Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.


Bishop (Nov 11)

That's today. In merry olde England, they used to refer to the major feast days by the person or occasion whose Mass was celebrated that day: Michaelmas (on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, now of all the Archangels), Candlemas (on Feast of the Presentation), Whitmas, Christmas, and so on. Today is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, in France, and it is a special day to me. The parish where I was raised is dedicated to him and under his patronage. A year or so ago, I read a biography of him written by a very interesting Frenchwoman.

Regine Pernoud, the biographer, was a professor of medieval history who lived from 1909 to 1998. She was elected to the Academie Francaise, quite an honor - maybe the highest for a French intellectual. She was not religious, as far as I can tell, until she began to write the lives of saints - first Joan of Arc, then Martin of Tours, and maybe others. Her biographies betray her conversion though, because while maintaining a rigorous standard of scholarship and thought, they have none of the dismissive anti-Catholicism that biases so much academic study of medieval history. She doesn't accept all the miracle accounts just because they are miracle accounts, but nor does she reject them just because they are miracle accounts. Some she accepts as well documented, and others she notes as nice stories, perhaps even true. A very sober, faithful, and ultimately pious approach. But I digress.

Martin was born in 316 in Hungary and as a young man was pressed into the Roman army's officer corps as a young man for the simple reason that his father had been an officer, and a new law required him to replace his father when his father retired. So Martin's early dreams of life in a monastery were dashed. He didn't abandon his Christian way of life though, not for a minute. Everyone around him marvelled at the care he took of his slaves, at how he tended them when they were ill, how he prayed during the night when he thought nobody was looking. There was even an incident when, on a cold day, he split his cloak, his precious centurion's cloak, and gave half it to a naked beggar on the road. This must have shocked his cohort not only for its practical implications (now both saint and beggar would be poorly clad!) but for its symbolic implications - the various implements of the legion were held sacred by the legionnaires. But that the Christian legionnaire held other things sacred, it was clear to all.

After departing from military service (perhaps simply by going AWOL after a decade or two), and settling in the western part of central France, Martin found himself ordained a priest. He tried to live quietly in the countryside, but there was so much need around him - material and spiritual especially. As the Roman Empire decayed, its deteriorating infrastructure left many abandoned of basic necessities. While the Gospel spread rapidly in the cities, out in the heath (countryside, hence the word "heathen"; "pagus" is the same thing in Latin, "a country district," hence the word "pagan") the Gospel spread more slowly and was easily mixed with local rites and gods. As he went from middle age to later years, his hopes of retirement to a monastery or better, a hermitage, were yet again dashed - Martin was elected bishop by the priests of his diocese.

As bishop, Martin wasted little time scolding lazy priests - he did their work for them until, shamefaced, they reclaimed their duties. He travelled throughout the diocese, throughout France and Germany, really, praying with his flock, preaching to them, administering the sacraments, defending them from local despots, and leading them to Christ. Miracle after miracle was attributed to him, and threats against his life by jealous clergy and irritated civil authorities were all thwarted. He is one of the few saints said to have raised the dead back to life. What marvelled people most was that, even as he entered his eightieth year he never stopped pouring himself out for his people.

The evidence of a person's greatness has to be found in the impact they make in the lives of others. At a certain point, words are no longer needed because the evidence is abundant. From Hungary to France there are thousands of churches and chapels named for the would-be hermit. Their number is bested only by the number of such places dedicated to the Blessed Virgin herself. He is one of very few saints that has an entire liturgy from Matins to Compline, with a Mass to boot, written in his honor, celebrated today. Martin is a very common name in France, Germany, Hungary, and elsewhere. Pernoud was able to write her biography using several sources written contemporaneously with his life, or shortly thereafter, including one source who was a childhood-friend-turned-admirer of the Bishop of Tours. My parish celebrates its patron each year with a parish dinner dance, and more importantly, by collecting from parishioners hundreds of winter coats to be distributed to the poor of our pagus... I mean, county. The important thing to note, and to replicate, about Holy Martin's generosity is that it was not out of his abundance. Remember how our Blessed Lord appraised the poor widow's generosity?

"Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put her whole livelihood," (Lk 21:3-4).

This saint, who cut his only cloak in two, is one who should inspire us to dig deeper, trusting in our heavenly Father to provide all that we need, and looking to Him for that Providence, and being a means of His Providence for others.

Holy Martin of Tours, pray for us.

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