Now, generally, I have a tendency to lump together into a large, hazy, but still vaguely glorious lump, all the martyr stories, especially the ones that end in "and companions." I know that's terrible, but I admit I have trouble keeping most of them straight in my mind, there were so many! And, honestly, after so many years of reading Butler's Lives of the Saints to the children, pretty much every day, you'd think I'd remember this story! But somehow it slipped by me. I mean the real story. There's one visual scene about deer antlers and a cross I remembered somewhat, but somehow the true story, the epic tale of valor and tragedy and victory and defeat and final triumph eluded me until today.
Here's the story in a nutshell:
Eustachius was a highly respected officer in the Roman army under Emperor Trajan (Ok, so now you should start hearing the first slow drumbeat of ominous music... The names Trajan or Diocletian, especially, spell doom in Butler's...). Our Lord chose to reveal Himself and the truth of the Faith to Eustachius through the image of Himself crucified in the antlers of a deer. I can only assume that this was the method most sure to get this man's attention, and it truly did.
Eustachius and his wife and children all converted, which at this time was not a politically correct thing to do, of course. The family lost everything due to this decision; they were even forcibly separated from each other. Eustachius, once a proud Roman officer was reduced to tending crops for his survival.
And then the barbarians came.
And, of course, who could the evil Emperor Trajan count on better than our hero to oust them from the empire? Obviously a man of Eustachius' noble mind owned a temperament and ability to equal it. He was the can-do man of the army and Trajan apparently knew it. So, off Eustacius went, his rank and power restored. Miraculously, during this campaign, he was reunited with his family, and then returned to Rome the conquering hero, the toast of the town, the man of the hour.
Picture the parade of welcome through the streets of Rome as was the custom in that day! The fanfare, the triumphant march! His wife and children near at hand, looking on proudly, the cheers of the crowd, the Emperor on the dais up ahead, ready to receive Eustachius in honor. Ready to crown his head with the laurel wreath... If.
(The music stops here.)
If he would sacrifice to Trajan's false gods.
Would he? He had lost everything in this world that was important to him, and now he had miraculously found it again. His family had the chance to live in peace and ease in Rome again, have a comfortable villa again, enjoy afternoons of games and conversations with their old friends again... They could be together as a family. It could be as it once was. Could Eustachius bear to lose it all again? And it wasn't just himself that he had to consider! Could he subject his dearest wife and children to more ignomy and suffering, and perhaps death?
Only the strongest of men could say yes to this. Only the most loving of men could say yes. And, of course he said yes to Christ. He would give it all up again. He would risk it all for love of God, for love of Truth, for the love which taught him faith in life everlasting!
This faith is staggering to me! How the human conflict must have raged in him, how he must not have wanted to see his family suffer any more! How tired he must have been! But he knew truly and completely that God had something better waiting for them. I believe his wife and children knew this, too.
When Trajan had two starved lions brought into the arena with Eustachius and his family, the lions played at their feet like kittens. God does like to make His points, doesn't He? It always amazes me that the savage persecutors in those days never took the hint! I mean look at the miracles which surrounded the deaths of the martyrs! But the Roman dictators never did pick up on it. Trajan just became more angry when he was deprived of his spectacle, and ordered the family to be locked inside a bull molded of metal and roasted to death over a fire, father, mother and children.
At first glance, a tragic end. That poor, poor family! How can we not be moved by the horror of it?
We haven't come to the final scene. The scene where the whole family emerges, whole and perfect spirits, and ascends to Heaven, where they are received as highly honored citizens of a new country, where the Almighty Father is seated on the throne. And they live in peace and perfect happiness for eternity. Eternity. And they're there now. Not just figuratively. Not as in a two dimensional holy card. But in reality. Tragedy or victory?