November 11th offers us many topics to think about and to pray about. In terms of secular history, it is the anniversary of the Mayflower Compact, that document that the pilgrims drew up and adopted before disembarking from their tiny ship in what is now called Cape Cod Bay, off the Massachusetts coast. It was the first instance of self-government in what is now our country, and therefore a significant moment in American democracy.
Then, in 1918, on November 11, the Germans surrendered to the Allies, bringing World War I to an end. When I was a child, this date was called Armistice Day, but then, when World War II occurred, casting the end of World War I into relative insignificance, our government changed it to Veterans’ Day on which we honor all our veterans, living and dead.
In church matters, this is what used to be called Martinmas—the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, one of the founders of the Church in France. He was a Hungarian who joined the Roman army and was sent to northern France, or “Gaul,” as it was called in those days. He began to study Catholicism with a view to entering the Church. One day the famous episode occurred that has so captured the fancy of sacred story-tellers and artists. He was riding along one of the frozen roads near Amiens, snugly wrapped in his ample Roman military cloak. And he came across a half-frozen beggar by the roadside, shivering for lack of warm clothing. Remembering what he was learning in catechism, Martin dismounted, and with his sword, cut his cloak in two, giving half of it to the beggar. That night, Our Lord appeared to him in a dream dressed in that half of the cloak. Martin became a Catholic, a priest, a bishop, and one of the most important apostles of the Church in France, building the first monastery there more than a century before the rise of the Benedictine monasteries around the year 500. A small church was built at Amiens to shelter Saint Martin’s cloak; it was called the church of the cappella, the Latin word for cloak. In time, the French version of “cappella”— chapelle—was applied to any small church; it is the origin of our word “chapel.” The next time you enter a chapel, you might think of Saint Martin and ask him to increase your charity and compassion for those who have less than you do.
Now, what about our veterans? I have often wondered if God accepts what they do and did in terms of merit. Many veterans entered military service because they were forced to it by our government. They did not freely, consciously and intentionally do so. But they did it. Many were killed; others were injured, sometimes permanently. They had to give up the comforts and love of home life during their military service. When I was in the navy, I rubbed elbows each day with men who had no interest in God, religion, or the spiritual life. Some of them lived lives of gross immorality in terms of drunkenness and sexual sins. And yet, they did their work and put up with the sacrifices demanded by their circumstances. Some were wounded; some were killed. I hope that God accepts that suffering as a form of atonement for their sins and mercifully brings them into his heavenly kingdom. We must leave that to the divine mercy, but let us pray for them today since we owe them a debt of gratitude—indeed, our very freedom and our lives. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.