The Roman General— St. Eustachius – continued (4).
Feast Day: September 20th.
The great capital of the Roman Empire is all in commotion. News has been brought from the East that the Persians and other nations had broken over the frontier and were devastating everything before them. Preparations were made for war on every side. Old veterans were brushing up their swords, and armies of young men were pouring in from the provinces. Fresh rumours of the advancing foe gave new impulse to the excitement, and an expedition of more than usual magnitude and importance was speedily equipped. The haughty soul of Trajan, who still sat on the throne of the Caesars, could not brook for a moment the slightest infringement on the Empire, or the diminution of his own glory; and he lost no time and spared no expense in striking quickly and heavily on the daring enemy. But to whom will he commit his warlike legions and the very fate of the Empire. There were none but young and inexperienced men around him. He thought of Placidus, the commander of his horse, who had carried the tide of victory, in years gone by, to the farthest limits of the Empire, the great general who was the idol of the army and the terror of every foe. Rumour said he was still alive, but retired from public life. Trajan seized the rumour with all the avidity of a man whose hopes had been blasted and was risking everything on a last chance. He offered immense rewards to any one who would discover the retreat of Placidus, and bring him once more at the head of the iron legions of the Empire. In burning anxiety and doubt he delayed the departure of the expedition from day to day, hoping that some tidings would come of his favourite general. He was not disappointed, for Placidus was found.
Two veterans, named Antiochus and Achacius, started off towards the Egyptian provinces in search of Placidus. Their wanderings and unceasing inquiries seemed fruitless, when one morning, as they were giving up the search, and were about to return to the sea-shore, they came up to a beautiful and well-kept farm, and a short distance from them they beheld a poor labouring-man at work. They went towards him, and made inquiries if a Roman citizen named Placidus lived in those regions. The two soldiers thought they saw something in the old man which reminded them of their general; the nobility of his appearance and bearing seemed to tell of one who had seen better days; they even thought they saw in his worn features, browned by the sun and wrinkled by grief and care, some traces of the amiable features of Placidus; yet, it could not be; their general an exile, a labourer in this miserable place! What reverse of fortune could have reduced him to this change? how could so great a man be cast from such honour and glory to such obscurity and poverty ? But he who stood before them in the tattered garments of a poor labourer had already recognized two of the bravest veterans of his legions. The memory of the wars and battles and victories of other days flashed across his mind; the very places these two men took in the defeat of the enemy, their bravery by his side in the field of battle, and the scars they received in the bloody fight—all rushed on him in a moment, and roused every great and brave feeling of his soul. He was about to run towards his companions in arms and embrace them, but prudence held him back, and by an act of self-control he suppressed his excited feeling. Drawing himself up majestically with a sigh, which alone told of the struggle that passed within, he asked: “Why seek you Placidus?” Whilst Antiochus was recounting how the enemies of the Empire had once more declared war in the East, and the Emperor wished to intrust to that general alone the care of the expedition, and had sent the soldiers who served under him to all parts to seek him, Placidus could no longer contain his feelings, and opening the rude garment that covered the scars on his breast, he showed them to the astonished veterans, and told them that he was the general they sought. Another moment and they were hanging round his neck, and shedding tears of joy.
Rome was once saved by the brave Cincinnatus taken from his plough to defend the threatened city. Like the great chief of old, Placidus was received with the universal joy of the people—the confidence of the army was restored, and new life appeared in all the troops— battles and triumphs were anticipated and declared before they were fought or won. The Emperor was filled with delight; he embraced his former master of the horse, listened with interest to the history of the vicissitudes of his loss and grief; and, placing around his waist the golden belt of consular command, begged of him to draw his sword once more in the cause of the Empire. The holy man had already recognized, in the humility and prayer of his heart, the great change that had come over his circumstances so strangely and so suddenly, as the disposition of the loving providence of God, and prepared, even in his old age, to mingle again in the din of arms and fatigues of war. During the days of his trial and resignation in the lonely vineyards of Egypt, the Divine Spirit had revealed to him that a day of restoration to all he had lost in this world would soon dawn on his gloomy path. Here is the first step in the fulfilment of his dream; let us see how God brought about the rest.
Whilst Placidus is casting his rough army into shape, and exercising his soldiers in the terrible science of bloodshed and war, we must retrace our steps for a moment, and take a glance at the poor, wretched Theopista, whom we left in the bark of the tyrant captain who cruelly tore her from her husband and her children.
