Saints, Givers of Strength
stories about St. Sebastian praise him for his support of Christian
martyrs. Pope Cajus, his contemporary, called him the Protector of
the Church, because Sebastian used his strength to strengthen others.
right: Greco's face of Sebastian
Is this what
ancient soldier saints like Sebastian teach us? To use our strength
for others? It may be his message for society today.
Our society exults
in strong bodies, strong minds and strong personalities. In fact,
we make gods of the strong. Strength is a favored tool of personal
development as people throw themselves into sports and programs that
build minds and bodies. Seldom do we ask: Is strength being put to
good use, is it helping others?
The soldier saints
were celebrated in the early church because, at great risk to themselves,
they committed their strength to others, especially people in danger.
It was their shining virtue. Unfortunately, they are not well received
in the world of modern Christian spirituality, which hardly mentions
them at all. Better to honor mystics, founders of religious families,
those who care for the poor, than those who fight battles.
But soldier saints
recall a kind of holiness we may have forgotten. They remind us that
it is a holy task to stand in harm's way in unpopular wars or on dangerous
city streets, which soldiers and law enforcement officers do today.
It is also holy -- and dangerous -- to speak against corruption and
side with the weak.
In recent months,
a new commissioner of police in Philadelphia made a strong appeal
to his officers to reach out and serve the poor and vulnerable in
He was calling
them to be soldier saints.