Fabius, a career officer in the Roman army, always led by example. He commanded regiments in several notable battles in Asia Minor, unfailingly placing himself in the front line of attack. As a centurion of peacekeeping forces in Galilee, he held himself to the same high standards of discipline and readiness to which he held his men. For example, when he traveled from the garrison in Tiberius to visit the scattered outposts throughout the region, he never rode a horse; he always walked.
It was one such visit that brought him to the post in Capernaum. The leader of the detachment there was young and inexperienced, so Fabius spent time instructing him in administrative rules and procedures. In his inspection of the post, Fabius found far too much clutter and disrepair. At an early morning formation of the troop, he provided clear and extensive instructions on the proper care of the facility. He then led the men on a five-mile march before breakfast. The following day Fabius met with Jewish elders to recruit residents of the town to assist in the expansion and improvement of the main roadway through town. That afternoon he made time to search out and engage a Jewish holy man named Jesus who was teaching in the area.
Those who accompanied Fabius on this excursion very likely learned a few things that afternoon. They discovered that their commander cared about his men, notwithstanding his stern exterior. He not only knew that a soldier in his regiment was sick but remained concerned about him during his travels and took the time to seek out some help. Through his example, Fabius showed that compassion is not a sign of weakness and is not incompatible with authority and discipline. Compassion is an important part of being human.
The men who accompanied Fabius also learned that their leader believed in a higher power. He had the humility to recognize that many challenges, like the sickness of a soldier, were beyond his control. Fabius knew that he needed God’s help. He turned to Jesus, because God was clearly at work in his life.
Like the soldiers in his regiment, we can learn a thing or two from Fabius. We learn that love comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. Sometimes love is tender, eloquent and enduring. At other times love is situational, unspoken and as tough as an old pair of boots. Love is not the prerogative of the pious. Love is a possibility for anyone God can reach, which, of course, is just about everyone.
Fabius reminds us that faith can be found in unexpected places, too. Discovering such faith can be wonderfully encouraging. Faith can be found among Ivy-League university professors who would be formidable opponents for anyone foolish enough to challenge them to a debate. Faith can be found among those who are wildly successful and yet balanced enough to keep all that success in proper perspective. And faith can be found in a career military officer of a powerful foreign army. Jesus recognized that faith and was encouraged by it. He wants us to be encouraged by it, too.
Author’s Note: I offer occasional reflections on lesser-known characters that appear in the Scripture readings at Mass. I follow the lead of St. Ignatius of Loyola in using my imagination to fill out some of the details of the story. To that end I create a name for characters like Fabius who are unnamed in the Scripture accounts.