Monday, 12 November 2012
By T.G. Blankenship at The Gethsemane Blog
Today, in the United States, it is Veteran's Day. It is a day which honors the men and women who have been faithful participants in the military of the nation. Interestingly (though probably not coincidentally), this day on the Church calendar is one that also remembers and honors a military participant.
Today is the day of St. Martin of Tours.
Born a pagan (in what is now Hungary) only a few years after the conversion of Emperor Constantine, he was the son of a military veteran who had been a senior officer in the Roman military. Martin was named after Mars, the god of war. At the age of 15 he became a soldier to be thrown into the "holy wars" of the empire, following in his father's footsteps.
On a rigid cold day, Martin was at the city gates of Amiens (modern-day France) and saw a beggar shivering. Since he was on duty he was only girded with his weapons and military garb. As his heart was overwhelmed with compassion for the beggar he cut his cape into two pieces with his sword and wrapped the garment around the beggar to warm him up. The people laughed at the soldier for his now distasteful appearance (can you imagine walking around with half a cape) while others felt shame for their lack of desire to help the poor man.
Later that night, while sleeping, Martin saw Jesus wrapped in the cape he had given to the beggar. The Saviour said to the soldier, "Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his garment." When Martin turned 18 he was baptized as a Christian and began to live more like a monk than a soldier despite continuing at his military post.
At the age of 23 he refused a war bonus and told his commanding officer, "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight." In this protest Martin echoed the early church father Tertullian who stated, "The Lord, in disarming Peter, subsequently unbelted every soldier." Shortly after this, but not without difficulties, Martin of Tours was discharged from his military position.
St. Martin of Tours is often referred to as the first conscientious objector to war. It's interesting that he was a soldier before his objection to such activity. For Martin, part of his conversion consisted of laying down his arms and pursuing Christ's kingdom (over Constantine's) by loving the poor and healing the sick. He always viewed himself a soldier but there came a time when he enlisted in the military of Christ his King and that conflicted with his allegiance to Constantine and his activity in the Roman military.
What I love about this saint is that he lives out the prophecy we see in Isaiah 2:4 which states, "...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Joel 3:9-10 has similar words which apply beautifully to this saint when it is written, "Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, 'I am a warrior.'"
Martin, always a warrior, beat his sword into a plowshare and spear into a pruning hook by ripping his uniform into a blanket for the suffering beggar. He took what was meant to show status for the warrior and made it a warm cloth for the low in status and weak. The event is poetic to say the least.
After he left the military the soldier for Christ became an exorcist and a true monk in Milan and later on a small island. He established the first French monastery. A decade later he traveled to Tours to heal a sick man and became the bishop of the people there. Along with Ambrose, Martin stood against the killing of heretics and against the Emperor having a say in similar Church matters. He did his best to work with those he disagreed with, even on matters as large as killing heretics. He saw the gray in life.
At the end of his life, prior to passing away, he prayed "Lord, if your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done." Like Paul, he wanted to serve others before being with Christ. He always followed the orders of his Commander-in-Chief Jesus. May we all be able to pray such wonderful words and take care of the poor and hurting around us. May we see ourselves as enlisted in the military of the Kingdom of God, serving others in humble love as our act of war against evil.
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