SAINT MARTIN of TOURS (c.316-397), bishop and founder – Patron saint of the poor, soldiers, equestrians and France
Today, the Church honors Saint Martin of Tours, who left his post in the Roman army to become a “soldier of Christ” as a monk and later bishop.
Martin was born about the year 316 in modern-day Hungary. His family left that region when his father, a military official of the Roman Empire, was transferred to Italy. Martin’s parents were pagans, but Martin, himself, felt an attraction to the Catholic faith which had become legal throughout the empire during the reign of the Roman emperor, Constantine. He received religious instruction at the age of ten, and even considered becoming a hermit in the desert.
Circumstances, however, forced him to join the Roman army at fifteen, before he had even been baptized. Martin strove to live a humble and upright life in the military, giving away much of his pay to the poor. His generosity led to a life-changing incident, when he encountered a man freezing without warm clothing near a gate at the city of Amiens in Gaul.
As his fellow soldiers passed by the man, Martin stopped and cut his own cloak into two halves with his sword, giving one half to the freezing beggar. That night, Martin saw Christ in a dream, wearing the half-cloak he had given to the poor man. Jesus declared: “Martin, a catechumen, has clothed me with this garment.”
Martin knew that the time for him to join the Church had arrived. He remained in the army for two years after his Baptism, but desired to give his life to God more fully than his profession as a soldier would allow. When Martin finally asked for permission to leave the Roman army, he was accused of cowardice since his request occurred during an invasion by the Germans.
He responded by offering to stand before the enemy forces unarmed. “In the name of the Lord Jesus, and protected not by a helmet and buckler, but by the Sign of the Cross, I will thrust myself into the thickest squadrons of the enemy without fear.” But this display of faith became unnecessary when the Germans sought peace instead, and Martin received his discharge.
In the year 361, Martin lived the life of a hermit in the area now known as Ligugé, France. His reputation for holiness attracted other monks, and they formed what would become the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé. During this period of time, he preached and evangelized throughout the Gallic countryside.
When the bishop of Tours in France died in 371, Martin was the immediate choice to replace him. Martin declined, citing unworthiness. However, a man by the name of Rusticus, a wealthy citizen of Tours, claimed that his wife was ill and asked if Martin would come and pray for her. Tricked by this ruse, Martin went to the city where he was declared bishop by popular acclamation. He was then consecrated on July 4, 372.
As bishop, he lived in a hermit’s cell near Tours. Other monks joined him, and a new abbey, Marmoutier, soon formed. He rarely left his monastery or the diocese of Tours, but sometimes went to Trier, Germany, to plead with the emperor for his city, his church, or his parishioners.
As death approached, his followers begged him not to leave them. Martin would pray, “Lord, if Your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done.” He developed a fever but could not sleep, passing his last several nights in the presence of God in prayer.
On November 8, 397, Bishop Martin of Tours died. His tomb currently lies in the Basilica of Saint Martin in Tours. Historically, he has been among the most beloved saints in the history of Europe.
We commemorate his feastday on November 11.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Martin of Tours)
“Father, by his life and death, Martin of Tours offered You worship and praise. Renew in our hearts the power of Your Love, so that neither death nor life may separate us from You.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”