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.”
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.