Patron Saint of Sports: Saint Sebastian’s Important Message for Athletes

patron saint of sports saint sebastian's important message for athletes

I’d imagine every Roman Catholic has a different favorite Saint to call upon whenever faced with a particularly difficult challenge or when a particular Saint can help them through a crisis. The vivid stories of all the Saints, most of whom bravely defended their faith in the face of adversity, serve to inspire and strengthen us all.

painting of saint sebastian shot with arrows tied to a tree

Remember, however, that praying for a Saint’s support is not only good practice during times of need, but is also there at any time to support and strengthen you.

Luckily, practically all our endeavors have been placed under the guardianship of a Saint. We pray to Saint Anthony when we’ve lost something, implore Saint Jude when all else has failed and call upon Saint Francis to bless our animals and pets. The intercession of Saints serves to strengthen our faith and add weight to our prayers.

Most Catholics have a special relationship with a small number of Saints, and whenever we need help, we pray to one of these, hoping to receive support. The Saint becomes our representative before God – rightly so – because after all, these Saints have all displayed a greater love and commitment to God than most men and women.

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The Most Popular Patron Saints and Angels

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of choosing patron Saints. Today, a simple internet search will quickly produce a list of hundreds of patron Saints, all of whom have a special area of expertise.

Patron Saints are often selected because of the life they lead. Saint Francis of Assisi loved animals and nature and is, therefore, the patron Saint of ecologists. Francis de Sales was a writer and has, consequently, become an advocate for journalists and authors. Whatever profession, art or situation, you can find a patron Saint and ask for her/his assistance.

Angels and archangels are also exceedingly popular. Thousands of people pray for the protection of Archangel Michael or the assistance of Angel Gabriel. Among the most popular patron Saints are Saint Anthony, Saint Jude, Saint Francis, Saint Sebastian, Saint Christopher, Saint Patrick, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Joseph, Saint Cecilia, Saint Valentine, Saint Therese of Lisieux, St Padre Pio and Saint Christopher. These Saints have become part of our everyday spiritual landscape and can be an enormous source of comfort and strength.

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To illustrate what a powerful role patron Saints can play in our daily activities, let’s look at the lives of two of the most popular Saints: Saint Sebastian, who is an advocate for athletes, and Saint Christopher, whose medal many of us have on our car key ring or pendant.

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Saint Sebastian – Patron Saints of Sports

Recently, Saint Sebastian has become very popular. He was even named Patron Saint of last year’s Olympic games in Rio. Athletes and sports people have sought inspiration and intercession from Saint Sebastian, and we have to take a look at his life story to understand why Saint Sebastian has become the patron Saint of athletes.

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Saint Sebastian’s Life Story

Saint Sebastian is believed to have come from France and was educated in Milan. In 283 AD, he joined the army, serving the Roman emperor Diocletian. Diocletian was particularly brutal in his treatment of Christians, arresting and executing them in large numbers. Many believe that Sebastian joined the army and became an undercover preacher so he could minister to the Christians in the army and those in custody.

Because he was a highly capable soldier, he moved up the ranks quickly and became a Praetorian Guard for the Emperor, Diocletian. Secretly, Sebastian spent much of his time preaching to soldiers and prisoners, and he soon became known as a powerful healer. Throughout his life in the army, he also converted many soldiers to Christianity.

However, after several years, he was caught and sentenced to death by Diocletian. Soldiers brought him to a field and tied him to a tree. He was used as an archery target and hit by countless arrows. The soldiers eventually left, believing he was dead.

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A woman, known as Irene of Rome, bravely recovered Sebastian. Her husband had been martyred by the same emperor and consequently, she wanted to help Sebastian. Within weeks, she nursed him back to full health.

Having regained all his strength and realizing what had happened, Sebastian decided to publicly denounce Diocletian. He knew a place where the emperor would pass, waited for him and publically admonished him for his treatment of Christians.

Surprised to see Sebastian alive, Diocletian quickly had him arrested and once again sentenced to death. This time, he ordered soldiers to beat him to death with clubs. Sebastian died, and his body was thrown into the local sewer.

In a vision, Sebastian asked a woman to recover his body. She obliged, and Sebastian was buried in the catacombs of Rome. Later, his remains were dispersed, and many relics from his remains are on display in churches throughout Europe.

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Prayer to Saint Sebastian

Because of Sebastian’s strength and tenacity, many athletes pray for his intercession. The following prayer is the most well-known prayer to Saint Sebastian.

Dear Commander at the Roman Emperors court,

You chose to be also a soldier of Christ and dared to spread

The faith in the King of Kings – for which you were condemned to die.

Your body, however, proved athletically strong, and the executing arrows extremely weak.

So, another means to kill you was chosen, and you gave your life to the Lord.

May athletes be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint clearly has been. Amen

Many athletes recite this prayer before competition and may also carry a Saint Sebastian medal.

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What We Can Learn from Saint Sebastian

When we reflect on the life of Saint Sebastian, there are several qualities we can aspire to attain:

aged painting of saint sebastian tied to a post
  • Work Ethic: Saint Sebastian was deeply dedicated to his work in the army, as well as to his service to Christ. His quick rise to higher ranks illustrates a strong work ethic, even in the face of great adversity. His dedication to Christ was even more pronounced. By joining the army to spread the word of God and support Christians in the army and in prison, he put his own life in danger.
  • Courage: Saint Sebastian displayed enormous courage, not just during his time as an undercover soldier, but especially after the first execution attempt. He risked his life to serve Christ and preach the gospel.
  • Endurance: Saint Sebastian bravely endured and survived the first execution attempt. This can be particularly inspiring for athletes who feel like giving up during an endurance test or competition.

