St. Martin of Tours
Lesser Feasts and Fasts lectionary
Isaiah 58:6-12 Is not this the fast that I choose?--to let the oppressed go
Psalm 15 Verba mea auribus - Hear my words O Lord
or 34:15-22 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righeous
Matthew 25: 34-40 (but you ought to add 41-46 as well--don't leave out the goats) He will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats
Homily Grits by Grant M. Gallup
This used to be called Armistice Day as well, when at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Allied Powers kept a moment of silence to honor the laying down of armaments in 1918, which brought an end to what was innocently called The Great War, which was to end all wars. It was a serendipity unknown to Woodrow Wilson that it was also the feast of a soldier saint who had foresworn the use of violence.
Martin was born around 330 C.E. in Sabaria, in what is now Hungary. He grew up in Pavia, in Italy. His father was in the Roman imperial army, and Martin himself entered the officer corps and was assigned to Amiens in France. As a young officer, he one day met a beggar, who asked for help in the name of Christ. Martin used his military sword to redistribute his own property to the poor man--for he cut his military great cloak in two, and gave half to the beggar. (He learned that figure perhaps from Zebedee, in Luke's gospel, who gave half his goods to feed the poor.) Legend has it that the next night Jesus Christ appeared to Martin clothed in the half-cloak and said to him, "Martin the Catechumen covered me with this clothing." Martin saw that the cloakless poor man was Jesus with whom he had shared. He soon asked to be baptized and then his baptism "took", for he had a positive reaction and was in time "conscientizado"--his conscience was elevated, or as Buddha would say, he was awakened. About the year 339 he asked to be discharged from the Military, for he saw that it was inconsistent with his Baptism to serve Caesar in that way. "I am Christ's soldier," he declared, "and I am not allowed to fight." He was charged with cowardice, but offered to be a fourth century Witness for Peace, to prove that untrue. He offered to stand between opposing lines of soldiers, unarmed, as the members of Witness for Peace did in our generation in Nicaragua, and do so still in Hebron and other hot spots in the world, with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He was "discharged for the good of the service" and went to live as a recluse for a while before joining Hilary at Poitiers, the great theologian bishop (yes, that is possible!) who had himself been converted from a great pagan family. Martin was ordained and eventually, and reluctantly, became Bishop of Tours in 370 C.E.
Martin's "creative violence" towards his own property and his refusal to show destructive violence towards other of God's children who called themselves soldiers, seemed to become the principle by which he also dealt with controversy. He permitted violence in the forcible destruction of the shrines of heathen religion but stood against the Emperor who condemned to death the practitioners of magic and superstition. Martin was not excessively popular with other bishops, because he lived simply and was ardently opposed to any violence in the repression of unbelief and heresy. He called for bloodless jihad, not bloody crusade. He as a missionary to the simple country people (that it what "pagan" meant) who lived round about his hermitage, and always defended the poor in whom he had first met Christ.
He died on November 11, 397. Martin Luther was doubtless named for him, and by derivation in an apostolic succession of nomenclature, so was Martin Luther King Jr., for them both. A name resplendent with honor. Martin's memory is much misused by those who want to use him as a symbol of the pious soldier in service of state violence. Such a twisted reading does violence to his memory. The real truth about Martin is that he renounced violence against persons--if the sword was to be used, it was to be used on behalf of the poor in the forcible (if necessary) redistribution of property. "To break unjust fetters", as Isaiah declared, is to be the proper observance of fast days. "Breaking the yoke" refers not to making an omelet of hen's eggs but to doing violence to the way in which humans are forced to labor as beasts of burden, as oxen and other animals without recompense. Isaiah demands that the hungry be fed, that the homeless be sheltered, that the naked be clothed, that we do not turn away from "our own kin"--that is, our sisters and brothers in all the human family, who live in economic slavery and who subsist there hungry, homeless, naked. Take a look at the violence which northAmericans and Brits have authorized their leaders to inflict upon their poor sisters and brothers in Afghanistan, and submit that to St. Martin's mind today. Papa Bush remember promised us a "gentler kinder America" and now his clone has given us a vengeful, murdering one instead, with Papa's mentoring. But Isaiah promises that if we will like Martin give up military violence, used by the Christian Church and the Anglo American media to exact revenge and to enforce injustice against the Ummah (the whole world of believers) if we will give that all up and give up the clenched fist and the wicked lying word (read, Television), and turn to justice, Isaiah says we will get Light and Guidance and Relief and Strength and Refreshment and the opportunity to Rebuild. But what you see is what you get. "You yourselves give them something to eat" Jesus still says to us, his disciples, when the multitudes are hungry. "You yourselves share your clothes" Jesus tells us as he told Martin on a November day. Jesus approved of the use of Martin's sword to redistribute property (remember he told his disciples to sell their coats and buy swords--but forbade Peter's personal violence to the high priest's servant). In the Temple, when he had no sword in his own hand, Jesus (according to John 2:15) "made a scourge out of cords and drove them out of the Temple." Where property is misused or not shared, Jesus used the scourge of creative violence to end that misuse, but when Peter used his sword against a flunky soldier, Jesus stopped him and healed the flunky, as he healed Martin the flunky by a proper use of his own sword to divide his property with a poor man. The real call of the gospel is not to quietism and retreat from the world, or a vocation to exhort the warring powers to "be nice and obey the Marquess of Queensbury rules." There is no permissible theology of Just War which is anything but just plain war. War is hell, and hell is off limits to believers, who have been saved from it. The sword of the Spirit is given to us, to cut thorugh the cloak of lies, the mantle of privilege, the shields of comfort and consumerism, and to freeze the assets off the rich, to assure that the poor are clothed and housed and fed. When we with Martin see each poor Afghan girl and boy as a homeless Christ, a Jesus without clothes, a bleeding Savior without supper, then we will lay down our cluster bombs and share the enormous wealth of the richest land in the world to heal the poorest land on the planet.
Imagine what would happen if in all the churches we were to make the poor our priority, instead of parking lots, perquisites, and pensions. If we were to make their hunger the military objective of our endless struggle, and put our armies to cooking Afghan children's meals, our Eucharistic feast to share. "When did we see you hungry?" we, now in our redoubts with Bush and Blair will ask at the soon coming Crisis and Judgment, when we are all together in the Dock. Jesus will reply, "You saw it on CNN in November." "You saw it on Saint Martin's Day."
© 2001 by Grant M. Gallup
CASA AVE MARIA
Managua, Nicaragua C.A.
GRITS 2nd series now on-line: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/homilygrits