(LifeSiteNews) — The twentieth of September marks one of the saddest events in history. At the height of her power, in the glorious days of Pepin and Charlemagne, the eldest daughter of the Church had crowned her mother; and the Church, in the person of her head, reigned in reality, as well as by right until, a thousand years later, Satan took advantage of the fallen state of France, to despoil Peter of the patrimony which ensured his independence. The Holy Cross is still shedding its rays upon us!
Today a group of martyrs, and this time a whole family – father, mother, and sons – take up their position around the standard of salvation. While the antiquity of their cultus in both East and West rests on the best authority, the details of their life are extremely vague. Could Placid the tribune, whose exploits are recorded by Josephus in his Wars of the Jews, (Josephus, De bello Jud. iii. 3, 4, 13; 4:2; 5:3) be the same as the Eustace we are celebrating today? Does the genealogy of our saint connect him with the Octavia family from which Augustus sprang? Again are we to recognize as his direct descendant the noble Tertullus, who confided to St. Benedict his son Placid, the favorite child of the holy patriarch, and the proto-martyr of the Benedictine Order? (Gregory, Dialogos, ii. 3) Subiaco long possessed the mountain designated by ancient tradition as the site of the apparition of the mysterious stag; Tertullus may have bequeathed it to the monastery as his son’s patrimony. But we have not space enough to do more than record the fact that these questions have been raised. (Kircher, Historia Eustochio-Mariana, P. ii, iii)
There could hardly be a more touching legend than that of our martyrs.
Eustace, otherwise called Placid, was a Roman, illustrious for his birth, wealth, and military renown, so that under the emperor Trajan he became general of the army. Once while hunting, he was chasing a stag of remarkable size, which suddenly halted, and showed him between its horns a large and bright image of Christ our Lord hanging upon the Cross and inviting him to make everlasting life the object of his pursuit. Thereupon, together with his wife Theopista and his two little sons Agapitus and Theopistus, he entered the ranks of the Christian warfare.
Sometime afterwards he returned to the place of the vision, in obedience to the command of our Lord, from whom he there heard how much he was to suffer for God’s glory. He underwent, with wonderful patience, such incredible losses that in a short time he was reduced to the utmost need, and was obliged to retire privately. On the way he had the unhappiness to see first his wife, and then his two sons taken from him. Overwhelmed by all these misfortunes, he lived for a long time unknown, in a distant country, as a farm bailiff; until at length a voice from heaven comforted him; and soon after, a fresh occasion of war arising, Trajan had him sought out and again placed at the head of the army.
During the expedition, he unexpectedly found his wife and children again. He returned to Rome in triumph amidst universal congratulations; but was soon commanded to offer sacrifice to the false gods in thanksgiving for his victory. On his firm refusal, every art was tried to make him renounce the faith of Christ, but in vain. He was then, with his wife and sons, thrown to the lions. But the beasts showed nothing but gentleness; whereupon the emperor, in a rage, commanded the martyrs to be shut up in a brazen bull heated by a fire underneath it. There, singing the praises of God, they consummated their sacrifice, and took their flight to eternal happiness on the twelfth of the kalends of October. Their bodies were found intact, and reverently buried by the faithful, but were afterwards translated with honor to a church erected to their names.
Our trials are light compared with yours, O blessed martyrs! Obtain for us the grace not to betray the confidence of our Lord when he calls us to suffer for him in this world. It is thus we must win the glory of heaven. How can we triumph with the God of armies unless we have marched under his standard?
Now, that standard is the Cross. The Church knows it, and therefore she is not troubled even by the greatest calamities. She knows, too, that her Spouse is watching over her, even when He seems to sleep; and she looks to the protection of such of her sons as are already glorified. And yet, O martyrs, for how many years has the sorrowful shadow of a sacrilegious invasion hung over the day of your triumph! Rome honored you with so much love! Take vengeance on the audacity of hell, and deliver the holy city!