Remembering is required of Christians. Perhaps one of the main struggles that God had with the Israelites was that they didn’t want to remember Him. They didn’t want to be indebted to God for all He had done for them. Remembering brings responsibilities. If you remember, you have to do something. Like showing gratitude and remembering to obey God’s commandments and to live the values that our faith teaches.
Our Christian faith, our Church, is founded upon remembering. We gather to remember. In our Mass, we hear in the words of consecration, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We remember to give thanks together. Remembering is our duty. It is impossible to be Christian and choose to forget.
Today we remember St. Martin of Tours. Why?
St. Martin died 1,600 years ago, in 397. He was a bishop in the fourth century. However, there were dozens of good bishops in that age, so why remember Martin? We have nothing that he wrote, so he is not remembered as an author or doctor of the Church. He was not martyred. Why is his feast day remembered in the USA?
As a young man, Martin was a soldier in the Roman army, conscripted against his will. He was preparing to become a Christian. One winter day he met at the gate of the city a poor man, almost naked, shaking with cold, begging alms. Martin, taking his sword split his cloak in two pieces and gave half his cloak to the naked beggar. The accounts we have say that Martin had a dream that night and in his sleep saw Jesus Christ, dressed in that half of the garment which he had given away, and he heard Jesus say, “Martin, yet a catechumen, has covered me with this garment.” His biographer says that Martin “flew to be baptized.”
Martin participated courageously in the defense of Roman Gaul against a barbarian invasion. He appeared before the emperor Julian who offered him a bounty for his war efforts. Martin refused, telling the emperor, “I have served you as a soldier; let me now serve Christ.” The emperor accused Martin of cowardice, but Martin offered to go into battle the next day against the enemy unarmed, and to advance against the enemy in the name of Christ. The emperor had Martin thrown into prison. However, the enemy sued for armistice and the war ended. Martin was released.
He left military service and became a priest. He founded one of the earliest monasteries in France at Tours. About the year 371 the people of Tours demanded Martin for their Bishop. He served as bishop of Tours while maintaining his monastic way of life. When Martin converted, Gaul was still mostly pagan, but paganism decreased dramatically in his lifetime.
Remember the cloak? For centuries that relic of Martin was kept at the monastery he founded. French kings would carry that cloak into battle. Our modern word “chaplain” comes from the French word used in the Middle Ages to identify the priest who carried St. Martin’s cloak with the armies of the King. The monastery became a pilgrimage site and devotion to St. Martin grew over the centuries. Many miracles were attributed to him. The French army frequently attributed successes in war to the protection of St. Martin.
The protestant and secular movements in France attempted to erase all memory of Catholic France, including the tomb and relics of Martin. In the 19th century secularism, agnosticism and anti-clericalism caused many to desert the Church. Martin, however, was a man’s saint, and often is presented as a fine masculine model of principled behavior, a brave fighter who knew his obligation to the poor and shared his goods, while dutifully performing his military service.
St. Martin’s popularity was renewed during the First World War. Anticlericalism declined as priests served in the French forces as chaplains. Over five thousand French priests were killed while serving as chaplains during that war. During the war special prayers were offered in France and elsewhere to St. Martin, their patron saint.
At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month on St. Martin’s day, today, gentlemen and ladies, the First World War ended. The French saw that moment in 1918 as another sign of the Saint’s intercession. Within a few years the Western world remembered that day as Armistice Day. Today we call it Veteran’s Day.
We are called to remember, as Christians, our faith, and the cost of freedom to practice it. We are called to remember our veterans. Remembering is our duty. By remembering we enter into the depths of the gifts we received, and we are able to see the sacrifices of the givers more clearly. Don’t forget to pray for those who gave their lives in service to our country, and those who served with honor. St. Martin, pray for them, and for us.