Whenever I pack to go camping, it’s inevitable that I will find myself asking the same question. Generally between stops at the store, and cramming sleeping bags, tents, cookware, rain gear, toilet paper, ice, meals and water into the car, I will pause and think: Remind me why it takes so much stuff to slow down and live simply for the weekend?
I value the simplicity of spending time in the woods. But if I’m honest, staying home feels like the simpler option.
You know this feeling too, I’m sure. Wearing two hats (or more!) for the weekend or as a vocation. Maybe you chose them both, maybe you didn’t choose either: wife and caretaker; working and mom; leader and introvert. Absolutely none of these things are mutually exclusive, but we all resonate with the feeling of having more than one calling at one time. We understand the need to be true to ourselves while being faithful to our call. In other words, we are well-versed in paradoxes.
Saint Martin of Tours is a fascinating study in what it means to live in paradox.
Saint Martin of Tours
Born into a pagan family, Martin began attending a Christian church as a boy and chose to become initiated in the Church against his father’s wishes. Christianity had become legalized only three years before Saint Martin was born. Followers of Christianity were not highly regarded at this time, particularly among people of means.
As the son of a military family, Martin was required to become a soldier in the Roman army. After his Baptism in 354, however, Saint Martin declared his allegiance to Christ rather than his commanding officer: "I am the soldier of Christ: it is not lawful for me to fight."
In response, Martin was jailed and called a coward. Martin offered to go unarmed to the battlefront, and leaders nearly took him up on the offer but the battle never occurred because their opponents unexpectedly sought peace. Saint Martin was released from military service.
Martin the Merciful
Among the many marks of his saintly life, Martin of Tours is most famously known as "Martin the merciful" after an encounter with a naked beggar. A Roman soldier at the time, Martin cut his own cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. Later in a dream, the face of the man to whom he had given the cloak was revealed to be Christ. Beautifully, this image is heralded by those in military service as well as those aligned with pacifism.
He is celebrated as both patron of soldiers as well as conscientious objectors. In fact, his feast day (November 11th) is also the secular observance of Veteran’s Day in the United States, on which we recognize and celebrate all soldiers living and deceased who have fought on behalf of their country. His unique example made him a bridge between two distinct camps: pacifists and soldiers.
His Defense of the Truth
Following his military service, Martin became a follower of Hilary of Poitiers and a staunch defender of the Church against Arianism. For this he was beaten and exiled by the Arian Archbishop. In 361 he became a hermit and established a hermitage that attracted many followers.
Ten years later, Martin was selected as Bishop of Tours. Legend has it that he was so opposed to this post that he hid in a barn full of geese, but their cackling gave him away. (Thus arose the connection to his title as patron Saint of geese). Despite naysayers who thought him too disheveled to serve as bishop, he rallied and served to eliminate pagan temples and statues, all the while establishing monasteries. Eventually, he established the monastery of Marmoutier, where he could be near Tours while living his call to the monastic life and avoiding public attention.
Living the Call of Christ
The shrine of Saint Martin de Tours continues to be a popular stopping point for those pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago Compostela in Spain. Martin himself remains an important figure in the tradition of the Church that holds room and celebrates his loyalty and commitment as a soldier, as well as his prayerful discernment to opt out of conflict he could not fight in good conscience.
Saint Martin, although raised pagan, chose Christ. While serving in the Roman army, he chose to serve Christ rather than his anti-Christian leaders. In his public role as bishop, Martin found creative solutions to lead while maintaining commitment to his call as a monastic.
In your own walk with Christ, have you been challenged to serve with creativity between different callings? How does Saint Martin inspire you to persevere?
Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the Soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop of your Church to be a defender of the Catholic faith; Give us grace to follow in his holy steps that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. Amen.
Saint Martin de Tours, pray for us!