At the beginning of the second century, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, there lived in Rome a famous general by the name of Placidus, who was distinguished among his fellow-citizens for his wealth and military prowess. It happened one day, that while following the chase he became separated from his companions, and was pursuing with eagerness a stag of extraordinary size, when suddenly it turned toward him, and he beheld raised aloft between its antlers the image of Jesus Christ suspended on the cross. At the same time our blessed Saviour addressed him in loving words, inviting him henceforth to follow Him by embracing the Christian faith, and to make eternal life in future the object of his pursuit.
Faithful to the grace which he had received, Placidus on his return home communicated the heavenly vision to his wife Tatiana, who informed him that she too had been favored with a heavenly apparition. Together they went immediately to the Pope, related their experience, and after due instruction received Baptism.
At the sacred font Placidus received the name of Eustachius, and his wife was called Theopista, while his sons were baptized by the names of Agapitus and Theopistus.
Upon returning to the spot where he first received the call, Eustachius was favored with another communication from Our Lord, announcing to him that he was destined to endure many and great afflictions for the sake of Christ. It was not long before his faith and patience were put to a severe trial. Stripped of all his possessions and forced to flee from the fury of the persecution, he was reduced to extreme distress, and in the course of his wanderings was by a series of calamitous events separated from his wife and children, of whom he lost all trace. For many years he dwelt in a remote spot, following the occupation of a farm laborer, until he was found by the messengers of the emperor, who was sadly in need of the skill of his former general, because a fierce war had broken out, in which the Romans sustained severe losses.
Being again invested with the command of the imperial troops, Eustachius set out for the seat of war, and achieved a decisive victory. In the course of his march he had the happiness, by a singular providence of God, to recover his wife and children, with whom he returned to Rome. His entrance into the city was attended with great rejoicings, and many were the congratulations which he received on his extraordinary good fortune. But soon afterward a solemn sacrifice of thanksgiving to the pagan deities was proclaimed, in which he was ordered by the emperor to take a part. Upon his refusal, after every effort had been made to shake his constancy, he was condemned to be exposed to the lions in the public amphitheater along with his wife and children. Finally, as the savage animals, laying aside their natural ferocity, refused to injure the confessors of Christ, Eustachius and his family were by order of the emperor enclosed in the body of an immense brazen bull, which was heated by means of a great fire enkindled beneath. The last moments of these heroic martyrs was spent in chanting the divine praises, in the midst of which their happy souls passed to the enjoyment of everlasting bliss. Their bodies, miraculously preserved uninjured, were buried with great devotion by the faithful Christians, and were afterward transferred to a magnificent church erected in their honor.
Hhow inspiring, to see a great man preferring justice, truth, and religion to the favor of the mighty, readily quitting estate, friends, country, and even sacrificing life, rather than consent to do violence to his conscience; and to see him, at the same time, meek, humble, patient in suffering, forgiving sincerely and loving his unjust and treacherous persecutors! Passion and revenge often beget anger and triumph over virtue and integrity. Ambition and the desire of wealth may, for a time, urge men on to brave danger, but finally they reduce them to the most abject slavery, and result in grievous crimes and misery. Religion alone is the source of charity, magnanimity, and true courage. It so enlightens the mind, as to place a man above the vicissitudes of the world; it renders him steadfast and calm in adversity, preserves him from error, teaches him to bear injustice and calumny in a tranquil spirit, and gives him that ineffable peace and joy which springs from the conviction that God’s will is always most just and holy and that He protects, aids, and rewards His servants.
Does religion exert this powerful influence on us? Do we show it in our actions and conduct? Our courage and constancy must be apparent not only when we encounter danger and opposition, but also when our evil propensity urges us to yield to temptations that present sin to us in the guise of pleasure.
Prayer of the Church
O God, who dost permit us to celebrate the remembrance of Thy blessed martyrs, Eustachius and companions, grant us, that we may enjoy their company in eternal bliss. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.