Tag Archives: Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours, November 11

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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 came up 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 is still around. So is careerism .

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the 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.”

That’s well said.

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

Today’s  Veterans Day in the USA, honoring 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.

Saint Hilary of Potiers

Hilary

Besides  the scriptures, the saints are companions on the journey of life, revealing  the wisdom of God from age to age.  “A cloud of witnesses,” the Letter to the Hebrews says, they tell us what to hope for and what to expect.

January 13th we remember St. Hilary of Potiers, who lived in the early 4th century, a crucial time for the church, when the Emperor Constantine and his successors ended years of persecution and welcomed Christians as allies in governing the empire.

Hilary was born in Gaul into a wealthy family, but he wasn’t brought up in a Christian environment. He came to baptism (about the year 345 AD) through personal study of the scriptures. He was married and had a daughter. Then, about ten years after his baptism he was elected by the people of Potiers as their bishop. An interesting path to become a bishop.

A bishop’s role changed after Constantine gave the church freedom in 312 AD. More and more, they became agents of the emperor and his administration, and that brought temptation. Hilary and one of his friends, Martin of Tours, thought a good number of the bishops in Gaul were looking for worldly power and prestige rather than a spiritual ministry.

Many bishops closely associated with the emperors– both in the eastern and western parts of the empire– were also influenced by Arianism, which was favored by the emperors Constantius ( 350-361) and Valens (364-378). Arianism claimed that Jesus was human and not divine. He was only godlike.

Arianism is Christianity lite; it dismisses the claims of Jesus to be divine and makes him like us, only better and more powerful. Perhaps the emperors and  bishops sympathetic to the Arian doctrine felt it made Christianity more palatable for unbelievers?

Hilary strongly upheld the divinity of Jesus, basing his faith on the scriptures  he read and the sacrament of baptism he received. His stand caused him to be exiled to Asia Minor, but he continued to teach and write in defense of orthodoxy and eventually he was restored to his diocese.

Hilary’s counterpart in the eastern church, St. Athanasius, was another big opponent of Arianism and imperial control of the church. Both bishops suffered exile and helped the church hold to the faith professed at the Council of Nicea in 321 AD. St. Jerome expressed the gravity of the situation: “The world groaned, amazed that it had become Arian.”

Hilary in Gaul and Athanasius in Egypt argued for Catholic orthodoxy from the scriptures and church tradition. They also strongly encouraged religious life in the church. Athanasius saw the spirituality of the desert, exemplified by St. Anthony, as a remedy for the increasing worldliness of Christians. Hilary was the teacher of Martin of Tours, founder of religious life in Gaul.

The two saints promoted religious life which played an important part in promoting sound faith in the church. Christianity always needs communities of dedicated believers as well as sharp-minded leaders for its journey through time. Say a prayer for our religious communities, including my own. We need them in the church.

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, honoring 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.

Our church calendar today celebrates the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great 5th century saint, who is remembered especially as the soldier who gave a beggar half of his cloak on a freezing day at the gate of that city. Son of a Roman officer, Martin chose to become a monk, a man of peace, instead of a soldier. He died on a peace-making visit to a squabbling church in the diocese where he had become bishop.

As a bishop, Martin lived a noticeably poor life; he lived and dressed as a poor man, his biographers say.  Poor in spirit, he identified with the poor. Evidently, the beggar he met at the gate of Tours had a lasting effect on him. In a dream that night, Christ told him he was the beggar Martin clothed that day.

It was customary in Europe for farmers to put away meat for the winter on St. Martin’s feast. They were also urged to put away a portion for the poor this day too.

In Martin’s time as bishop, a group of Christians were following a teacher named Priscillian, who was convinced that the evil in the world was so ingrained in life that only severe ascetical practices could root it out. Other bishops convinced the imperial authorities that the leaders of this heretical group should be executed. Their execution marked the first attempt by Christian leaders to stop heresy by killing those suspected of it.

Martin was against the execution. He believed you didn’t deal with people with wrong ideas by killing them; you had to live with them. You need to have a soldier’s heart to do that.

Pope John XXIII was an admirer of Martin of Tours. I think he wrote a thesis about him. After he was elected pope he wanted to go and pray at his shrine. Another soldier of a sort.