St Martin of Tours

Bishop (central France) (buried this day in 397)

Dear Terry,

I am duly impressed by the quantity of your good works.  Getting your fellow Compass members to take shifts at the rest home and the orphanage and the hospital and the shelter and the food bank and the soup kitchen is quite an accomplishment.  I know chapters that have trouble committing to one such charitable activity. Congratulations. May I, however, offer a word of warning? Since you are still a full-time student, I can infer that this flurry of charitable activity has probably made your agenda a bit bulky this fall.  If that indeed is the case, you may have been tempted to cut down on your prayer life. And if you have started to neglect that, it is highly probable that your works of charity are becoming empty of the sole ingredient that makes them truly charitable: love. St Gregory the Great put it well: “As the branch separated from the roots soon loses all life and verdure, so it is with good works not united to love for God.”  I hope you haven’t gone dry and brown, but if you have, or if you are on the verge, perhaps today’s saint can re-inspire you.

Few (if any) of the great Church leaders from the fourth century had an impact as far-reaching and long-lasting as St Martin of Tours.  Not only was he elected to the bishopric of Tours, which became the center of his mind-bogglingly robust evangelizing activity, not only did he found the first (and second) monasteries in France, which thrived uninterruptedly until the Protest Reformation 1200 years later, not only did he topple innumerable pagan shrines and win the hearts of simple people through an unceasing flow of miraculous healings, but he also came to the defense of the true faith whenever it was threatened and put his own life in jeopardy again and again in order to further the cause of Christ.  How did he come to such greatness? He started with love, my dear nephew, and he never let it wane.

Martin was the son of a Roman military officer from modern day Turkey.  They moved to Italy when his dad got promoted, and, in accordance with Roman law at the time, Martin, as a son of a military veteran, was forced to join the army when he was 15.  Even then, however, he had leanings towards a more religious lifestyle. He was sent to Gaul (modern day France), where he began to receive instructions in the Christian faith, and sneaked off to spend time alone in prayer whenever he could.  It was during this period, before he was yet twenty (about your age, if I’m not mistaken), when he reached a turning point. He was coming back into the city after a hard day’s patrol near Amiens. It was winter and bitter cold. As he approached the city gate, he saw a starved, half-naked man shivering with cold as he begged alms from the passersby.  Some of the people laughed at the poor man; some derided him; no one gave him anything. Martin’s heart was moved, and he wanted to do something, but all he had was his great military cloak and his armor. He stopped his warhorse and dismounted. He removed his heavy cloak and, taking his sword, cut it in half. He wrapped one half around the poor beggar and dangled the other half from his shoulders.  The passersby now laughed at him. That night, in a dream, he saw our Lord wrapped in that half cloak he had given away, and heard him say, “Martin, yet a catechumen, has covered me with this garment.” Soon thereafter he abandoned the Emperor’s service in order to serve a higher King, and history changed its course.

You can bet that St Martin wasn’t thinking about himself when he tore that cloak; it was a sincere act of selfless sacrifice, out of love for Christ and neighbor.  Is that why you have been tearing your cloak?

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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