Bishop’s Homily for the Mass of 20 January 2015: Memorial of St. Sebastian, Martyr
Heb 6:10-20; Ps 111:1-2, 4-5, 9, and 10c; Mark 2:23-28
We celebrate today St. Sebastian, and I was surprised to learn that he was not killed by being shot with arrows. Did you know that?
The standard picture is of him being pierced with arrows, but it didn’t kill him.
He had confronted Diocletian, the emperor, and the emperor said, “Take him out and execute him,” so they shot him full of arrows and left him for dead, but he recovered.
Then later, when Diocletian was coming down the path, St. Sebastian again accosted him. Now that’s not very bright.
Diocletian, as the martyrology tells us, was surprised to see he was still alive because when you’re emperor and order someone killed, you expect your word to be carried out.
So he confronted him again and said, “You can’t be treating Christians this way,” and then Diocletian had him bludgeoned to death. So he did die a martyr practically twice, once by being shot with arrows and ultimately by being beaten to death.
It was because he believed the Gospel of Mark, which, as I mentioned last week, the beginning of which is, “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus is the Son of God, St. Sebastian believed that and so stood firm. And the Letter to the Hebrews tells us do not “become sluggish but be imitators through faith and patience of those who are inheriting the promises…. [Take] refuge [and] be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us” (Heb 6:12, 18).
This is the message, literally, of St. Sebastian, a message of “Do not be afraid, and hold fast to the hope, the hope of eternal life which lies before us.”