St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is celebrated today, brings together two aspects of early Christianity that we would sometimes like to forget.
St. Martin is most known for cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar in the cold of winter. That night he had a dream of Christ, clothed in the cloak. His concern for the poor continued throughout his life.
But St. Martin also demonstrates the early church’s opposition to war. Martin had been forced to become a soldier, probably because his father was a military tribune. But, faced with the prospect of killing others in battle, he told his commander, “I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”
He offered to go into battle the next day unarmed. Instead he was jailed. He was subsequently released and became a monk and then the bishop of Tours.
His love for peace and nonviolence led him to go on a peacemaking visit to Candes, even though he knew he was dying.
Martin shows us that we are called to love and care for all – to care for the poor and to love even our enemies, not kill them.
Today is Armistice Day, a day originally established to remember the end of what later became know as the First World War. In the US it is Veterans Day.
But Saint Martin of Tours is a challenge to war and injustice. He calls us to imitate the poor and nonviolent Jesus, his Master and ours.
But St. Martin was not the only former soldier to warn about war. General Omar Bradley once said:
“With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world with its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. [Humanity] is stumbling blindly through spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death….
“…the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience, Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace; more about killing, than we know about living.”
Would that we knew the ways of peace. (Luke 19: 42)