Friday, November 11, 2022

S. Martin of Tours

Today is the feast day of S. Martin of Tours. He was born in Pannonia (Hungary) about 316, and died in 397. He was buried on this day in Tours (France). His father was a tribune, a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Horse Guard. Martin and his family went with his father when he was assigned to a post at Ticinum, in Northern Italy. It was here that Martin grew up.

Christianity had become legal in the Roman Empire just before Martin was born. The Church's faith and worship could now be openly practised, and it is a fact of history that the preaching of the Gospel transformed ancient Rome, as well as outposts of the empire. Although Martin's parents were not converted, by the age of ten, he had decided to become a Christian.

When he was fifteen, Martin was required to follow his father into the army. 

In this capacity he came across a beggar in Amiens. The weather was cold, and the beggar unclothed, so Martin removed his cloak took his sword, and sliced his cloak in two. One half he gave to the beggar and dressed himself in what was left over. Later that night, Martin had a vision in which Jesus appeared to him, saying, 'Martin, a mere catechumen - i.e. one who is still learning the basics of the Faith - has clothed me.' 

At about the age of 20, Martin sought release from military service in order to devote himself to serving Jesus and his Church. He travelled to Tours where he was influenced by the great Bishop Hilary of Poitiers.

Martin travelled to Italy. According to one account, he was confronted by a highwayman and led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Another account tells of Martin confronting the devil. While on this journey, Martin had a vision which compelled him to return to his mother in Pannonia. He did so and led his own mother to faith in Christ. Martin attempted to persuade his father to embrace faith in Jesus Christ, but as far as we know, he did not succeed.

Following Hilary's example, Martin struggled against the false teaching of the Arians who denied the full divinity of Jesus. So, as had happened to Hilary, Martin found himself in temporary exile. Upon his return he established a monastery following the Rule of S. Benedict. From this base, Martin worked worked hard, travelling far and wide as an evangelist, bringing people to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, when, in 371, the people of Tours needed a new bishop they called Martin - against his wishes - to that role. They eventually tricked him into saying yes. He was consecrated, and in fact became a very holy and hardworking Bishop.

Martin organised his diocese into parishes and visited each of them each year. He was very much an evangelist-bishop, proclaiming with great passion the life-giving Gospel everywhere he went.

But in 372, because he wanted to be able to pray more and live a monastic life Martin established an abbey at Marmoutier with a community of those who had been drawn to him. This Abbey became his base.

He died in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul in 397. This moving account of his death, written by his biographer, Sulpicius Severus, is set for the Office of Readings today: 

Martin knew long in advance the time of his death and he told his brethren that it was near. Meanwhile, he found himself obliged to make a visitation of the parish of Candes. The clergy of that church were quarrelling, and he wished to reconcile them. Although he knew that his days on earth were few, he did not refuse to undertake the journey for such a purpose, for he believed that he would bring his virtuous life to a good end if by his efforts peace was restored in the church.

He spent some time in Candes, or rather in its church, where he stayed. Peace was restored, and he was planning to return to his monastery when suddenly he began to lose his strength. He summoned his brethren and told them he was dying. All who heard this were overcome with grief. In their sorrow they cried to him with one voice: “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.”

Thereupon he broke into tears, for he was a man in whom the compassion of our Lord was continually revealed. Turning to our Lord, he made this reply to their pleading: “Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”

Here was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer. It happened that some priests who had gathered at his bedside suggested that he should give his poor body some relief by lying on his other side. He answered: “Allow me, brothers, to look towards heaven rather than at the earth, so that my spirit may set on the right course when the time comes for me to go on my journey to the Lord.” As he spoke these words, he saw the devil standing near. “Why do you stand there, you bloodthirsty brute?” he cried. “Murderer, you will not have me for your prey. Abraham is welcoming me into his embrace.”

With these words, he gave up his spirit to heaven. Filled with joy, Martin was welcomed by Abraham. Thus he left this life a poor and lowly man and entered heaven rich in God’s favour.


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