Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today is not only Veterans’ Day, it is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier in the army of the Emperor in the 4th century (only a little after Constantine legalized the Christian religion).

His conversion seems to be linked to his innate inclination to generosity, sharing his cloak with a freezing beggar (in a dream, the ‘beggar,' it turned out, was Christ). He declared his desire to leave the army and pursue other battles, against Satan, as a hermit.

It is a good thing that Canon Law did not exist in those days. Canon 1026 insists that no one can be coerced into ordination, but Martin (at the insistence of the people) was tricked: he was kidnapped and brought into the church where he was ordained bishop of Tours. Once so consecrated, he was a model of pastoral care.

Veterans today have many struggles, and as a result of their experiences in combat also deal with many additional demons—those produced by the memories of battle, experiences perhaps of having been prisoners of war, tortured, the loss of comrades (sometimes those right next to them in combat), realization that sometimes actions (sometimes, their own) have caused the deaths of civilians, believing oneself finally generally disregarded once back home… The list of demons is long and terrifying. As the political cartoon in today’s Mobile Press-Register put it, war doesn’t necessarily end just because the shooting has stopped.

So today we remember those who have engaged in combat to defend others, including us—perhaps most especially we remember those of the “Greatest Generation,” whose numbers are slipping away from us. And we remember, too, those who inspire us to do battle under the standard of Jesus Christ—committed to the combat of love, forgiveness, healing, prayer, service.

For all of us, then, St. Martin of Tours is a special saint and example.

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