St. Martin of Tours and the War of Wars
The wind is howling and the temperature is dropping here in New Mexico. I just want to be inside, curled up with a cup of hot chocolate. Early in the winter season, I find myself longing for more sunshine. At this time of year in Germany and the Netherlands, the feast of St. Martin of Tours is celebrated with a lantern procession–an image of bringing light into the darkness.
St. Martin was a Roman soldier during the days of the Church Fathers. He is associated with light because he sought to spread truth and fight against heresy. He is most celebrated for his Christ-like generosity.
St. Martin was disowned by his pagan parents when he became a Christian. So he had very few material possessions, except a thick woolen cloak that soldiers wore. When he saw a beggar who was freezing in the fierce winds sweeping across Gaul, Martin was moved with pity. He pulled off his cloak and cut it in two, giving half to the beggar. That night he had a vision of Jesus wearing that red cloak and calling on Martin to finish the process of Christian initiation. He immediately set out to be baptized and to spread a message of charity and truth.
St. Martin’s feast day falls on Veteran’s Day which seems appropriate since he was a soldier. Veteran’s Day was created originally to commemorate the armistice which ended the hostilities of World War I. That war was to be “the war to end all war.” President Woodrow Wilson wrote: “Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive…and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed…the President of the United States is…inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches…with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
We know now that the “war to end all wars” was a dream and a glorious hope. Wars continue as a result of the sin and evil in our world. Veterans Day is a time to celebrate the heroes who risk their lives, again and again, to protect and defend our country.
In the fourth century, the era of St. Ambrose, St. Ephraim, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine and the Nicene Council, there were persecutions, fear and false doctrines. There was a need for constant clarification of truth. That same spiritual battle has not ended. Christians are still persecuted and we live in a dark world of immorality, self aggrandizement and false gods. We are in need of Light.
St. Martin became a warrior against heresy. As with all spiritual battles, it began with himself. He fought against selfishness. He fought against pride. He fought to stay true to the Gospel.
St. Martin was trained to fight on behalf of an earthly king. But he went on to fight for the King of Kings and his battle reminds us to remain vigilant and to welcome the Light of truth that comes to us in our faith.
Let’s ask God to bless our Church with the light of wisdom and charity. And may God bless our country with an appreciation for our veterans and with a return to Christian values. In God we trust!