The Roman General— St. Eustachius – continued (5).
Feast Day: September 20th.
Whilst the events we have recorded were taking place, there was a great commotion in the camp. A courier had arrived in great haste. He announced the death of Trajan in Selinonte (a town of Cilicia), and the election of Adrian by the army. This election had been confirmed by the Senate, and the army of Placidus was ordered to return immediately to join in the triumph accorded by universal acclamation to the ashes of the deceased Emperor. The soldiers under Placidus had been nearly two years absent, and were wearied with the fatigues and privations of war. They hailed with delight the news of their return. Deafening shouts that announced the glad tidings had reached the tent of Placidus before the courier could be brought before him. The messenger, foot-sore and covered with dust, handed the general a parchment roll, on which was written—
“It has pleased the gods to raise us to the throne of the Empire. We decree a triumph for the army of Placidus, and command our brave general to return forthwith to the Capital.”
The general held the parchment for a few moments in his hands; he became abstracted; raising his eyes slowly towards heaven, he said: “Thou art setting, thou brilliant sun of my hopes—those grand destinies foreshadowed in prophetic whispers are fast gliding into realities. Aye!—to Rome!—to triumph!—to martyrdom!”
He then gave orders to strike the tents and prepare for general march on the morrow. Dismissing all from his tent he remained alone to commune with God in gratitude for the felicity of that day. He paced his tent rapidly; the vision of his future martyrdom passed before him. We hear, in fancy, the majestic tones of his fervent soliloquy:—
“Aye! to triumph!—to step from the golden chariot to the tomb—to climb the glittering heights of the Capitol amid the shouts that rend the heavens with blasphemies against my God—to kindle the fires of impure sacrifice to the demons of idolatry! Rather shall Placidus be cast on the burning pile, and be himself the victim.
“In the dreams of young and misguided ambition I coveted the honour now within my grasp, but in the light of the higher destiny that follows, tis but a beautiful shadow that floats before the infatuated fancy, like gilded bubbles on the stream, that break into thin air when we attempt to seize them.
“My children! will ye drink of my cup? Will you ride in the same chariot, and drink a chalice of earthly joy till you reach the atrium of the temple of Jupiter; then be bound to the same stake; the flames of our funeral pyre, shall send our freed spirits to the land of eternal triumph, where the shout of real joy shall ring out the congratulation of Heaven’s choirs for our Christian victory!
“Poor Theopista! thy noble soul is still wanting to complete the holocaust! Art thou pining away in some villain’s home?
“Perchance you died in youth ; it may be bow’d
With woes far heavier than the ponderous tomb,
That weigh’d upon thy gentle dust—a cloud
Might gather o’er thy beauty, and a gloom
In thy dark eye, prophetic of the doom
Heaven gives its favourites—early death.”
He was interrupted by a servant announcing that the poor woman who owned the garden on which his tent was pitched, wished to see him. Placidus was not a proud, austere man, who left the business of the poor to be transacted by a cruel and heartless official. He was accessible to the roughest soldier in his camp, as well as to the highest of his officers. By a sign of his hand, he signified assent to have her brought before him.
She seemed advanced in years, and the victim of much sorrow. Her attenuated frame, and the meanness of her dress, told of want and poverty; yet her bearing was noble. Her eyes were bloodshot, and showed signs of much weeping; tears had traced their own channels down her cheeks; but her countenance still, in all its tender expression of care and grief, showed evident traces of beauty, nobility, and innocence. Having entered the tent, she fell on her knees before Placidus, and said:—
“Great chief and leader of the armies of Rome! I beseech thee to commiserate the sorrows of a poor unfortunate woman. I am a Roman citizen. Some years ago I was separated from my husband and children and brought here by force for unlawful purposes; but I pledge my word, before thee and before Heaven, I never lost my fidelity to my husband and my children. I am here an exile, in sorrow and misery. I ask thee, by the love thou bearest to thy own spouse and children, to take me back to Rome—to my friends—to my—”
She could say no more. In her excitement she sprang to her feet—she clasped her hands—and looking fixedly at Placidus, she recognized her husband. At the moment she appealed to him for the love he bore his spouse, the aged general raised his hand to his forehead to hide the ever ready tell-tale tear of his afflicted heart. In turning his head he exposed a large scar on the back of his ear; the quick eye of the matron recognized the wound her husband received in the Judaic wars, and one steady look at the worn and changed features of Placidus convinced her. She rushed towards him, and with sobs that choked every word:
“Tell me, I beseech thee, art thou Placidus—the master of the Roman horse—whom the true God spoke to in the mountains of Italy—who was baptized—called Eustachius—lost his wife—”
“Yes! yes!” interrupted Placidus. “Knowest thou of her? Speak!—does she still live?”
The poor creature made an effort to throw herself into his arms, but, overcome by emotion, fell to the ground, crying out, “I am Theopista!”
The weakened frame of Theopista could not bear the shock of the sudden discovery. When motion returned, she was still delirious, and seemed like one who saw a beautiful dream passing before her. At times her reason returned, and she would ask, “Is it true? Does the evil spirit create phantasms to deceive me? Oh; how good is God!”
Another hour, and the little tent of Placidus was the scene of joy seldom felt on this side of the grave. Four widowed and bleeding hearts were healed; the husband and the spouse, the parents and the children, after years of separation and trial, were thrown together and recognised in the space of a few hours. Almighty God had never abandoned them for a moment from the time He decreed the vicissitudes which were to try them; finding them faithful, He knew how to reward. The flood of joy which He pours on the faithful hearts of His servants is but as a stray rivulet of the mighty stream of ineffable delight that inundates the souls of the beatified. If Christians would remember that God watches with a special providence over the afflicted—that the troubles and trials of life are often directly sent by Him—how many a pang would lose its sting, how many a bitter loss and disappointment would become, not only supportable, but the source of interior peace! The troubled soul humbly kneeling before the crucifix is the type of the true Christian. If the strange history of Placidus should fall into the hands of any one in trouble, let him, like that brave and generous soul, await the dispositions of Providence without blasphemy, suppressing even a reproachful thought towards God, and every murmur of impatience; as sure as the hour of trial and affliction is long and dark, so shall the hour of reward come quickly, brilliantly, and unclouded.
Greater joy than the soul can long bear in its earthly tenement is prepared by God for this happy family. Their union here is to last but for a few weeks. When the camp was struck, and the army on the march to Rome Placidus knew, by inspiration, that he was going to the last and most severe struggle which God had in store for him—his triumph in death over self, the world, and the powers of darkness. He gave all his time to prayer and the instruction of his sons in the sublime morality and doctrine of the Christian faith. He asked a favour from God, which was granted—that as He had deigned, in his mercy, to bring him again to the embraces of his family, the happiness of their union might never again be clouded by separation; that if the testimony of his blood were demanded for the defence of the faith and the glory of the Church, his spouse and children might partake in the same last crowning favour of the Divine mercy.
Whilst the legions are on their march from the East, let us go before them to the great capital, and prepare our readers for scenes that are about to follow. The beautiful and touching history of the noble Roman general is to have a tragic termination—one of the brightest in the pages of the Church, but one of the darkest in the long annals of pagan ingratitude and cruelty.
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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