This morning I would like to tell you two stories. The first is the story of a cavalry officer who was sent to serve in France. He grew up in a military family and got enlisted when he was still only a teenager. Interestingly, his parents were not Christians, but this young man was studying in preparation to become a one himself. He was what we call a catechumen.
One cold winter day, at the gates of the French city of Amiens (A-mi-en), he encountered a shivering, half-naked beggar. This miserable sight disturbed the young soldier and he drew his sword from its scabbard. Because he had nothing else to give the poor man, the soldier took his own cloak, cut it in two pieces, and reaching down from his horse handed one half to the beggar. Giving away half of his cloak was no small gift, considering that the soldier himself needed to keep warm, too. In this act, he had loved his neighbor, the beggar, as himself.
That night, the soldier had a dream in which he saw Jesus Christ, surrounded by angels, and dressed in half a cloak. He heard a voice say to look at the garment and say whether he recognized it. He then heard Jesus say to the angels, “Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” Very soon after that dream, Martin, the 18-year-old Roman soldier, was baptized. He would go on to become a monk, a priest, and a bishop. Today we call him as St. Martin of Tours, and celebrate him as the patron saint of soldiers.
My second story comes from more recent times. A great and horrible war was raging, as it had for more than four years, killing every day. Many people could see no end in sight. But then, ninety-two years ago today, the wonderful order came announcing an end to all armed conflict at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, of the year 1918. This was the end of the First World War and it came to pass on the ancient feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the 11th of November.
Do you think that St. Martin in Heaven may have prayed for his beloved France and for their enemies, too? Do you think that he interceded before God for peace on Earth? Of course he did, for he was a true Christian soldier. No true Christian soldier loves war, or even hates his enemy. He fights not because he hates who is in front of him, but because he so loves what is behind him. The Christian soldier trains for war because he loves peace.
Today we thank and honor our veterans for they have served to defend our nation and freedom-loving people around the world. Through the intercession of St. Martin of Tours, let us pray that our country, history’s most benevolent superpower, may be served by Christian soldiers like them for many peaceful generations to come.