I offer them all to thee in memory of thy sorrows, so that every thought of my mind, and every beat of my heart may be an act of compassion and of love for thee. And do thou, sweet Mother, have pity on me, reconcile me to thy divine Son Jesus, keep me in His grace and assist me in my last agony, so that I may be able to meet thee in heaven and sing thy glories. Amen.
An indulgence of 500 days
Crux mihi certa salus.
Crux est quam semper adoro.
Crux Domini mecum.
Crux mihi refugium.
The cross is my sure salvation.
The cross I ever adore.
The cross of my Lord is with me.
The cross is my refuge.
His Holiness, Pope Pius IX., by an autograph rescript, June 21, 1874, granted to all the faithful who, with at least contrite heart and devotion, shall say these prayers, drawn up in the form of a cross by the Angelic Doctor, S. Thomas Aquinas: AN INDULGENCE OF THREE HUNDRED DAYS, once a day.
Adoramus te, sanctissime Domine Jesu Christe, benedicimus tibi; quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.
We adore Thee, O most blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, we bless Thee; because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.
His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII., by a rescript of the S. Congr. of indulgences, March 4, 1882, granted to all the faithful who, with at least contrite heart and devotion, shall recite this ejaculation: AN INDULGENCE OF ONE HUNDRED DAYS, once a day.
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