It seems fitting that Saint Sebastian is the patron Saint of sports.

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Catholic Athletes

As Catholics with a public profile, athletes have a responsibility to live out their faith. Catholic athletes like Bonnie Blair (a speed skater) are involved in organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services. Some other notable Catholic athletes are:

  • Jordan Speith (Golf)
  • Brett Favre (Football)
  • Timothy Goebel (Figure Skater)
  • Joe DiMaggio (Baseball)
  • Kobe Bryant (Basketball)
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Saint Christopher – Patron Saint of Travelers and Motorists

Even though Saint Christopher was never canonized by the Catholic Church, he is one of the most popular Saints. The story of how he carried Christ across a ferocious river is well known, and many people pray for his protection before traveling.

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Saint Christopher’s Life Story

Finding Saint Christopher in history books is difficult. The name “Christopher” means “Christ-bearer” and is associated with the Egyptian Saint, Menas. Christopher may also have been a martyr by the name of Reprobus, who died in 251 AD. However, many legends and popular stories speak about the Saint Christopher we know and love today.

In these stories, he is described as a man of exceedingly tall stature. One day, he decided to serve the greatest king on earth and went to offer his services to the local ruler. who gladly accepted Christopher’s offer. When Christopher saw the king making the sign of the cross at the mention of the devil, he deemed the devil to be more powerful than the king and decided to serve the devil instead. He joined a band of thieves, the leader of which called himself the devil.

Believing he was now serving the most powerful king, Christopher was surprised to see the devil avoiding the sign of the cross and once again realized there was someone even mightier.

st christopher with baby painting patron saint of travellers

Wishing to find out about Christ, Christopher went to a local hermit to seek advice. The hermit educated him about Christ’s life and teachings and told Christopher to fast and pray.

But because Christopher was so tall and strong, he vehemently objected to fasting and asked if there was another way to serve the Lord. Following deep reflection, Christopher offered to help travelers across a nearby river, reassured by the hermit that doing so would please Christ.

The river was extremely dangerous, and many people had lost their lives trying to get to the other side. One day, a small child approached Christopher and asked to be taken across. Mid-stream, the waters suddenly rose, and the child became exceedingly heavy. Exerting himself completely, Christopher finally managed to bring the child to safety.

When Christopher inquired as to why he was so heavy, the child told him that he was Christ and that Christopher had indeed carried the whole world on his shoulders. The child then vanished from Christopher’s sight.

According to legends, Christopher left and started to evangelize people and eventually arrived in Lycia, Asia Minor. After several attempts to execute him, Christopher was eventually captured and beheaded.

Christopher only became popularized in the 7th century, when several churches were named after him. Even though he was never officially beatified, Saint Christopher is one of the most cherished Saints in the Catholic tradition.

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Prayer to Saint Christopher

Many people pray to Saint Christopher before setting off on a journey.

Saint Christopher “Motorist’s Prayer:

Grant me O Lord a steady hand and watchful eye.

That no one shall be hurt as I pass by.

Thou gravest life, I pray no act of mine

May take away or mar that gift of Thine.

Shelter those, dear Lord, who bear me company,

From the evils of fire and all calamity.

Teach me to use my car for others need;

Nor miss through love of undue speed

The beauty of the world; that thus I may

With joy and courtesy go on my way.

St. Christopher, holy patron of travelers,

Protect me and lead me safely to my destiny.

st christopher silver medal charm on bracelet
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What We Can Learn from Saint Christopher

Saint Christopher continues to inspire us with his strength and courage, and perhaps we can try to replicate some of his many qualities:

  • Humility: Throughout his life, Saint Christopher wanted to serve the greatest king, despite his own strength and power. He humbled himself to imitate Christ’s humility
  • Desire to Serve Others: Saint Christopher served and protected whomever he brought across the river. After carrying Christ, he went on to serve Christ by evangelizing thousands of people.
  • Endurance: Saint Christopher endured adversity throughout his life and remained dedicated to serving Christ.
  • Desire to Protect Others: Today, we pray to St. Christopher for protection, knowing of his desire to protect the people he carried across the river.

Saint Christopher displayed such strength and determination that it is apt for us to ask for his intercession whenever we travel. Despite the power of the river and the weight of Christ, Saint Christopher endured and brought each person across the river safely.

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Saints Inspire and Strengthen Us

Being a good Christian can be difficult, particularly when we are going through difficult times. Sometimes, we struggle to believe and often feel alone.

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During such times, reflecting on the Saints and asking for their intercession can be an enormous source of strength as well as inspiration. The special prayers to Saints can comfort and encourage us throughout our lives.

Perhaps Saints are positioned between Christ and us, because they were fully human but managed to dedicate their lives entirely to Christ. In that sense, they are human just like us, while also possessing strength and grace far greater than our own could ever be. Consequently, they inspire, guide and protect us.

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Patron Saints – A Source of Everyday Comfort

Patron Saints are undoubtedly a great source of comfort. Whatever activity we engage in, we can ask for the support of the relevant patron Saint. Saint Sebastian has undoubtedly inspired thousands of athletes, and Saint Christopher continues to offer protection on our journeys. It is immensely comforting to know there is a patron Saint for all occasions and activities.

Patron Saints can play a role in our everyday lives and in our most ordinary activities. By praying for their intercession and reflecting on their inspirational strengths we can perhaps grow in faith, love and courage.

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