Saint Sebastian,
Painted by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656),
Painted circa 1623
Oil on canvas
© National Gallery, London

 

Saint Sebastian,
Painted by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656),
Painted circa 1623
Oil on canvas
© National Gallery, London

 

Gospel of 20 January 2022

Feast of Saint Sebastian

Mark 3:7-12

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lakeside, and great crowds from Galilee followed him. From Judaea, Jerusalem, Idumaea, Transjordania and the region of Tyre and Sidon, great numbers who had heard of all he was doing came to him. And he asked his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, to keep him from being crushed. For he had cured so many that all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he warned them strongly not to make him known.

Reflection on the Painting

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Sebastian (256-288AD). In our painting by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656), we see an almost lifeless Saint Sebastian pierced by four arrows. The arrows through his leg seems to come into our space with blood dripping from the pointed tip. Sebastian was a Roman centurion who converted to Christianity. When the authorities heard about his conversion, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered Sebastian’s fellow soldiers to tie him to a post and kill him with arrows. Miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. The widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome, went to retrieve his body to bury it, but discovered he was still alive. She brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health. 

Saint Sebastian later confronted the Emperor Diocletian himself and harangued him about his cruelties against Christians. This freedom of speech from a person who was supposed to be dead, greatly astonished the emperor. Diocletian subsequently gave orders for Sebastian to be seized and beaten to death, and his body thrown into the sewers of Rome. A pious lady, named Lucina, admonished by the martyr in a vision, then privately collected the body and buried it in the catacombs at the entrance to the cemetery of Calixtus, where now stands the Basilica of Saint Sebastian, in which is also to be found Bernini’s Salvator Mundi bust of Christ. 

Our Gospel reading today shows how much Jesus’ reputation had grown throughout the region. His magnetism attracted so many people not only there and then, but also through the ages. It is this same magnetism of Christ which inspired Saint Sebastian to give his life for Him.

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