the Relevance of the Feast of Saint Martin

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Today, Saint Martin’s day, is a day of food and drink celebrated with both wine and foul. At least part of the festivities date back to the middle ages when Advent still was a penitential season complete with fast. This day was one of the last festivities before entering that season. Being in November, the day also bore the characteristics of a harvest festival, and in Martins native France this day marks the beginning of the wine harvest. The wine, Saint Martin’s wine, today might (emphasize this word “might.”) be recognized as Beaujolais nouveau. Today that famous wine makes it appearance the third Thursday of November. Its release is often widely publicized and celebrated, perhaps it might be wise to remember the Saint it is associated with while enjoying a glass. Wine, of course is only one part of the festivity, there also need be a food. This time of year also marked the harvesting of winter meat, and the meat associated with St. Martin is goose. There is a story explaining Saint Martin’s goose, but it might be wise to first review a few milestones in Martins life.

Martin was not born a Christian, though he began associating with them at the young age of ten. At fifteen he joined the army. During his service inn that army, a beggar asked for alms, and Martin obliged by giving him half his military-cloak. The blue of the flag of France is sometimes referred to as St. Martin’s blue, simply because his was a blue cloak. Shortly after this, he began formal entry into the Church. From catechumen he was baptized at eighteen, and at that point he left military service to enter a monastic life.

In signs and in miracles you were renowned throughout Gaul.By grace and adoption you are a light for the world, O Martin, blessed of God.Almsdeeds and compassion filled your life with their splendors,Teaching and wise counsel were your riches and treasures,Which you dispense freely to those who honor you.

Legend says Martin had no higher aspirations in the Church. He had no interest in holding office, though he eventually did become bishop. That’s where Martins goose enters the story. While Martin was living an isolated life with fellow monks, the local bishop heard of his miracles and sought him out to elevate Martin to the rank of bishop. When the bishop’s men came to deliver the news to Martin, Martin was prepared and hid amongst a flock of local geese. Obviously the monk wished to remain in solitude, the bishops men however wished to complete their mission and deliver their bishops message to Martin. While waiting they heard the cackling geese, and after a while they investigated to find out why these birds were making such a ruckus. When they came across the flock, they found Martin crouched amongst them. His goose was cooked, and the Church had its bishop.

Perhaps now that I have gotten a bit of Saint Martin’s story described, it would be an opportune time to recollect on some of the virtues of this saint and also recollect some general observations of this day. In St. Martin’s story it is mentioned that he both served in the military, and served Christ’s Church as monk and as bishop. In both instances Martin placed importance on service. His military service is especially memorable on this Veterans Day. In his service as bishop, one might ponder how he placed service to others above himself. It was after all his flock that called him to that bishop’s post, even though he preferred solitude. He answered their calls. In his devotion to the service to others, one too cannot forget his generous service to the beggar. It is here once again that this venerable saint places another’s needs before his own. Many veterans do battle in defense of others. Many times that is to protect a person from religious persecution. Many times a solders religion gives motive to fight to protect another’s dignity. Saint and solder need not be celebrated separately. Though not part of his symbolism, I think I might be reminded just a little of this saint when the poppy flowers that are distributed for Veterans on their Day. That day, like the  St. Martin, is a remembrance of those who served. To me the virtue of Saint Martin is service for others, and that is the virtue also of Veterans Day

As a devoted man of God, you proclaimed His mysteries,And as a seer of the Trinity, you shed your blessings on the Occident.By your prayers and entreaties, O adornment of Tours and glory of all the Church,Preserve us, O Saint Martin, and save all who praise your memory.

From virtues to observations. Saint Martin’s day is the last festive meal prior to the Advent fast. It involves poultry, and wine, and occurs in November; and that similarity to America’s Thanksgiving is too great to miss. The second observation is that Frances “new wine” is released one week after St. Martin’s day which is noted for “Saint Martin’s wine.” With that observation is the knowledge that France is strongly secular, and that Thanksgiving Day has been manipulated to meet the demands of capitalism. This is not a mock against the capitalist. That capitalist need is to extend “the holiday shopping season.” Why is that important? I think perhaps St. Martins Day is worth remembering this time of year as a Religious Holiday that is now overshadowed by those secular events. I can ponder that loss of Catholic heritage. I can also think of how the loss of that heritage is being accelerated today. It is under attack. I can also quietly think of St. Martin’s day as a Catholic Thanksgiving day minus the secular capitalist spin. Its perhaps a small feast, but one that should not be missed.

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this is a revisit and repost of an earlier post

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