Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 13 June 2016

Discover & explore - St Martin of Tours

Today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook explored the life and thought of St Martin of Tours, as 2016 is the 1700th anniversary of the birth of the patron saint for our partner church. The next Discover & explore service is at 1.10pm on Monday 20th June and will explore the life and thought of St John the Baptist.

Today the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields sang Jacob Handl's Hic est Martinus, David Bednall's The souls of the Righteous, Martin Shaw's Lord, make us Instruments of thy Peace, C.V. Stanford's Beati Quorum Via.

The service included my meditation on St Martin:

Outside the gates of Amiens,
in the depths of winter’s bitter cold,
a shivering, half-naked beggar
begs people for pity.
They walk on by on the other side.
The true protagonist of history is the beggar -
Testing and challenging responsiveness,
refining our compassion.
A young tribune rides through the gates
protective armour gleaming,
offensive weapon at his side,
luxurious lined cloak across his shoulders.
From a height, in one quick stroke
he slashes the lovely mantle in two -
the high and mighty considering the lowly -
his death-dealing sword used to give life.
Half to the beggar, clad only in rags,
half retained, sharing not possessing.
At night, in dream, he sees Christ clothed
in the part of his cloak which had covered the beggar.
From Christ begging for our hearts,
to our hearts begging for Christ.
“Here is Martin,” says Christ,
“the Roman soldier who is not baptised;
it is he who has clothed me.”

The Revd Alastair McKay, curate at St Martin-in-the-Fields, led the service and gave the following reflection about St Martin:

St Martin was born in 316 in what is today part of Hungary. His parents were pagans, and his father was an officer in the Roman army. While Martin was a child, his father was stationed in Italy, and here Martin met Christians and was drawn to the Christian faith. He became a catechumen, one preparing for baptism.

An imperial edict required the sons of veterans to join the army. Although not yet sixteen – the minimum age – his father, wanting his son to follow in his footsteps, compelled Martin to take the military oath. However, Martin differentiated himself from his fellow soldiers by avoiding the usual soldierly vices, and by giving part of his pay to those in need.

Martin was stationed at Amiens, in present-day France. As he rode into town one bitterly cold winter’s day, he noticed a poor man at the gates, thinly clad, begging, and being ignored by the passers-by. Having nothing with him but the clothes he wore, Martin descended from his horse, drew his sword, and cut his woollen cloak in two pieces. He gave half to the beggar, and wrapped the other half around himself.

The following night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus, surrounded by angels, and dressed in the half of the cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels, “Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” Martin took this as a spur to be immediately baptised, and to commit himself to following Christ.

Some Germanic tribes invaded Gaul at this time, and, with his fellow soldiers, Martin went before the Emperor Julian to receive a war-bounty. But Martin was moved to refuse it, and said to the Emperor: “Up to now, I’ve served you as a soldier; allow me henceforth to serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others. I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” The Emperor was angered, and accused Martin of cowardice; Martin replied that he was ready to go into battle unarmed, in the name of Christ. He was imprisoned for his refusal to fight, but later discharged.

Having been released from the army, Martin went to study in Poitiers under Bishop Hillary, who later ordained him deacon. Martin then heard a summons in a dream to revisit his family home. There Martin converted his mother and some others, but could not win over his father. Martin later returned to Gaul, and led a monastic life, founding several monasteries.

When Martin was aged 55, the bishop of Tours died, and the people demanded that Martin be the new bishop. Martin refused, but the people lured him to Tours with a plea to come and pray for a sick woman. When he entered the town, they forcibly conveyed him to the church, and obliged Martin to accept being made their bishop.

As bishop, Martin continued to lead an austere and devout life; but he was unable to bear the constant interruptions in Tours, and retreated to a secluded spot. As bishop he visited his parishes and was concerned for those in need. He also destroyed pagan temples, and felled trees held sacred by pagans. On one occasion he was pulling down a temple when a crowd of pagans fell on him in a fury, one brandishing a sword. Martin stood and bared his breast, at which the armed man apparently fell backwards, and pleaded for forgiveness.

Martin interceded for some who were deemed heretics and whom another bishop wanted put to death. Martin argued that it was sufficient to excommunicate them, and they should not be killed.

Martin was revered following his death, and became the patron saint of France. There are many churches dedicated to St Martin, including several here in London.

Martin’s story resonates with my own in several ways. Like Martin, I was born the son of an army officer. Unlike Martin, as a boy I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a soldier too – although that desire didn’t follow through into adulthood. Like Martin, as a young man I became a Christian. And like Martin’s parents, my parents found this disturbing. Unlike Martin, I’ve so far been unsuccessful in convincing either of my parents to follow Christ. Having gone on to marry a woman who was part of a pacifist Christian group called Mennonites, I became convinced that I was called to follow the non-violent example of Jesus, just as Martin was. Like Martin, I understand this to mean refusing to be involved in killing others, and instead to be committed to working for peace.

What can we learn from Martin for today? If there’s one lesson, it’s this: working for peace is harder than working for war. In refusing to fight, Martin told the Emperor that he was a soldier for Christ. He went on to show us what that means. It means being willing to sacrifice for those in need, whilst continuing to care appropriately for oneself – hence sharing half of one’s cloak, but keeping half. It means working hard to develop a life of prayer and intimacy with God. It means sharing the good news of Jesus with those one knows and loves. It means being willing, even against one’s own desires, to undertake a public role of leadership and service, if called to do so. It means being willing to challenge the forces of darkness in our world, through non-violent direct action. It means interceding on behalf even of our enemies, and resisting calls for such people to be put to death. So Martin shows us that fighting for peace is harder than working for war. And the question Martin asks us is this: will we too be soldiers for Christ? Are we too willing to pay the price for working non-violently for peace.

God of true peace, who has shown us the path of peace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; be with all those serving in the military services, that they might be inspired by the example of St Martin; bless all those fighting non-violently for peace in our world, including the United Nations, and many NGOs; and give your spirit of love to those using non-violent direct action in the struggle for peace, among them Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of compassion, who has shown your love for the poor in this world through the example of Jesus and of Martin; strengthen all those working with people in need, especially those who are without sufficient clothing, food or shelter, among them the Connection at St Martin’s, and those serving the needs of refugees in our world, including the UNHCR.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Life-giving God, who has brought us unbridled good news in Jesus Christ; give encouragement to all your children who seek to share the good news of Jesus with those they know; bless the ministry of Ric Thorpe, the Bishop of Islington, as he and his team challenge the Church of England to share your good news; and inspire all those working for peace within your Church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and his team, and also Bridge Builders Ministries.  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, who called Martin from the armies of this world to be a faithful soldier of Christ:
give us grace to follow him in his love and compassion for the needy, and in struggling for peace and good in the world; and enable your Church to claim for all people their inheritance as children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever; and may we all know the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this day and every day. Amen.


C.V. Stanford - Beati Quorum Via.

No comments: