Saturday, November 13, 2004

November 11 -- Veterans' Day or St. Martin's Day?

The other day, Nov. 11, it hit me that we in the U.S. have completely forgotten the saints... or at least, replaced the Church's saints with the nation's saints. We have a German au pair living with us, and a few weeks ago, she asked if we celebrated St. Martins day. In Germany, young children make lanterns and parade around town singing songs of St. Martin, who served God, bearing witness to Jesus Christ. In America, we have parades with veterans and bands, extolling the virtues of those who have served their country. Now I am not anti-military. I do worry that at times, the exalting of military men and women could lead to idolatry. Of course, remembering saints can lead there too... but I think it is a bit more difficult, when rendered properly.

St. Martin lived in the fourth century. He was born of a pagan family, and served in the Roman legion. After conversion, he found it more and more difficult to serve in the military as a Christian. I seem to remember that when he resigned his commission, the question was raised whether he was a coward. He offered to be present on the front lines of the battle unarmed to prove that he was not, but he did not feel that he could wield the sword anymore. Further parts of the legend, if I recall correctly, go on to say that he did in fact walk into the battle unarmed. His presence so unnerved the opposing forces, that they ran off.

While he was still a catachumen, Martin had seen a beggar, shivering in the cold. He leaped off his his horse, drew his sword and cut his cloak in two, half of which he gave to the beggar. That night, so the story goes, Martin dreamed of Jesus, wrapped in that same half of a cloak, saying, "Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak." Eventually, Martin is given the bishopric of Tours where he defended Orthodoxy in light of the Arian controversies.

The Lutheran Book of Worship gives us the following prayer of thanks for Martin, Bishop of Tours:
Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Martin, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace grow into the full stature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace.

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