Doubtless, in the sympathy of his pious heart, the reader has pitied her in her affliction, and hoped that some fortunate circumstance may have saved her. But has Almighty God ever abandoned His servants when the angelical virtue was threatened? Who more powerful before Him than the innocent defenceless female? In the history of the past no virtue has had more visible protection from Heaven than chastity; no vice has caused more terrible vengeance than impurity. The prayer of the virgin for the protection of her innocence not only pierced the clouds, but drew from them the electric bolt that struck the oppressor with judgment. Fear not for the virtuous and faithful Theopista; God is her shield, and who can prevail against the Most High? The means He adopted to protect His servant were silent, consoling, and merciful. He did not strike the impious captain with a sudden and terrible blow of merited retribution, but he breathed on his heart a sentiment of tenderness and pity that made him blush for his cruelty and impiety towards the young mother. Scarcely had the fair wind wafted the little ship out of sight of Theopista’s husband and children, than the sobs which grief was pressing from her breaking heart struck a fibre of pity in the feelings of the pagan captain. At the same moment Almighty God removed the stimulus of the flesh, and made him love and admire in his captive a virtue he never knew before. The virtuous soul is like the fruit-tree in blossom, that gives fragrance to every breeze, and spreads a delicious odour on the atmosphere around. The sublimity of virtue that shone in the fidelity of the Christian matron, the patience and forgiveness of that suffering child of misfortune, so completely won the pagan, that, from being her enemy and oppressor, he became her protector and guardian. He landed Theopista at the next port he touched at, and gave her money and goods to maintain her for some time. She, too, had her share of trial, and fifteen long years of suffering and exile proved her worthy of the joy and crown that were awaiting her.
Everything was ready, and the expedition started for the East. The spirit of joy and bravery which animated the soldiers was the harbinger of the greatest triumphs. They poured in thousands through the eastern gates of the city; and, whilst the morning sun was reflected from their burnished battle-axes and spears, the tombs of their mighty dead, which lined the Appian Way, were made to echo once more with the war-songs of the irresistible legions of the Empire. The octogenarian leader—the Christian Placidus—brought up the rear of the march, and was drawn in a chariot by two beautiful Arab horses.
We need not tarry long over the oft-told tale of Roman triumph. The legions poured like Alpine avalanches into the country of the enemy, crushing in their course everything that was opposed to them. Not only were the rebellious subjects reduced to submission, but the conquering eagle spread its wings over new dominions, and new provinces were added to the boundless territory of the Caesars.
The meekness and skill of Placidus knew how to turn everything to profit; few of his conquests were purchased with unnecessary bloodshed and carnage. He pardoned freely, and never retributed the resistance of a brave people by the retaliation so terrible in the annals of pagan warfare.
Every army has its heroes. The campaign of Placidus was nearly at an end before its real soldiers were known. Where the conquest was easy all were brave, but a moment of danger and trial came, and the laurels of fame fell to those who won them. The army was surprised in an ambuscade, but was saved by the prompt action of two youths belonging to the Numidian corps. They were two brave young men who had met each other for the first time in the ranks and became friends. They were strolling outside of the camp when the cry “To arms” was heard. They rushed like startled lions to the front and cheered on their companions; they fought together against fearful odds, but their battle-axes were wielded rapidly and skilfully, and dealt destruction on every side. With a few brave companions they withstood the progress of the enemy until their own army had come up to the rescue; such brave and unexpected resistance sent a panic through the enemy, and they fled with terrible massacre; some thousands were slain, and the army of opposition was so completely destroyed that it never stood in the field of battle again.
The general had seen what had passed, and when the battle was over, he sent for the young heroes who had saved the army, raised them to the rank of captain, and bestowed on them the honour of his intimate friendship.
