Tag Archives: bishops

St. Martin of Tours, November 11


Martin of Tours is a saint worth reflecting on. Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said,  so what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born into a military family in 316,  his father a Roman officer who arose through the ranks and  commanded the legions on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father saw him as a soldier like himself. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Rome was mobilizing then to stop invading barbarian tribes, and soldiers, like the emperors Constantine and Diocletian, were its heroes.  But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. As a young boy he heard a message of peace and non-violence from Christians he knew. Instead of a soldier, he became a Christian catechumen, over his father’s strong objections.

Martin was a lifelong peacemaker. He died on his way as a bishop to settle a dispute among his priests.

Another poison Martin confronted was the poison of careerism. Elected bishop of Tours by the people, Martin adopted a lifestyle unlike that of other bishops of Gaul, who were increasingly involved in imperial  administration and adopting the privileged style that came with it.

Bishops set themselves up in the cities;  Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism around today? We remember our war veterans today.So many died in terrible wars these 100 years and many bear the scars of war. Militarism, the glamorizing of war, is still around.  So is careerism .

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with a beggar in a cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, still a soldier but also a Christian catechumen. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI commented on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing.

May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

Well said.

In medieval Europe farmers, getting ready for winter at this time, put aside food and meat for the cold days ahead. Martin’s feast day was a reminder to them to put aside something for the poor. The poor are always with us; are we remembering them?

Today  Veterans’ Day in the USA honors those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

27th Sunday: The Gesture of Presence

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Like many of you, I’m sure, I still feel the warmth from Pope Francis’ visit to our country last week. I was moved, certainly, by the wise words he spoke to our congress, to the United Nations, to the various groups here, but I think what moved me most was his simple gestures– his gestures of presence.

Wherever he went, he was present there. Whether he was with the President of the United States, or with school kids in Harlem, his presence was the same. I don’t know how many hours he spent waving simply to crowds, but it seemed to me he was present as much then as he was celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden or Philadelphia. He seemed to live in the moment.

A picture on the front page of the New York Times the other day symbolized that gift. It was the picture of the pope shaking hands with a prisoner in Philadelphia; the picture showed only the two men’s arms; the arm of the prisoner covered with tattoos, and the arm of the pope, their hands clasped together.

One person meeting the other. So simple, so moving.

At the Mass for Families in Philadelphia last Sunday Francis spoke about the gift of presence:

“Holiness, like happiness, is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. (Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.)

“Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.”

In an earlier talk to bishops, Francis urged them to be a “living and active presence” in the church. His words reminded me of the treatise On Pastoral Care which St. Gregory the Great wrote for the pastors of his time. Don’t get so absorbed, so fixated on your role of teaching and guiding others that you forget to look at yourselves and be yourselves, Gregory said. Don’t become automatic in what you do.

“Christianity which does little in practice, while incessantly explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced,” Francis told the bishops. Give your energies, “not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity’ but standing in the midst of your flock, not “afraid of questions, contact, accompaniment.” Keep watch in prayer, supporting the faith of your people, instilling confidence in the presence of the Lord, helping people lift up their gaze at times of discouragement, frustration and failure.”

The pope used an interesting phrase to describe the presence he urged the bishops to have. “Are we ready to ‘waste time’” with them? “Waste time.” The kind of presence the pope described is often described that way. Not important, a waste of time. We hear that word used by some who dismiss the contemplative vocation of someone like St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast we celebrated October 1st. “What a waste.”

But it isn’t a waste at all.