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The Memorial of St. Martin of Tours — Nov. 11

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By Melanie Williams (Nov 11, 2017)
Born circa 315 in Pannonia, a Roman Province that is now modern day Hungary, Martin was the son of a Roman officer. Even though Christianity was now legal after years of brutal persecution, his parents kept to the old Roman-pagan religion. Martin yearned to know what Christianity was about, so at the age of 10, he secretly knocked on a Church door and was asked to be made a catechumen.

At the age of 15, he was forced to join the army. Still unbaptized, he longed to be a Christian monk. They had to hold him in chains before taking the military oath. After the oath, he felt bound to obey. He was assigned to a ceremonial cavalry unit and rarely saw battle. He tried to live the life of a monk as much as he could. He was assigned a servant, but he insisted on switching roles — cleaning the servant's boots instead of the other way around.

On a bitterly cold winter day, Martin was entering the city on his horse, dressed in his military regalia — armor, helmet, and a beautiful lamb's wool cloak. While entering the gates, a beggar lay there shivering, naked, in the cold. Martin, filled with compassion for the poor man, immediately cut off half of his cloak, and wrapped the man in it.

That night, Martin had a dream where he saw Jesus wearing half of the cloak he had given the beggar. Jesus said to angels and saints surrounding Him, "See! This is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me." When Martin awoke, he was compelled by Jesus' words "yet a catechumen," and went immediately to be baptized. He was 18 years old.

Now a Christian, Martin refused to accept the money given to soldiers to boost their morale, and he told his commander to put him in front of the battle without any armor. He said he would never fight again — he was now a soldier for Christ. His commander was furious and put him in prison until the next battle, when he would put Martin right up front as he had asked. Miraculously, while Martin was in prison, the other side surrendered and asked for peace. Martin was released from prison and the army.

Looking for guidance, Martin found St. Hilary, who wanted to ordain him. Not thinking himself worthy, he refused, but agreed to become the exorcist at Hilary's persistence. He decided to become a hermit near St. Hilary in Tours, and people started flocking to him to live his way of life. He established a monastery and remained there until Hilary died. When the local bishop died, the people wanted to elect Martin to succeed him. They knew he would probably not want to be bishop, so they tricked him into it. A citizen of Tours came to Martin begging him to visit his sick wife. When Martin went, a crowd surrounded him and took him to the bishops to be consecrated.

At the time, the duties of many bishops went beyond serving as spiritual pastors; they also helped govern the affairs of the area. Wanting to continue to live the life of a monk, Martin found it nearly impossible to do so as people constantly came to him with their questions and concerns. Martin retreated to the forest where he built a cabin out of branches. There he established another monastery and kept in touch with the people of Tours through priest representatives.

Martin made it his mission to go door to door, visiting non-Christians and sharing with them about Jesus. He converted many and would gather them into groups and assign a priest to direct them. A lot of resistance came against him — one time, pagan believers dressed as gods and came after him in the night to scare him. It did not shake him at all, and he continued to spread the Good News wherever he went.

Many pagan temples were torn down under the guidance of Martin, and Christian churches were built on top of them. He shepherded his people with great love and care. He sought out the abandoned, the wayward, and the marginalized. While seeking time for great prayer and solitude with the Lord, he never neglected his duty to care for the people whom the Lord had entrusted to him.

Tired and exhausted near the end of his life, he made one last journey to a neighboring church to end quarrelling between pastors. Peace was restored, and he made plans to return to his monastery. Suddenly he began to lose strength and told those who were with him that he was dying. Grief-stricken, one of his brothers cried out, "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 will not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us."

Martin broke down in tears and said to the Lord, "Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task. Your will be done."

But he would die soon thereafter. On his deathbed, over 80 years old, he sought no relief from his bodily suffering. He kept his gaze heavenward. Satan appeared by his bedside, and Martin spoke to him, "Why do you stand there, you bloodthirsty brute?" He continued, "Murderer, you will not have me for your prey. Abraham is welcoming me into his embrace."

One of his followers, Sulpicius Severus, wrote the biography of St. Martin. The full account of Martin's death is read today in the Office of Readings.

Saint Martin of Tours gives us a remarkable witness of holiness that we all can imitate. Christ is naked in our brothers and sisters around us, and we are called to clothe Him. He is hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, and we are called to minister to Him in our brothers and sisters. Let us pray to St. Martin of Tours that we may be men and women of prayer and service, spreading the Good News of Jesus with everyone we meet.

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