The army had passed on from triumph to triumph, and we must now open the scene of our tale on a wild plain on the coast of Arabia, where they were encamped before the return to the great capital. There were a few little huts of fishermen on the sea-shore, and here and there, along the banks of a fertile stream, some pretty little houses surrounded by gardens and vineyards. Amongst them there was one more beautiful than the rest, and running on a gentle slope towards the river. It belonged to a poor widow, who lived by the fruits of her little garden and the labour of her own hands. Here the old general, wearied and fatigued from the hardships and privations of the campaign, pitched his tent, and arranged to remain some time before undertaking the fatiguing journey of return. Near him he had the two young captains, whom he had made his confidants, and treated as if they were his adopted children. Doubtless the old man saw in the youth and beauty of the young men what his own sons would have been if they had been spared to him. Some invisible attraction made him love them tenderly, and he could not bear them to be absent from his side. They, too, grew in the deepest friendship with each other; a similarity of feeling and disposition, a secret love for virtue, and a certain trait of nobility in every thought and action, not only knit them together in inseparable bonds of harmony, but enhanced them in the love and esteem of all who knew them.
One day, as was their custom, they strolled together along the banks of the little stream. Everything was fresh and beautiful around them; the birds sang in the trees; and the flowers, that grew in great abundance in the vicinity of the stream, spread a thousand odours on the gentle breeze that rippled the waters. The young soldiers sat down under the shade of a fig-tree and entered into an animated conversation. The elder was a tall, handsome young man of about eighteen years, and seemed about two years older than his companion. He was of a gentle, silent disposition, and often seemed rapt in thought as if some cloud hung over him. His younger companion noticed this to be particularly the case on the day in question, and during their conversation he would frequently pause and look abstractedly on the little stream, which was rapidly rising and swelling up to its banks from a heavy shower which had fallen in the neighbouring mountains. In that familiarity which their tried friendship permitted, he affectionately asked his companion the cause of his trouble.
“It is now some time since you and I first met,” we can imagine the young officer to have said, “and I have all along thought you had some secrets locked up in your heart which it would console and interest me to hear. Do tell me your history, that I may participate in your sorrow. You know I am your friend.”
The other looking on him with kindness, and as if reading his countenance to see if he were in earnest, grasped his hand, and turning his eyes towards heaven, gave a sigh; then drawing his companion nearer to him, he said, in an excited manner: “Yes, I will tell you a strange story, but you must not betray my secret. I am a Roman citizen and a Christian.”
The young man started up as if a clap of thunder had burst over him, but the other, preventing him from saying a word, and calling him by his name, continued in a kind and majestic tone: “Although I enlisted in the Roman army in the same province as yourself, I was not born there. My father was a Roman general and a man of great esteem. I remember when I was but five years of age, one day he went to hunt, as was his custom, and did not return until an early hour the next morning. He came home in an excited state, and said things that made my mother weep. The following night, when all was dark and still, they took me and my little brother, who was only three years old, to a dark cave in the earth, and after we had passed some winding and gloomy corridors, we entered a little room beautifully lit up. There was an aged man sitting on a stone chair, and he wore a beautiful stole round his neck. The walls of the little room were covered with beautiful paintings of men in rich garments, of fishes and lambs, and I remember the picture of a man nailed to a cross. The venerable old man spoke to my father and mother for a long time. I do not remember all he said, but he spoke of the true God whom the pagans did not know, and all the good things God had done for man—how He loved him, how He died for him, how He promised him eternal happiness hereafter. My parents were very much affected, and I remember my father wept again as if he had done something wrong. Then the aged man poured water on our heads, and called us all by different names; my name was Agapius. I knew by all this that I was made a Christian and a child of the great God he spoke of. After this many prayers were said, and when leaving that strange place, my father and mother seemed very much rejoiced.
Soon after my father suffered the loss of all his property; his cattle and horses died of a terrible disease; even our slaves and servants also died; and we left the house and went to a vineyard outside the Nomentan Gate. While away, my father was robbed of all he had, and was reduced to poverty. Then one night, taking my brother and myself and mother, he led us to the sea-shore, and we got into a ship, and were fifteen days on the rough sea. When we came to land, my father and my little brother and myself were sent on shore, but not my mother, and the little ship went away with her immediately. Oh! I shall never forget the grief of my poor father on that occasion.”
He buried his face in his hands and wept for some time, and a tear stole down the cheek of his young companion. Looking up again, he continued his tale amid tears and deep sighs.
Then rising suddenly, he took my little brother in his arms and me by the hand, and we went into the country. We came to a river that was running very rapidly, and as my father could not take us both over together, he bade me remain on the bank whilst he took my little brother over first, promising to come back for me. But while my father was crossing the stream—oh! I shall never forget it!—a terrible lion came out of the woods and seized me. A shudder passed over his companion; he seemed all excitement, and cried out—
“How strange! But tell me how you were saved. “ He seemed much agitated ; some words had come to his lips, but he repressed them and listened with motionless anxiety to the remainder of his companion’s story.
