November 11: St Martin of Tours, Class II

St Martin of Tours (316-397) was one of the most popular saints in the middle ages, and holds a special place in Benedictine spirituality too, because it was to him (along with St John the Baptist) that St Benedict dedicated a chapel on Monte Cassino.

He became a catechumen against the wishes of his family at the age of ten, and, as the son of a veteran, was required to become a soldier, which he did at the age of 15.  While a soldier, he famously cut his cloak in half to clothe a scantily clad beggar.  That night he had a dream showing that it was Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away.  Two years later he was released from military service after refusing to fight in an expected battle, and became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers.

He became first a hermit then a monk, and in 371 was acclaimed Bishop of Tours.  He was an active missionary-monk bishop, famously destroying pagan shrines and replacing them with churches and monasteries (actions St Benedict imitated at Monte Cassino, hence, presumably the dedication).

Pope Benedict XVI commented on him back in 2007:
Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.
Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin's charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God's love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.
Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.
The Life of the saint, written by Sulpicius Severus, is well worth a read.

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