St Sebastian is one of those martyrs who shed blood and suffered martyrdom for the Church of Christ, at the time of Emperor Diocletian who was of obscure origin. Diocletian rose up through a brilliant military career to the complete command of the Empire. His idea was to rule the people as a supreme despot after the example of the Persian kings.
St Sebastian was born of Christian parents who, though natives of Milan, lived at Norbonne in Languedoc. On account of his extraordinary talents, exemplary conduct and ardent love for his country, Sebastian was appointed the captain of the first company of the guard of Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian employed the emoluments of his office for the relief of the downtrodden Christians particularly those who languished in prison. He served the people not only with alms but also by encouraging them to suffer for Christ.
At this time it happened that two Roman knights, who bravely underwent tortures, were being led to death. When their father, Farquillinus, and their mother Maracia, accompanied by the wives and children of the two confessors, obtained from the judge, Cromatius, by tears and entreaties, that the sentence should be deferred for thirty days. Sebastian knowing them, ran instantly to their help and God's blessing so accompanied his words, that he induced them to receive with joy a most cruel death, for they were obliged to hang nailed by the feet to a gallows for a day and a night before they were transfixed with a lance. Nor was this all; the zealous captain likewise converted to the faith not only all the above named relatives of Marcus and Marcellianus, but also Nicostratue, an officer of Cromatius, Claudius, the provost of the prison, and sixty-four prisoners who were idolaters.
Fabian, the successor of Cromatius, having learned that Sebastian not only exhorted the Christians to remain steadfast in the faith, but procured also the conversion of the pagans, reported the fact to the emperor, who sent for our Sebastian, and upbraided him for the crime of perverting his subjects.
The emperor, though was very fond of Sebastian, due to his move and the act in favour of Christians, ordered that he should be instantly tied to a post and shot at with arrows. Irene, a widow happened to see him still alive and nursed him and saved. Then Sebastian presented himself to the emperor and said to him:
"How long O Prince, will thou believe the calumnies that have been spread against the Christians? I have returned to tell thee again that thou has not in the empire subjects more faithful than the Christians, who by their prayers obtain for thee all by prosperity."
Diocletian surprised to see Sebastian still living, exclaimed
"How is it that thou art alive!"
"The Lord has been pleased to preserve my life that I might admonish thee of thy enmity in persecuting the Christians"
The emperor, getting angry at the admonition, ordered that Sebastian should be scourged to death. The sentence being executed, Sebastian expired on 20th January, about the year 228.
The pagans threw the body of the martyr into a marsh, but a pious lady named Lucina happened to see the dead body of Sebastian. She buried him reverentially at the entrance of a cemetery which is now called the catacomb of St Sebastian. It is situated in Rome on the Appian way:
"If there are many persecutions, there are as many chances of proving ourselves; where there are many crowns to be won, there are many contests to be fought. It is then in your interest that there are many persecutions, so that through them you may find out more easily how to win the crown": St Ambrose.