Saturday, November 11, 2006

St. Martin of Tours/Veteran's Day/My Birthday

St. Martin of Tours was born in Pannonia of pagan parents around the year 316 AD. A soldier, he gave up military life after his conversion and baptism. Soon after his reception into the Church he founded a monastery at Ligugé in France where he led a monastic life under the direction of St. Hilary, who became bishop of Poitiers, and who was a potent opponent of Arianism in Western Europe. Martin was later ordained a priest and, later still, chosen as the bishop Tours, France. According to the Roman breviary, sitting in my lap, as bishop, St. Martin was "An example of the ideal good pastor, founding other monasteries, educating the clergy, and preaching the Gospel to the poor. He died in 397." In today's Office of Readings for the Memorial of St. Martin, a letter from Sulpicius Severus serves as the second reading. He writes, concerning the death of St. Martin, that after settling a dispute among the clergy of Candes in his diocese, as he was planning to return to his monastery in Tours, "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 not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us.'" Upon hearing these pleas, according Sulpicius Severus, Martin "broke into tears." He cried because "he was a man in whom the compassion of the Lord was continually revealed." Then, praying, St. Martin said: "Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task, your will be done."

The reading for the Memorial of St. Martin is from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter thirteen, verses 7-8: "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you; consider how their lives ended, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today,and forever"

The feast day of St. Martin, soldier, monk, bishop is a good day on which to celebrate Veteran's Day. A year ago I celebrated my birthday in Iraq. While there I was privileged to be able, during my time off, which was minimal, to serve, along with a wonderful priest, God's People as a deacon; serving at Mass, preaching, leading a prayer group, etc. The photo below is from Midnight Mass last year. On this occasion, among this group of warriors, there were many tears, as we who were bearing the burden of war prayed for Peace on earth, good will to men. Nonetheless, a mortar hit near us during Mass. We did not stop, or take cover, we continued to make Christ present in the fourfold way of the Mass (i.e., in the gathered faithful, in the person of the priest, in the reading of the Word, in the breaking of the bread) in that place that needed, and still needs, the Prince of Peace so badly. How is He to be present, except through His Body, the Church?

Therefore, let us remember my comrades in arms on this day and ask St. Martin of Tours, whose feast is today, along with St. Stephen, my baptismal and confirmation patron, one of the seven deacons chosen by the apostles in Acts, a martyr, to intercede for all serving the cause of peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us ask them to intercede for their safety, to comfort their families, and for the insurgents' conversion of heart. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Peace, ora pro nobis. St. Stephen, ora pro nobis. St. Martin of Tours, on this, your feast day, ora pro nobis.

Another brief word on the name Stephen: it is my given middle name. So, when I became Catholic I had a ready-made baptismal and confirmation patron. He, along with St. Martin of Tours, are my heavenly patrons in a very special and powerful way. In fact, the holy card picture on my profile is of St. Stephen. I mention this only to remind people not to neglect their own patrons in the Communion of Saints. You neglect them to your own disadvantage. As Fr. Tonino Lasconi, a parish priest and author of numerous volumes on the renewal of catechesis in Italy, observes, "Without the saints, the faith vanishes."

As I was putting the finishing touches on this post I received a call from my Dad informing me that one of my uncles, a well-known Quarter Horse trainer, passed away this morning. He had been suffering from cancer, but in God's mysterious plan, he died from a sudden blot clot. I entrust him to God's mercy and also ask your prayers for the repose of his soul and the comfort of his family. So many people have left me this year. I think that it is why I found the story of St. Martin's death so comforting. It puts me in mind of the Holy Father's Easter proclamation: "Christus resurrexit quia Deus Caritas est!" Christ is resurrected because God is Love!

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