Tag Archives: careerism

St. Martin of Tours

martin_of_tours_204_detail_843x850

Martin of Tours is an important saint in our church calendar– worth reflecting on today, November 11th.   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 came up through the ranks, commanded  troops on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father naturally figured he would be a soldier like him. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Heroes then were soldiers, like Constantine and Diocletian: warrior emperors. Rome was mobilizing to stop the barbarians threatening their frontiers and soldiers were needed. But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. Even as a young boy he heard a message of non-violence from Christians he knew. Over his father’s strong objections, he gave up prospects for an army commission and became a Christian catechumen, preparing for baptism.

Later as a bishop, he spent a lot of his time peacemaking,  reconciling enemies. In fact, he died on his way to settle a dispute among some of his priests.

Another poison Martin confronted was the poison of careerism. When Constantine came into power he promoted Christianity in the empire and one way he did that was   to give Christian bishops more power in civil society. They received money and authority over projects and jobs. That prompted a lot of men to become bishops for the rich lifestyle and prestige it promised.

When Martin became Bishop of Tours at the invitation of the people of that diocese, he adopted a lifestyle that was  opposite to that of most of the bishops of Gaul. One of his biographers said he never went to bishops’ meetings. He couldn’t stand them. The bishops liked life in the cities. Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism still around today? We remember our war veterans today. How many died in wars in the past 100 years? Too many. And too many bear the scars of war. Militarism is still around.

I think careerism is still around too.

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the beggar in the cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, a catechumen but still a soldier. 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 has a beautiful comment 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.”

That’s well said.

The Widow of Naim

Widow Naim
As far as I remember there are three miracles in which Jesus raises someone from the dead. The most famous is the raising of Lazarus, his friend. His sisters, Mary and Martha, were also well known to him. Jesus stayed with them at Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. That miracle led his enemies to plot to put him to death.

Earlier, in Capernaum, Jesus raised the little daughter of Jairus, an official of the synagogue, from the dead. The official pleaded with him. Jesus goes to his house, where the mourning had already begun, and took the little girl by the hand and raised her up and told her parents to give her something to eat.

Today’s reading at Mass recalling the miracle in which Jesus raises the widow’s son as they carry him through the gates of the town of Naim seems somewhat different. The mother and son are strangers to him. We don’t know their names; they have no claim of friendship or position that may influence him. It’s the very opposite. The mother is a widow. Her son was the last asset she had and now he’s dead. She has nothing. Absolutely poor.

Our reading from Luke (Luke 7,11-17) provides the answer Jesus will give to John’s disciples as they approach him after this incident and ask “Are you he who is to come?” Tell John, Jesus says, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

“The poor have the gospel preached to them.” Those who have nothing and who know they have nothing, like the widow, are given the greatest gifts. God notices them. God’s heart goes out to them.

That was an important teaching of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. “Go to God in your nothingness,” he said to people looking for guidance. Learn from the poor widow. Go to God with nothing.

In the years Paul of the Cross founded the Passionists, a lot of men left his community for one reason or another, and Paul respected them, but he reacted when someone left for the wrong reasons.

St Vincent Strambi, his biographer, tells about a priest who left the Passionists to make a career for himself in the church. He wanted to be a success so he got a string of degrees and began to climb the church bureaucracy. He wrote Paul a very self-congratulatory letter informing him how much better he was now for leaving the Passionists. At the end he signed his name, noting all his new degrees and honors after it.

Paul answered his letter, thanking him for letting him know how he was making out and wishing him well. But at the end of the letter he simply signed his name: “Paolo, n,n.n”– “Paul, a nobody, no one, having nothing.”

Our first reading today is all about bishops and deacons. (1 Timothy 3,1-13) Our gospel is about a widow. Who’s more important?