Saint November 11 : St. Martin of Tours, Former Soldier who Became a Bishop and the Patron of the Poor, Alcoholics, Beggars and Wine makers
316, Savaria, Hungary
November 8, 397, Candes, France
gainst poverty; against alcoholism; beggars; Beli Manastir; Buenos Aires; Burgenland; cavalry; Dieburg; Edingen equestrians; Foiano della Chiana; France; geese; horses; hotel-keepers; innkeepers; Kortrijk; diocese of Mainz; Olpe; Pietrasanta; Pontifical Swiss Guards; quartermasters; reformed alcoholics; riders; diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart; soldiers; tailors; Utrecht; vintners; Virje; wine growers; wine makers; Wissmannsdorf
Today, November 11, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours (also known as “Martin the Merciful” and the “Glory of Gaul,” 316-397), bishop, and theologian. Saint Martin saw himself as a member of the “Army of God,” not the army of man. Zealous in his love for the Lord, he served (sometimes reluctantly, but ever obediently) those in need, and those who sought him out, for his eight-one years on the earth. Remembered for his great charity, Saint Martin inspires us still today to help those in need, as Christ would have helped them.
Martin was born to pagan parents in Sabaria (modern-day Hungary). The family soon moved to Italy, where Martin discovered Christianity and entered himself into the catechumenate at age 10. Of course, his parents were greatly opposed to his conversion, and attempted to dissuade him, but by age 12, his love for the Lord was so strong, he wished to live as a hermit and devote himself completely to prayer and contemplation. His father, an officer in the Roman army, conscripted Martin against his will into the army when he was just 15, in accordance with a Roman law forcing the sons of veterans to enlist. Martin, convinced that his belief in Christ was in direct opposition to military service, refused to present when required, and was taken by force, in chains, to make his oath. Out of obedience, once his oath was administered, he felt bound to obey. Due to his reluctance to fight, he was assigned to a ceremonial duty, designed to accompany the emperor, and rarely saw combat. Martin became a member of the Roman army prior to his baptism, as preparation for baptism at that time took several years. However, by his active duty, he was basically living the life of a monk, rather than a soldier, much to the irritation of his fellow soldiers and officers in the legion. He was promoted to officer, and because of this was entitled to a servant. However, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant's boots instead of the other way around!
The event that is most often cited as changing the life of Martin occurred one cold day in France, where Martin had been stationed on garrison duty. As he was making his patrol, he noticed a nearly naked beggar, freezing, and ignored by those whom he implored for help. Martin did not have a penny to give him, but he remembered the text of the Gospel: “I was naked, and you clothed Me.”
“My friend,” he said, “I have nothing but my weapons and my garments.”
And taking up his sword, he divided his cloak into two parts and gave one to the beggar. slicing the heavy and luxurious fabric with his sword. That night, Martin received the Lord in a dream. Jesus appeared to him, wrapped in the cloak Martin had given away, and said to him, “Martin, yet a catechumen, has covered me with this garment.” Following his dream, Martin proceeded with haste to be baptized, officially entering the Church at age 18. Martin’s military career proceeded without incident for several years, and at age 20, after five years of service, he was summoned before Caesar to receive a gift of money reserved for soldiers of outstanding service. Martin refused the gift, saying to Caesar, “I have served you as a soldier. Let me now serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others who are going to fight, but I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” The emperor, of course, was irritated by this lack of gratitude and respect, and accused Martin of cowardice. For his part, Martin replied that he was willing to go into battle unarmed and stand between the opposing parties in the name of Christ. He was immediately thrown into prison for refusing to fight, but received his discharge soon after, as truce was declared and the war was over. Upon discharge, Martin was drawn again to life as a hermit, wishing to lead a quiet life of prayer and contemplation. Saint Hilary recognized in Martin a man of extraordinary virtue, and took him as a disciple, repeatedly attempting to ordain him as a deacon. Martin, however, continually refused ordination, preferring to live a solitary life on some land given to him in Liguge. There, he was joined by other hermits, and together, they founded the first monastic community in Gaul. Saint Martin codified the model of monastic lives of the hermits—models used by other saints since that time. He performed miracles and exorcisms, and confronted demons not with threats, but through subduing them by prayer. On a trip over the Alps to visit his parents, Saint Martin was attacked by robbers who not only wanted to steal what he owned but threatened to take his life. Calm and unperturbed, the saintly man spoke to the robbers about God. One was so impressed he converted and became a law-abiding citizen. But Martin was to find even more trouble in his own home town. Though his mother converted to Christianity, his father stubbornly refused. When Martin began to denounce publicly the Arian heretics that were then in power throughout the empire -- even within the Church at that time -- he was whipped and driven out of his own hometown! When the second bishop of Tours died, the congregation there, knowing of Martin’s piety, demanded that he take his place. He refused, but was taken by force by a mob of townspeople to the church, where the bishops had gathered to consecrate him. Dirty, ragged, and disheveled, the bishops were appalled, and refused to consecrate him, thinking him unworthy of such an important office. However, the people demanded his consecration, stating that they didn’t chose him based upon his outward appearance, but because of his holiness, poverty, charity, and grace. Their minds changed by the acclamations of the people, Martin was consecrated the third bishop of Tours. As a bishop, Saint Martin continued to live his austere life, taking up a modest cell near the church, but soon retreating to an isolated place which would eventually become the famed monastic abbey at Marmoutiers. There, he was joined by eighty monks, living in wooden cells or caves in a