11 November 2009

Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

11 NOVEMBER 2009. Today's memorial celebrated by the Church is that of Saint Martin of Tours, patron saint of beggars, soldiers, and the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps.

Saint Martin was born in what is today Hungary in about 316. Martin was the son of a soldier in the Roman army, and although he was from a pagan family, Saint Martin presented himself to the Church at the age of 10 as a catechumen (or, candidate for Baptism). When Saint Martin's father was transferred to Ticinum, Cisalpine Gaul (today Pavia, Italy) Martin moved too, and upon reaching the appropriate age was conscripted into the Roman Army.

As a soldier in the Roman army, Saint Martim met a half-naked and shivering beggar outside the gates of the city of Amien. Immediately, moved with pity for the man, Saint Martin cut his own cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night, Saint Martin had a dream of Jesus wearing his half-cloak. In his dream, Jesus said to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized, he has clothed me." This dream confirmed in Martin his piety, and he was baptized as a Christian at the age of 18.

Saint Martin still served two more years in the Army. Just before a battle was to take place in Worms, Saint Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting. When he refused to fight, he was jailed for cowardice. However, in response to the charge, Saint Martin offered to go before the enemy unarmed. His military leaders were going to take Martin up on his offer, but the armies made peace and the battle never occurred.

After his service as a soldier, Saint Martin declared his vocation and became a disciple of Saint Hilary of Poitiers. In his ensuing years, Saint Martin spent time in various places, including spending some time living as a hermit off of the Italian coast. During this time he experienced the happiness of converting his mother to Christianity. Saint Hilary spent a period of time in exile, but upon his return, Saint Martin and Saint Hilary built a monastery at Liguge, where Saint Martin lived until being chosen a Bishop of Tours in 371.

At probably the age of 55, Saint Martin became the Bishop of Tours. He continued, though, to lead the same simple life that he had lived in the monastery. At first as bishop, Saint Martin lived in a little cell near the church. However, soon after, Saint Martin laid the foundations for the celebrated monastery of Marmoutier, which consisted originally of only a few grottos hewn into the rock with wooden cells. However, many eventually flocked to this monastery which is the reason that Saint Martin became known as the founder of monasticisim in Gaul.

During his time as bishop, many heresies plagued the Church. While a staunch supporter of the Church in the face of heresy, Saint Martin was also opposed to those who would put heretics to death, making efforts to save them from execution.

On the whole, Saint Martin's life was known for his constant prayer. Many miracles were attributed to Saint Martin during his life and after his death. Saint Martin died on 8 November 397 at about the age of 81.

During the middle ages, the veneration of Saint Martin was very popular. In many places in Europe today, Saint Martin's Day is still celebrated by the faithful and others alike.

As a historical footnote, it is interesting to know that Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation, was named after Saint Martin and was baptized on Saint Martin's feast day, 11 November.


God, Your bishop Saint Martin glorified You
by both his life and his death.
Renew in us Your grace,
so that neither death nor life can
separate us from Your love.


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