Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saint Martin of Tours, bishop (316?-397)

A conscientious objector who wanted to be a monk; a monk who was maneuvered into being a bishop; a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy to heretics—such was Martin of Tours, one of the most popular of saints and one of the first not to be a martyr. Born of pagan parents in what is now Hungary and raised in Italy, this son of a veteran was forced to serve in the army against his will at the age of 15. He became a Christian catechumen and was baptized at 18. It was said that he lived more like a monk than a soldier. At 23, he refused a war bonus and told his commander: "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight." After great difficulties, he was discharged and went to be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers (January 13). On a bitterly cold day, a famous legend goes, Martin met a poor man, almost naked, trembling in the cold and begging from passersby at the city gate. Martin had nothing but his weapons and his clothes. He drew his sword, cut his cloak into two pieces, gave one to the beggar and wrapped himself in the other half. Some of the bystanders laughed at his now odd apearance; others were ashamed at not having relieved the man's misery. That night in his sleep Martin saw Christ dressed in the half of the garment he had given away, and heard him say, "Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with is garment." He was ordained an exorcist and worked with great zeal against the Arians. He became a monk, living first at Milan and later on a small island. When Hilary was restored to his see after exile, Martin returned to France and established what may have been the first French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for 10 years, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. The people of Tours demanded that he become their bishop. He was drawn to that city by a ruse—the need of a sick person—and was brought to the church, where he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop. Some of the consecrating bishops thought his rumpled appearance and unkempt hair indicated that he was not dignified enough for the office. Along with St. Ambrose (December 7), Martin rejected Bishop Ithacius’s principle of putting heretics to death—as well as the intrusion of the emperor into such matters. He prevailed upon the emperor to spare the life of the heretic Priscillian. For his efforts, Martin was accused of the same heresy, and Priscillian was executed after all. Martin then pleaded for a cessation of the persecution of Priscillian’s followers in Spain. He still felt he could cooperate with Ithacius in other areas, but afterwards his conscience troubled him about this decision. As death approached, his followers begged him not to leave them. He prayed, "Lord, if your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (17.11-19)

Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When He saw them, He said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests. " And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked Him— and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then He said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well. "

God is very personal
(Homily by Fr. E.J.Tyler)

Throughout the history of Western thought there have been numerous variants of the argument that posits a First Cause of our changing, contingent, varied and ordered world. From Plato and Aristotle to Plotinus to Avicenna and on to Aquinas the argument has been worked and reworked. It was Aristotle who gave the discussion a special early impetus, but as Newman remarks in an important sermon of April 1830 (‘The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion’) the philosophical notion of the First Cause held by the ancients was of a divine Principle rather than of a living Agent. It tended to be an abstraction rather than a concrete person. This observation reminds us of the difficulty inherent in a religion that depends on creation alone for its inspiration. There are so many good things man finds himself blessed with, but these good things alone will probably leave him with but a shadowy impression of the unseen Donor. By intervening in history and entering into a dialogue with specific persons, God has projected himself into our lives and on to our minds in a very personal way. He, the Author of all that is, has presented himself to man as a living Being with his own personal identity. He is not just the Principle of things. Indeed, he even became man. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, Jesus Christ is his face. From that point, there has never been anything of remoteness about God in his relations with us. He deals with us in a very personal way, and invites a personal response on our part to what he does for us. It is not as if, finding ourselves blessed with good things we feel grateful as a result, but, because the great Donor seems virtually anonymous, we carry on regardless. There is nothing anonymous about the Donor of all that we have received. He is Yahweh God, the one who is, who has become man in the person of Jesus Christ. He has been touched, heard and seen. Now, observe how Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, bestowed good things - beyond what could be expected of mere nature, on those who needed them. He made it all very personal.

What do I mean by this? Notice what happened in our Gospel passage today. Our Lord was travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee and he was accosted by a band of lepers. From the distance which they were required to maintain, they appealed to him for pity, for mercy. Immediately he told them to go and present themselves to the priest, at which they departed and in the process were healed. We notice the pure liberality of Jesus. He gives on request, unless there is a positive reason for not doing so. But he gives not as if he were a mere Principle or Source of things, in the way one might go to the tap and turn it on for the water that is needed. He is not just some impersonal Cause of good things, access to which one might be lucky enough through circumstances to possess. He is a real, living person who chooses to give what persons have need of and ask for. Moreover, he expects, as would any living person, some appropriate response to him who is the giver. He expects appreciation and acknowledgment. He expects us to recognize that he is the source of the good things we have been given. He expects us to thank him, and indeed, to praise him. He wants us to come to him and ask for what we need. In fact, he wants to be our Friend. He does not want us to carry on in life as if whatever good things have come our way have come from some impersonal Force beyond, a Force or Cause which is shadowy and which can hardly be expected to make much difference to the way things are in fact found to be. So it is that, while all it took was a word from Christ to effect the complete physical transformation of the condition of twelve lepers, our Lord expected them to be grateful. God is a living, real, and profoundly interested Person. Jesus is the image of the unseen God, and his response to the Samaritan leper reveals the attitude of the infinite God. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then He said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17: 11-19).

The Christian religion is a very personal matter between us, considered individually and as a people, and the living triune God. God is not just the benevolent Ultimate, the Absolute, the Principle of all things. He has a face, and that face is Jesus. He smiles, he laughs, he listens, he watches, he actually laid down his own life for each of us. He freely died that we might live forever. He wants a personal relationship with each of us. He calls us not servants, but his friends. The Creator of the universe is my Friend, indeed my Father and my Brother. Let us resolve to cultivate a deep friendship with God by knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ.

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