nearby cliff. The monks spent their days in prayer and writing, rather than art or business as was the custom in the day. Martin personally instructed each of them, leading them in the faith, and creating an army of God. Many of the monks went on to hold important positions in the Church, having been firmly grounded in doctrine and faith by Saint Martin. Saint Martin became a model bishop, traveling from house to house through his mainly rural community and preaching to individuals and families (rather than limiting his efforts to the cities, or expecting rural Christians to travel into town for Mass). Once converted, he organized these rural communities under the direction of a priest or monk, and would visit each of his communities throughout his diocese at least once per year. He traveled on foot, or by donkey, exchanging the fine robes of a bishop for the simple cloak of a pilgrim monk. This system of rural communities became the model for modern-day rural dioceses, and his practice of visiting every community each year is still practiced by bishops today. Saint Martin was also a champion of social justice, and insisted on the freedom of prisoners who were mistreated, wrongly accused, or held for periods of time that did not befit their crimes. Many leaders began refusing to see him, knowing he would request freedom for prisoners, and they would feel obliged to acquiesce. One day a general named Avitianus arrived at Tours with ranks of prisoners he intended to torture and execute the next day. As soon as Martin heard of this cruel plan, he left his monastery for the city. Although he arrived well after midnight, he went straight to the house where the general was staying and threw himself on the threshold crying out in a loud voice. Avitianus was awakened by an angel who told him Martin was outside. Avitianus went to the door and told Martin, "Don't even say a word. I know what your request is. Every prisoner shall be spared.” Martin served the Lord until his eighty-first year. As death approached, his followers begged him not to leave them. He prayed, "Lord, if your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done." When about to die: He saw the devil standing near and cried out, 'Blood stained beast, what are you doing here? You will find nothing of yours in me, you living death. I go to the arms of Abraham.' These were his last words. Then he surrendered his soul to God. From a letter by Sulpicius Severus, his hagiographer: “Martin knew long in advance the time of his death and he told his brethren that it was near. Meanwhile, he found himself obliged to make a visitation of the parish of Candes. The clergy of that church were quarreling, and he wished to reconcile them. Although he knew that his days on earth were few, he did not refuse to undertake the journey for such a purpose, for he believed that he would bring his virtuous life to a good end if by his efforts peace was restored in the church. He spent some time in Candes, or rather in its church, where he stayed. Peace was restored, and he was planning to return to his monastery when suddenly he began to lose his strength. He summoned his brethren and told them he was dying. All who heard this were overcome with grief. In their sorrow they cried to him with one voice: “Father, why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone? Savage wolves will attack your flock, and who will save us from their bite when our shepherd is struck down? We know you long to be with Christ, but your reward is certain and will not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us.”
Thereupon he broke into tears, for he was a man in whom the compassion of our Lord was continually revealed. Turning to our Lord, he made this reply to their pleading: “Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”
Here was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer. It happened that some priests who had gathered at his bedside suggested that he should give his poor body some relief by lying on his other side. He answered: “Allow me, brothers, to look toward heaven rather than at the earth, so that my spirit may set on the right course when the time comes for me to go on my journey to the Lord.” At his request, he was buried in the Cemetery of the Poor.
Saint Martin was prone to lengthy fasts, many of which were accompanied by ecstatic visions of the Lord. Today, beginning the day after his feast day, and continuing until Christmas, some Christian communities continue to practice “Saint Martin’s Fast.” During this fast, the penitents engage in acts of penance and charity, as well as limit their food intake (of particular loved items, for example). The Fast of Saint Martin is meant to prepare the penitent to celebrate the Solemnity of Christmas. The fast reminds the penitent of several truths:
1. Our lives must be centered on God, not on self.
2. Our self denial is a prayer of the body to Our Lord Who came as an Infant to teach us and to redeem us.
3. Martin's act of cutting his cloak in two was both penitential and loving. All penances, if they are to have any merit spiritually, must be done in love.
4. We must be willing to give up anything and everything which keeps us from full union with God.
5. As soldiers of Christ, our struggle is to be against evil, not against others. We are always to be peacemakers as Martin was.
Saint Martin, a member of the “Army of God,” is also known as the patron saint of soldiers. On this, veterans day, we turn to him with a prayer of intercession for the protection of all those serving in armed forces around the world.
Prayer to Saint Martin of Tours for our soldiers
St. Martin, you were first a soldier like your father. Converted to the Church, you became a soldier of Christ, a priest and then a Bishop of Tours. Lover of the poor, and model for pagans and Christians alike, protect our soldiers at all times. Make them strong, just, and charitable, always aiming at establishing peace on earth. Amen.
Prayer to Continue to Fight for God (written by Saint Martin of Tours)
Lord, if your people still have need of my services, I will not avoid the toil. Your will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough. Yet if you bid me continue to hold the battle line in defense of your camp, I will never beg to be excused from failing strength. I will do the work you entrust to me. While you command, I will fight beneath your banner. Amen
Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your 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 lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God our Heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Story of St. Martin by 365RosariesBlog