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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

February 23

St Serenus, a Gardener, Martyr

        From his genuine acts in Ruinart, p. 546.

A.D. 307.

SERENUS was by birth a Grecian. He quitted estate, friends, and country to serve God in an ascetic life, that is, in celibacy, penance, and prayer. Coming with this design to Sirmium, in Pannonia or Hungary, he there bought a garden which he cultivated with his own hands, and lived on the fruits and herbs it produced. The apprehension of the persecution made him hide himself for some months; after which he returned to his garden. On a certain day, there came thither a woman, with her two daughters, to walk. Serenus seeing them come up to him: “What do you seek here?” “I take a particular satisfaction,” she replied, “in walking in this garden.” “A lady of your quality,” said Serenus, “ought not to walk here at unseasonable hours, and this you know is an hour you ought to be at home. Some other design brought you hither. Let me advise you to withdraw, and be more regular in your hours and conduct for the future, as decency requires in persons of your sex and condition.” It was usual for the Romans to repose themselves at noon, as it is still the custom in Italy. The woman stung at our saint’s charitable remonstrance, retired in confusion, but resolved on revenging the supposed affront. She accordingly writes to her husband, who belonged to the guards of the Emperor Maximian, to complain of Serenus as having insulted her. Her husband, on receiving her letter, went to the emperor to demand justice, and said: “Whilst we are waiting on your majesty’s person, our wives in distant countries are insulted.” Whereupon the emperor gave him a letter to the governor of the province to enable him to obtain satisfaction. With this letter he set out for Sirmium, and presented it to the governor, conjuring him, in the name of the emperor his master, to revenge the affront offered to him in the person of his wife during his absence. “And who is that insolent man,” said the magistrate, “who durst insult such a gentleman’s wife?” “It is,” said he, “a vulgar pitiful fellow, one Serenus, a gardener.” The governor ordered him to be immediately brought before him, and asked him his name: “It is Serenus,” said he. The judge said: “Of what profession are you?” He answered: “I am a gardener.” The governor said: “How durst you have the insolence and boldness to affront the wife of this officer?” Serenus: “I never insulted any woman, to my knowledge, in my life.” The governor then said: “Let the witnesses be called in to convict this fellow of the affront he offered this lady in a garden.” Serenus, hearing the garden mentioned, recalled this woman to mind, and answered: “I remember that some time ago, a lady came into my garden at an unseasonable hour, with a design, as she said, to take a walk, and I own I took the liberty to tell her it was against decency for one of her sex and quality to be abroad at such an hour.” This plea of Serenus having put the officer to the blush for his wife’s action, which was too plain an indication of her wicked purpose and design, he dropped his prosecution against the innocent gardener, and withdrew out of court.
  But the governor, understanding by this answer that Serenus was a man of virtue, suspected by it that he might be a Christian, such being the most likely, he thought, to resent visits from ladies at improper hours. Wherefore, instead of discharging him, he began to question him on this head, saying: “Who are you, and what is your religion?” Serenus, without hesitating one moment, answered: “I am a Christian.” The governor said: “Where have you concealed yourself? and how have you avoided sacrificing to the gods?” “It has pleased God,” replied Serenus, “to reserve me for this present time. It seemed awhile ago as if he rejected me as a stone unfit to enter his building, but he has the goodness to take me now to be placed in it; I am ready to suffer all things for his name, that I may have a part in his kingdom with his saints.” The governor, hearing this generous answer, burst into rage, and said: “Since you sought to elude by flight the emperor’s edicts, and have positively refused to sacrifice to the gods, I condemn you for these crimes to lose your head.” The sentence was no sooner pronounced, but the saint was carried off and led to the place of execution, where he was beheaded, on the 23rd of February, in 307. The ancient Martyrology attributed to St. Jerom, published at Lucca by Florentinius, joins with him sixty-two others, who, at different times, were crowned at Sirmium. The Roman Martyrology, with others, says seventy-two.  2
  The garden affords a beautiful emblem of a Christian’s continual progress in the path of virtue. Plants always mount upwards, and never stop in their growth till they have attained to that maturity which the author of nature has prescribed: all the nourishment they receive ought to tend to this end; if any part waste itself in superfluities, this is a kind of disease. So in a Christian, every thing ought to carry him towards that perfection which the sanctity of his state requires; and every desire of his soul, every action of his life, to be a step advancing to this in a direct line. When all his inclinations have one uniform bent, and all his labours the same tendency, his progress must be great, because uninterrupted, however imperceptible it may often appear. Even his temporal affairs must be undertaken with this intention, and so conducted as to fall within the compass of this his great design. The saints so regulated all their ordinary actions, their meals, their studies, their conversation and visits, their business and toil, whether tilling a garden or superintending an estate, as to make the love of God their motive, and the accomplishment of his will their only ambition in every action. All travail which leadeth not towards this end is but so much of life mispent and lost, whatever names men may give to their political or military achievements, study of nature, knowledge of distant shores, or cunning in the mysteries of trade, or arts of conversation. Though such actions, when of duty, fall under the order of our salvation, and must be so moderated, directed, and animated with a spirit of religion, as to be made means of our sanctification. But in a Christian life the exercises of devotion, holy desires, and tender affections, which proceed from a spirit of humble compunction, and an ardent love of our Saviour, and by which a soul raises herself up to, and continually sighs after him, and what every one ought most assiduously and most earnestly to study to cultivate. By these is the soul daily more and more purified, and all her powers united to God, and made heavenly. These are properly the most sweet and beautiful flowers of paradise, or of a virtuous life.  3