Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans' Day and St. Martin of Tours

Today Americans celebrate Veterans Day. Many years ago, we called it Armistice Day, in remembrance of the day when World War I ended. My Dad was several years older than my Mother. He was a veteran of the War to End All Wars. My uncles on my mother's side of the family all were in the World War II military service. Only the oldest was given duties states side. Uncle Fran served in the under belly of an aircraft carrier--making sure the boilers kept that ship moving. Uncle Bill served in the Aleutian Island, and then was sent to the steamy jungles of the Philippines. For years Uncle Bill spoke hardly a word about his experiences. Something triggered his memories. He began telling stories of his experiences. When the Navy ship carrying his army division landed in the Aleutian Island, none of the soldiers had winter clothing. They had boarded their transport ship in the balmy weather of San Diego. As each soldier headed onto the cold island climate, a sailor stepped up to donate something warm for his army counterpart. "I'll never forget Jim, whoever he is," Uncle Bill remarked. "He gave me a warm leather jacket with Jim on the front." From the frozen North Pacific to the heat of the Philippines, Uncle Bill and his comrades were faithful to their duties. Cold, faulty equipment, sweat, and jungle rot were some of the memories our uncle talked about. He never complained. He only related the facts. He was a faithful veteran. A few years ago, two of my siblings were driving near his house on an election day. They noticed a tall man on a gravel pathway. He was using a walker close to a very busy road. They stopped and gave him a ride. It was Uncle Bill on his way to vote. His valor was part of the reason we all have the right to vote. Today we say "thank you" to all our veterans, both living and deceased. It is appropriate that this day set aside for veterans falls on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. Born in what is now Hungary, and brought up in Italy, Martin was a soldier of the Roman Empire. Art depicts him astride a white horse. He wields a sword which he used to slice his red cloak in two. A beggar is lying on the ground where he awaits Martin's gift of a generous half of his cloak. Later in a vision, Martin learned that the beggar was really Jesus. The Spanish-speaking world calls him "Martin Caballero" (Martin the horseman.) After he left the military, Martin became a monk, then a missionary. He is credited for evangelizing folks in the countryside especially in France. Earlier evangelization was aimed at the masses in the cities. After the Edict of Milan, people were given the OK to be openly Catholic. Martin was the first -- or at least--the foremost in promoting the Faith throughout Gaul, in its villages as well as its large cities. He was elected Bishop of Tours, France. Much was written about him. Although he died around 352 AD, his life story is still with us to teach us how to follow Christ. May the Saint on Horseback help us to honor our veterans, and to be mindful of our Faith and its lasting impact at every stage of our life.

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