“Well,” continued the young captain, “I screamed for help, but it was too late. The lion caught me in his mouth—I have still the marks of his teeth on my body—and carried me towards the forest. Fortunately there were some shepherds passing by, and when they saw me they set their dogs after the lion. One of the dogs caught hold of me and was pulling me from him, when the lion let me fall and seized the dog, and went away with it. The shepherds carried me to their little house, and a good woman put me to bed and took care of me. I recovered, and grew up in that house; but I never saw my father or my brother since then.” Seizing his companion by the arm, and his eyes suffused with tears, he said: “Wonder not, my friend, that I am sad ; this stream, those trees, and this wild plain in which we are encamped, remind me of those terrible scenes of my youth. Can I ever forget that day on which I lost father, mother, brother, all?” He could say no more, but buried his face in his hands again and wept bitterly.
He remarked, during the recital of his story, that his young friend was getting more and more excited; and from time to time gave expression to incoherent sentences and ejaculations of surprise. “Strange! It must be! Oh, joy!” was all the young man could say. After a moment’s silence, he cried out, with energy and excitement: “Agapius, I believe I am thy brother.”
The other started. “How! speak! say why thou thinkest so—or dost thou trifle with my sorrow?”
The young man replied quickly, and with agitation: “I too lost my parents in my youth. The people who brought me up told me they saved me from a wolf near the stream of Chobar; that I was of a noble Roman family, for I had around my neck this golden ornament.”
Whilst he was putting his hand into his breast to look for the ornament, the other sprang to his feet in excitement, and cried out: “Show it! has it got on it the name of Theophistus and the Ides of March?”—“Yes? here it is.” Agapius, recognising the amulet his mother had put round his neck on the morning after their baptism, caught the young man in his arms, and cried out: “My brother, my brother!”
Further explanations placed the fact beyond doubt, and the two brothers remained for hours together, every now and then embracing each other with tears of affection. They told each other all the particulars of their after-lives. Theophistus was saved from the wolf by some ploughmen, who saw the child in its mouth and, rescuing him, brought him up as one of their own children. They were reared some miles apart from each other and did not know it; but God, whose ways are inscrutable, brought them together in the Roman army, that he might restore them to their lost father and mother, as the reward of their patience and virtue. The joy of the young men was to be increased by another discovery more consoling and more extraordinary. The reader knows it already; the general is their father.
When the excitement of the first moments of recognition had subsided, they agreed to repair to their general to inform him of the extraordinary discovery they had made. They found the old man in his tent, sitting at a rude table; his face was covered with his hands, and he seemed rapt in meditation and thought.
The eldest rushed towards him and told him he had strange and joyful glad news to tell him. The old man raised his head; his eyes were moist, and a cloud of gloom mantled his brow. Looking with a parental smile on the cheerful youth, he said to him—
“Speak, then, my child, for thy joy shall be mine; the happiness of others makes us forget our own sorrows; thy words will come like sunshine breaking through the gloom of my heart. Alas! this day has sad reminiscences for me. It is the anniversary of a series of misfortunes which deprived me of my wife and my children.”
He paused for a moment, and raising his eyes, dimmed with the filling tears, towards heaven, exclaimed: “But it was the will of Him who reigns above; He gave, and He took away: blessed be His Holy Name!”
The young captain was astonished. It was the first time his old general prayed to the true God before him. A thousand thoughts rushed into his mind; he knew not whether he should first declare that he too was a Christian, or relate the discovery of his brother. He loved the old man as a father, and his softened heart melted once more to see his veteran chief in sorrow. A few hasty explanations sufficed to reveal the truth that he was talking to his own father. Another moment, and the young men were hanging round his neck, and the old chief was pressing his brave sons to his heart. Let the imagination paint the picture that no pen can draw. One moment of joy like this outweighs years of the darkest trial. But the dark and stormy night of Placidus’ trial is passing away, and the brilliant sunshine of reward is rising over him—a sunshine which, during the rest of his life, will be clouded but for a moment, to usher in the dazzling brightness of eternal, unchangeable bliss—that moment will be death by martyrdom for the faith of Christ.
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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