The Roman General— St. Eustachius – continued (7) – final.
Feast Day: September 20th.
Next morning, the 20th of September, A.D. 120, the people were hastening in tens of thousands to the Coliseum. They knew what had taken place; they had heard of the condemnation by the Emperor, and surprise and indignation at the discovery that the general belonged to the hated sect of Christians seemed to be expressed in the frown on their darkened features. Had he been an assassin, or a highway robber, or a political prisoner, who had plotted the ruin of the Empire, pity would have been murmured on every lip, a reprieve would have been called for, and the mob would have saved him; but deep and bitter must ever be the animosity of the demons who ravel in the spirit of error and wage war against the truth. A marvellous and intense hatred of the Catholic Church has ever been the characteristic feature of unbelief, from paganism down to every shade of modern Protestantism; the intensity of that hostility may be measured in proportion to the total or partial rejection of revelation.
No nation could be sunk more deeply in idolatry, sensuality and vice than the great Empire whose capital has been considered the Babylon of impiety spoken of in the Apocalypse. “Our wrestling,” says St. Paul, “is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph. vi. 12). It was not in an amphitheatre stained with the blood of wild beasts and gladiators, and filled with an excited and unfeeling crowd, that the voice of pity or reason could be heard; the impatient clamours of the multitude denounced the Christians as the enemies of the gods and men, and the public condemnation of the Christian general had already rung loudly and repeatedly through the benches of the Coliseum. . . . The crowd called for the condemnation of the Christians, and the Emperor gave the order that Placidus and his family be exposed to the wild beasts.
They were led into the arena in chains. They were silent and rapt in prayer. The editor of the games asked them again to sacrifice to the gods, they refused. The keepers were told to let in some wild beasts to devour them. A death-like stillness reigned around. Every one was struck with their fortitude; no screams of terror, no trembling, no supplications for mercy, no heart-rending and frantic farewells; all was calm and tranquil; they awaited on bended knees with majestic resignation their awful doom. The iron doors of the subterranean keeps grated on their hinges; two lions and four bears rushed into the arena.
They would not touch the martyrs but gambolled around them; one of the lions endeavoured to get his head under the foot of Placidus ; the saint permitted it, and a more beautiful or thrilling sight was never seen in the arena of the Coliseum. The king of the forest voluntarily put himself under the foot of the unarmed old man, and crouched down as if with fear and reverence. “Goad the animals!” shouted the enraged Emperor to the keepers. “Goad them on!” “Make them devour!” rang from every tier, from the senators, the vestals, and the maddened populace of the upper circles; but the animals turned on their keepers, and drove them from the arena. Other animals were called for, but they only served to enhance the scene of triumph, and respectfully licked the feet of their intended victims. He who made use of an animal to bring Placidus to the light of faith, and afterwards to be the instruments of his trial and his sorrow, now made them declare His love and protection over His servants.
The indignation and shame of the pagan Emperor was roused to the highest pitch; his impotent rage and natural cruelty broke forth, and to gratify his brutal passion, he commanded the martyrs to be placed in the bronze bull, and to be consumed by a slow fire. This was a horrible instrument of torture and execution used for the persecution of the Christians. It was made in the shape of a bull, and could hold several persons at the same time in its hollow womb; when fire was applied beneath, it became an oven, and it is not difficult to imagine the excruciating torture a slow fire must have caused to its living victims. We find from several authorities that this dreadful instrument of execution was in use both before and long after the time of Adrian, and thus many martyrs were put to death.
In this way Placidus and his family received their crown. Almighty God wished to show it was His will, and not the commands of the Emperor, or the instruments of torture that deprived his servants of life, by performing a great miracle. After three days the bodies of the Saints were taken out in the presence of the Emperor; no trace of fire was to be seen upon them; they exhaled a beautiful odour, and seemed to be lying in a sweet sleep. Their relics were laid on the ground for several days, and the whole city rushed to see the wonder. As Almighty God does nothing in vain, many were converted by this miracle, and became fervent Christians. The bodies of the glorious martyrs were stolen by the Christians, and were afterwards buried, together with the brazen bull in which they suffered, on the spot where their martyrdom took place. A beautiful church sprung up in the very earliest ages of Christianity over the shrine of Eustachius and his family. That divine institution which spreads its maternal wings over every sacred deposit left in her bosom has preserved with scrupulous care the shrines and relics of the heroes of the past. In the very heart of modern Rome there now stands a favourite church, which has been rebuilt and repaired several times during the last fifteen hundred years, and still commemorates the name and preserves the relics of the brave and virtuous Placidus. In the same urn lie the hallowed remains of his faithful spouse and children, awaiting the trumpet call of the angel of the last day. . . .
We can scarcely give the reader a better proof of the authenticity of these Acts than by referring him to the sanction given to them by the Church; for in the oldest editions of the Roman Breviary, the lessons for the feast of the 20th of September give this strange tale in an abbreviated form.
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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