Wednesday, November 11, 2015

answering the call of Christ

The Feast of St. Martin of Tours
November 11, 2015

Lord God of hosts, who didst clothe thy servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and didst set him as a bishop in thy Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Martin of Tours
Martin was born in 330 in what is now roughly Yugoslavia. His dad was in the military; when Martin was 15, his dad enlisted him in the army. Martin saw a beggar one winter’s day who didn’t have clothes for the cold weather. He tore his cloak in half and gave ½ to the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed that he saw Christ wearing ½ of his cloak. He was baptized soon after this. 

Martin asked to be released from his military service after the next campaign: “Hitherto I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ.” The army didn’t take too kindly to this and accused him of cowardice. In response, he offered to stand unarmed between the armies. They jailed him, but released him when the armies signed a peace treaty.

Martin became a student of Hilary of Poitiers, who opposed the Arian denial of the full divinity of Christ. He went back home and argued so effectively against the Arian view that he was chased out of town. He made his way back to France and founded the first monastery there (which remained open until the French Revolution!).

Martin was elected Bishop of Tours in 371. Tours was mostly pagan. There is a legend that the pagans worshiped a large tree in the town center. The pagans offered to cut it down if Martin would volunteer to stand in the path of its fall. He agreed and the tree narrowly missed him. Also in Tours, Martin intervened when the Imperial Guard were going to torture and execute a batch of prisoners. He was able to get them released.

In 384 a man named Priscillian and 6 of his followers were found guilty of heresy. A group of bishops gathered and asked the emperor to execute them. Martin spoke up and said that heretics should not be tried and punished by the government but within the Church; up until that point excommunication had been sufficient, and he argued that this should be their punishment rather than death. Martin waited for the emperor to agree to this and then left. As soon as he left, some remaining bishops convinced the emperor to break his promise; Priscillian and his 6 followers became the first people to be killed for heresy. In turn, Martin excommunicated the bishops that had done this. He eventually brought them back into communion, however, in exchange for a pardon by the emperor for some men who had been sentenced to death and for the emperor’s promise not to kill any more of Priscillian’s followers.

Martin died around November 11th 397. His shrine is a stop along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

November 11th is also Armistice Day, the day when fighting in WWI, the “war to end all wars” ended. It was intended to be a day “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” In 1954, after the horrors of WWII had ended, President Eisenhower changed the holiday to Veteran’s Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. This is not to be confused with Memorial Day, which honors those who have given the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—in service to our country.

It is appropriate that St. Martin’s Feast Day coincides with Veteran’s Day. As a veteran himself, dedicated to peace and mercy, Martin is emblematic of the original intent of Armistice Day: to focus on world peace.

Martin served his country faithfully and then devoted his life to faithfully serving Christ and the Church. May we be inspired by his example to be dedicated to the cause of Christ and the way of peace, where the focus is on different battles (and I’m not talking about the "war" on Christmas): rather, the war on poverty, war on discrimination and racism, war on mass incarceration. These are the battles of Christ. It is for these causes that we fight.

Today we honor those who answered the call of country. May we, in the same way, be moved to answer the call of Christ. Amen.

My grandmother, a cradle Episcopalian and veteran who served in WWII, 
on her 90th birthday (2012). In her service to both God and country,
she has had and continues to have a profound impact on my faith life. 
(photo credit: Jim Shine)

Here's a picture of my grandma when she served in the psych department during WWII.

Collect and Information on St. Martin: James Kiefer

Information on Armistice/Veteran’s Day: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

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