Tag Archives: St. Martin of Tours

The poor and peace

El Greco's St. Martin

El Greco’s St. Martin

St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is celebrated today, is well known for a simple act of charity.

He had been forced to join the military, probably in part due to his father being a member of the military. One day, in Amiens, in the cold of winter, he encountered a beggar. Having nothing more than his cloak, he cut it in half and gave one half to the poor man. That night in a dream he saw Christ clothed in the cloak; Christ affirmed the charity of this simple act: “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with this cloak.”

Martin then proceeded to be baptized.

But baptism brought another challenge.

Martin refused to go into battle. “I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”

He was accused of cowardice and imprisoned, though he was subsequently released from military service.

Martin shows us that the way of Christ is care for the poor, sharing what we have, and refusing to kill, even our enemies.

Neither of these acts is easy, but love of the poor and the love of the enemy should be the marks of a follower of the poor man of Nazareth who died on a cross, forgiving his enemies.

They are also what we need today.

Today is also Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars.

Recalling this, I want to share the words of General Omar Bradley, which compliment the example of St. Martin:

“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. Mankind 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 learn how to live and love as Martin showed us, following in the steps of Jesus.

Justice and peace shall kiss

El Greco's St. Martin

El Greco’s St. Martin

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)

Martin of Tours — lover of peace and the poor

Today the Church celebrates St. Martin of Tours, one of the earliest persons recognized as a saint who was not a martyr.

Born to a pagan father, he became a catechumen, preparing to join the Church. But, since his father was in the military, Martin had to join the Roman army.  There are stories that he had to be dragged away to the army in chains.

Still a catechumen he distinguished himself by his care for the poor. One cold day, near Amiens he encountered a beggar. According to his biographer Sulpicius Severus, he had only his armor and his cloak, since he had given away everything else to the poor.

Martin cut his cloak in half and gave it to the poor man.

That night, in a dream, Martin saw Christ clothed in the cloak who said, “Look. Martin, still a catechumen, has clothed Me with his garment.”

At that point in his life, Martin took seriously the works of mercy in Matthew 25, something that he lived out later when he was bishop of Tours.

Soon after this event, when the army was about to engage in battle, Martin asked to be released from the military. “I am a soldier of Christ, and I cannot fight,” he told his commander. Martin offered to go into battle the next day at the front of the troops, unarmed.

There are two stories of what happened next.

In one, the opposing army sued for peace that very night.

In the other, Martin was imprisoned for his “cowardice.”

He was released, was baptized, founded the first monastery in France, and was ricked into becoming the bishop of Tours.

Martin was a saint who loved the poor and gave his all for them – as the widow gave all she had in today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 41-44. But even more, he refused to kill, believing that following Christ meant walking the way of nonviolence and love of enemies.

He would not make many people happy these days with his concern for the poor and his refusal to kill.

He also did not believe that heretics should be executed, though he was forced to give in to one case, which he regretted all his life.

Martin of Tours is a saint whom we should remember – not just with our prayers but with our lives.

 

Will we become a people who live the poor, seek the way of nonviolence, and refuse to kill our enemies?

 

That’s quite a challenge.