Written on: November 11, 2014
This originally appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times (Philadelphia), Thursday November 7, 1985
November 11. Armistice Day. Veterans Day. Feast of St. Martin of Tours.
We have much to learn about God’s way in our world from St. Martin, himself a veteran. Historians tell us that, reluctantly acceding to his Tribune-father’s wishes, Martin became a loyal soldier. All the while his compassionate spirit manifested itself in many ways, not the least of which was the routine sharing of his possessions with those in need. This generosity led to the storied occasion when he divided a great white cloak, the symbol of his membership in Rome’s elite Imperial Guard, with a shivering beggar. Martin later discovered that the beggar was Christ. “I was naked and you clothed me…”
Though still a young man, Martin knew that God was calling him to a lifestyle radically different from that of his father. When Julian Caesar offered his soldiers a gratuity for their service Martin found the courage within himself to say: “Keep your gifts, Caesar, I am a soldier of Christ. I am not allowed to fight.” Later on Martin amplified on his position with a request that Julian eventually honored: “I have served you up to now Caesar. Let me now serve God.”
Martin’s service in a world of civil and religious turmoil was demanding, humbling, and even dangerous- but he persevered. His simplicity and steadfastness is suggestive of more familiar saints like Francis of Assisi or John Neumann. In time, the people of Tours insisted that Martin be appointed as their bishop, an honor that he would happily have avoided were it not for their needs. (It is perhaps, worth mentioning that Martin was consecrated bishop on another date that is significant in our own history, July 4.)
As his service in Christ’s way drew to a close, he gave one final, characteristic ‘command’: “You must bury me in the pauper’s graveyard.”
Martin did not simply stop being a soldier. He realized out of his own experience that commitment requires deeds that are consistent with beliefs and intentions. He chose a different way of living. He became a healer, a prophet, a real peacemaker.
Is it not yet time for more people to accept the fact that God has called us to celebrate life and resolve problems through the way of Jesus and the witness of disciples like Martin?
Is it not yet time that we stop believing prophets and proponents of war who, however persuasively they frame their speech, inevitably end up requiring the sacrifice of of human lives and the abuse of our earth’s treasures and resources?
A centopath at Hiroshima states: “Rest in peace, for the mistake will not be repeated.” There are- and have been- many such optimistic sentiments spoken out or written down after too many wars. The god of war is deceitful and a proven failure but never seems to lack admirers. We may soon find ourselves unable to pay the cost for such admiration.
Let us open our lives to our true God. Let us learn to worship in deed as well as word or intention. Let us seek and witness to Christ with the integrity of His veteran, Martin.
Rev. John J. Nevins wrote this guest editorial many years ago, but it still rings true. Today, “Fr. Jack” resides and serves as chaplain to the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart at their Motherhouse in Yardley, PA. We are grateful to him for sharing this with us today. Fr. Jack has a long history of working toward world peace, beginning with healing interpersonal relationships.