I don’t think we’ll have goose for dinner here on the Hill, but it is the tradition of Holy Mother Church on this, the feast of St. Martin of Tours.
One interesting way to learn about how we can attain holiness is to look at the lives of the saints. One way to do this is to look at what they are patrons of, and to see if we can’t find out why.
Today Holy Mother Church celebrates the feast of St. Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of reformed alcoholics, the poor, beggars, horsemen, geese, innkeepers, soldiers, and wine growers and makers.
Let’s see if we can find some information as to why St. Martin is patron of these people and things, one by one.
What an interesting life to study and to use as an example!
- The Poor/Beggars: One famous story is told that while Martin was in the military, he was doing nightly rounds in France one cold day in the winter. He encountered a poor, naked beggar who was literally freezing to death. Martin had nothing to give the man, except the clothes on his own back. Martin gave freely, offered his best to the beggar, and went on his way. That night he dreamed that he had clothed Christ himself.
- Horsemen/Innkeepers: Logically, we learn from the story above that Martin was a hospitable man; he gave of himself for others. We are meant to learn something from this, that we ought to always help when we can and treat others as we would Christ. Horsemen and innkeepers are in a special position to benefit from this lesson.
Every year, a celebration in the basilica near Tours takes place. It is in Tours after all where St Martin’s remains are. In countries from Germany to the Netherlands to Austria and to Switzerland, processions take place that culminate on this day. They are typically led by a ‘St Martin’ on a horse.
- Soldiers: Martin joined the army when he was 15. He fought for three years, until he converted three years later. While the Church teaches that there are times when defense may well be called for (She is particular about when and how), Martin couldn’t reconcile his faith with his actions in the military. How fitting that today, Veteran’s Day, ended up being his feast day. We might offer a prayer for those who have served our country and those now serving us.
Martin is known as a “soldier saint” because after leaving the military, he took on the ultimate fight against evil. We, as the Church Militant, are reminded today that we share in this battle.
- Geese: The goose is a symbol often associated with Martin. After Martin had finished his time in the army, he went on to Gaul to found a monastery, the first one in Gaul. He led this monastic community for ten years and many sought him out, recognizing in him holiness and proximity to Christ.
When the bishop of Tours died, the people choose Martin to be their next bishop. (The process was different in those days). Martin didn’t want the job; he thought there were other, more qualified folks for this important position. So he hid!
The problem: he had a pet goose, and it kept honking, so that people knew exactly where Martin was. They found him and he became bishop of Tours in 371…reluctantly.
Thus, it is customary in the Church to eat a goose on St. Martin’s feast day and throughout winter.
- Reformed Alcoholics/Wine makers and growers: I can’t find much on this. Little is known about Martin’s parents, except that they were pagans and far from perfect. Seems likely that they struggled with drinking. Don’t know. More research is needed on this and I’m tired!
- Parishes: There are more parishes in the world with St. Martin as their patron saint than any other saint. I don’t think he is officially the patron of parishes, but he might as well be. Many say it was Martin who came up with the idea of dividing settlements into parishes of the Church.
Let’s ask for St. Martin’s prayers in these, his “specialties”!