Once the most well-known and beloved of saints, Martin, Bishop of Tours, is now overshadowed by what we now know as Remembrance or Memorial Day, which I will return to in a moment. Don’t get me wrong: It is a fine and good thing to recall the sacrifices of all those who defended our country, especially in the horrors of both World Wars. Millions dead, countless millions more wounded in body and mind. Even those apparently unscathed were at the very least willing to face the worst, as they stormed over hills, onto fortified beaches in the face of machine guns and artillery; fierce guerilla warfare from house to house in cities and towns; infernal battlegrounds the world over.
There are distinctions to be made here, however: We do not rejoice in war itself, nor even in the oft-limited victories won. Many, perhaps all, of the more recent ‘wars’ in history have not fully fulfilled the criteria of what the Church calls a ‘just war’, and most end in some sort of compromise.
Yet, the sacrifice of those who were willing to serve and die still stands.
Although there is much in Canada to defend, the rights and freedoms we still enjoy, I myself ponder, as an immigrant here in my childhood, how far we can go as a nation and still be patriotic of who we are. The very ‘freedoms’ cited in hushed tones to justify all the bloodshed and death, are now being whittled away with each passing law. There is still much in Canada to rejoice in, but the very bedrock of our nation is being dismantled: The right to life of the unborn is non-existent, and soon this same right will be taken from the sick, elderly and the psychologically incompetent. Political correctness, rabid environmentalism, obeisance to the increasingly strident claims of various victim groups, rule our schools, our media, our courts against the principles of reason and right order. And speaking of reason, now we’re about to legalize marijuana. I wonder what wonders they think that will do for the Canadian mind and spirit?
In all of this, we should be aware that our primary battle is not against external enemies, but rather interior and spiritual, against the ‘principalities and powers’ that seek the destruction of souls. For if the soul of a nation is dead, what point is there in defending the body?
One who was well aware of the primacy of the spiritual battle was the aforementioned Saint Martin, a former soldier in the Roman empire who converted as a ten year old to Catholicism. It seems he completed his entire military service, and did not leave the army until he was in his mid-forties, signifying that one can be a soldier and a Christian. It was the accession of Julian the Apostate, a rabid anti-Catholic, which made up Martin’s mind that the times, and his own soul, were changing, and he decided to give his life completely to Christ. Refusing to fight, and charged with cowardice, he offered to go to the front unarmed, an offer from which he was saved by the enemy suing for peace.
Martin became a monk, a hermit really, but, as is oft the case with holy men, he was sought out, and acclaimed bishop of Tours in 371, instantly beloved of the people. He fulfilled the task tirelessly, devoted to the poor, to prisoners, to sinners, to all his flock, setting the foundation of the youthful Church in France, until his death in 397.
The story of his cloak, half of which he gave to a shivering beggar, and in which Christ later appeared to the saint in a vision, has passed into hagiographical lore: The relic of the cloak was held in such veneration that the oratory where it was kept was eventually called a ‘capella‘, Latin for ‘cloak’, from which we now derive our English term ‘chapel’ and ‘chaplain’. Such was the veneration even of the second-class relics of Saint Martin, the first non-martyr to be officially canonized. In the contemporary biography by Sulpicius Severus, Martin’s noble and pure soul shines through the ages.
As we recall the sacrifice of our forefathers in war, we should also recall this forefather in our spiritual struggles, and all who followed in his footsteps, without which all other exterior battles lose their meaning. To paraphrase Saint Paul, if we fight for this world alone, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But if we fight for our eternal homeland, and all that is necessary to attain such, our religious freedoms, home, hearth and family, well then, the battle is the Lord’s. And He is not a God of weakness, but of strength, with victory assured.