Posted by: fvbcdm | November 12, 2011

Feast of Saint Martin of Tours (11 Nov 2011)

If we want to write today’s date in brief, we can write 11/11/11.  It is a date full of associations for me.  When I was a little boy, I often went with my parents to my mother’s home town of Jeanerette, LA., where my grandmother lived very close to a wonderful family named DeGravelle.  One of the DeGravelle men had served in the army in France during “the War.”  In those days, there was only ONE war—the one which came to be called World War One.  On his return to this country, he brought with him an artillery shell which had been picked up on the battlefield.  And someone had inscribed on that metal canister the date 11/11/18—the date when hostilities ended and that dreadfully murderous war ceased.  To this day, I can see that shell and remember how, whenever we went to visit the DeGravelles, I would immediately head for the bookshelf on which that shell was kept.  For some reason, it was fascinating to me.
A little later, when I became aware of the saints and their lives, I learned that November 11 is the annual feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, the Hungarian soldier who served in the Roman army during the fourth century.  He was posted to Gaul—now, France—and there began to study our holy faith with an eye to becoming Catholic.  And during that period there occurred the famous event for which Saint Martin of Tours has always been so famous.  As he was galloping along the road near Amiens on a freezing day, he passed a beggar, shivering by the roadside because he was very poorly clad.  Remembering what he had learned in his catechism, Martin stopped, dismounted, and with his sword cut in half the voluminous Roman cloak that he wore as a soldier.  He wrapped half of it around the freezing beggar.  That night, he saw in vision or dream, Our Lord dressed in the part of the cloak that Martin had given to the beggar.  It is a wonderful story—clear, simple, and certainly true, theologically and very likely historically.  Since then, thousands of images have been produced of Saint Martin, nearly all of them showing him in the act of giving half of his cloak to the cold beggar.
Eventually Martin was baptized, became a priest, and the bishop of the city of Tours on the River Loire.  Thus he is known to church history as Saint Martin of Tours.  My first trip to Europe was a U.S. government-sponsored summer school in Tours to improve the French of those of us who were teachers of French in American high schools. A marvelous opportunity!  While in Tours, I visited the site of Saint Martin’s tomb. The tomb itself and his remains were destroyed at the time of the Reformation, and then later, the church there was razed by the enemies of the Church during the French Revolution. Long after the death of Saint Martin, an exquisite cathedral was erected in Tours. Fortunately, the revolutionaries did not destroy it and it still stands there, an architectural treasure in the heart of the city of Saint Martin of Tours.
So popular was Saint Martin during the Middle Ages that in England, this feast was called “Martinmas,” the day of the special Mass of Saint Martin, just as we had Michaelmas on September 29, the feast of the archangel Saint Michael, Christmas on December 25, the feast of the birth of Our Lord Christ, and Candlemas on February 2, when candles were, and still are, blessed on the feast of the Presentation of Our Infant Lord in the Temple.  Why candles?  Because the holy man Simeon predicted on that ocsasion that Jesus would be “a light for the revelation of the Gentile nations and the glory of his own people, Israel.”
Let this feast of Saint Martin remind us that whatever we do to anyone, we do to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and so we are surrounded by wonderful opportunities to lay up treasures in heaven by the good things we do for others, and thus for our blessed Savior.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.



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