The following reflection on Blessed Martin, Bishop of Tours, was written for the November 12th edition of the St. Luke’s Weekly. I’ve had some good response to it from parishioners so I thought I would share it here as well.
Today, November 11, the Church celebrates the feast day of one of my favorite saints: St. Martin of Tours. Blessed Martin was born about the year 330 at Sabaria, the modern Szombathely in Hungary. He spent a great deal of time in his early years in Rome and would complete a term of service in the Roman army. Martin is probably most remembered for two things his cloak and a goose.
In the year 372, Martin was elected Bishop of Tours an office he did not desire. As a way of trying to avoid his election, Martin hid in a barn. As legend has it, when the crowds searched the barn looking for him, a goose went over to where he was hiding and started honking thus giving away his position. The goose has thus been a symbol of Martin and there was even a medieval custom of eating goose on Martinmas (the Feast of St. Martin) as a way of honoring Blessed Martin’s memory. As fun as this legend of Martin and the Goose is, it is far from the most important part of Martin’s story. Martin’s legacy is truly understood and symbolized by his cloak.
While Martin was a catechumen (a person learning the faith and preparing for baptism) a beggar approached him asking for alms in the name of Christ. In that moment, Martin took his sword and cut away part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. The next night, Jesus appeared to Martin, clothed in Martin’s military cloak and said, “Martin, a simple catechumen, covered me with this garment.”
Martin took that which symbolized his power and authority, that which symbolized the power, authority, and military might of the Roman Empire and used it for the relief of one poor beggar. He broke from power of the empire to serve those in most in need and found that in doing that he was serving Christ himself.
Shortly after his baptism Martin left the army, took on a life with very strict religious practice, and strived always to live into the servant ministry of Christ: caring for the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, and anyone in need.
This is why I love Blessed Martin. Here is a man who had a significant amount of power and privilege and he gave it up to be a servant of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. Martin embodied in a powerful way the things we commit ourselves to in baptism; the things we are called by the Gospel mandate to follow. For me, Blessed Martin is a reminder of what some have called the movement of Christian resistance. The movement of Christians to resist the powers of this world, and align ourselves with the powers of God that always strive for justice and peace. You may have noticed a small silver metal pinned to my suit jacket each week, that is my Martin medal. It is an outward reminder to me that I have chosen to be a follower of Jesus and that requires me to live my life according the mandates of the gospel. While it is never an easy road, I know that witnesses and saints like Martin will guide me along the way.
As our world is increasingly filled with division, hatred, violence, and all sorts of vitriol, it seems to me that it needs more folks like Martin. More folks to stand on the side of justice and peace. More folks to stand asking the oppressive forces of darkness in this world. More folks to stand on the side of the love of God. More folks to cut their cloaks in half and care for the poor. May we evermore strive to be like Martin as we seek to follow the God who is all about compassion, kindness, grace, forgiveness, and relationship. Saint Martin, pray for us.