November is the month set aside to honor the saints, and pray for our loved ones who have gone before us in death. We use military terms to describe the echelons that make up the one Church as we await Jesus’ return in glory. These include the church “militant” (the earthly community), the church “suffering” (in Purgatory), and the church “triumphant” (in heaven). Christians here below struggle against the forces of sin (not people strictly speaking), and rely on the grace of Christ. We count on the merits and prayers of the saints, the heroes upon whose shoulders we stand as we preach and practice the Gospel. Through the saints, the light of Christ shines forth as virtue, just as stained-glass windows refract natural light to dazzle the eye with color and beauty. In turn, we rightly pray for the souls of the faithful as they endure their separation from the Lord, that they may stand before him ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We sing:
O blest communion, fellowship divine
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine
Yet all are one in Thee for all are thine. Alleluia!
So what do we learn from the saints? Plenty, as it turns out. The attainment of holiness is not something one does in one’s spare time, as though it were a hobby or diversion. On the contrary, it is a matter of life and death: eternal union with God. So onward, Christian soldiers!
Every year on Veterans Day, the Church honors St. Martin of Tours, the patron saint of chaplains and soldiers. Pointing to only one major accomplishment is difficult in the case of Martin, who seemed to have been able to do most things well: as a youth, a soldier, a monk, and a bishop. During his youth, Roman Catholicism had just gone from being an “outlaw” religion (religio illicita) to the official faith of the Roman Empire. Upon entering the Army after his father, the gospel burned brightly in the heart of Martin, hence the tradition of his remarkable act of compassion, in which he cut his own cloak in two, and gave one half to a freezing beggar. The other half, of course, is the revered relic (the capella), which denotes the office of the chaplain. Baptized shortly thereafter, Martin completed his military service, and retired to a life of quiet solitude and prayer as a disciple of St. Hilary of Poitiers. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Martin and Hilary both suffered for the faith at the hands of the Arians (a small but influential heretical sect that denied the true divinity of Christ). Eventually he established a community of monks at Marmoutier Abbey near Tours, France. Like most great leaders, he was appointed Bishop of Tours against his will, but continued to live an austere life amid the pressures and privileges of episcopal authority. Martin was also devoted to the preservation of life, both physical and spiritual. To him were attributed lives of three people thought dead. And even as he championed the orthodox teachings of the Church, he nevertheless demonstrated compassion toward those who had erred, in place of the brutal punishment often meted out to such individuals. He spent his final days solving disputes among his own clergy and cultivating peace among them. May we, like St. Martin of Tours, strive for heavenly peace.