St. Martin, Bishop of Tours
St. Martin, celebrated throughout the whole Church of Christ, and praised and exalted in the works of several holy Fathers, was born in Hungary of heathen parents. Having reached his tenth year, he went often secretly to the Church of the Christians to assist at Mass and to listen to instructions. All seemed to him so good and holy, that without the knowledge of his parents, he desired to be enrolled among the catechumens, that is, among those who are to receive holy baptism. From that moment, he became devoted to prayer, and performed other good works with great zeal. At the age of fifteen years, he was enlisted in the Roman army, in which he served until the reign of Julian, without, however, indulging in any of the vices so common among soldiers. An oath, a lie, an indecent expression was never heard from his lips. The time that most of his comrades passed in gaming and drinking, he devoted to prayer and devout reading.
His kindness to the poor is known to the whole Christian world. In the depth of winter, he once met, not far from Amiens, a half-naked beggar, who asked an alms for Christ’s sake. Martin had no money with him, but unwilling to send the man away without comfort, he took the cloak from his shoulders, cut it into two pieces and gave one of them to the beggar. His comrades laughed at him, but Martin, in a vision during the following night, saw Christ covered with the piece of the cloak, and heard Him say to the Angels surrounding Him: “Martin, not yet baptized, has covered me with this!” This vision not only comforted Martin greatly, but also induced him to give himself wholly to the service of the Most High. Hence, in his eighteenth year, he received holy baptism, left the army, and, in order to learn how to lead a Christian life, went to the holy bishop Hilarius, who joyfully received him and instructed him in virtue and holiness. Being thoroughly instructed, he went, with the consent of his holy teacher, to Hungary, intending to convert his parents. His mother and many others were easily persuaded to embrace the true faith, but his father proved obstinate. Martin was sorely grieved at this, and desired to remain longer in the hope of yet gaining his father and other heathens; but the Arians drove him away. He therefore returned to his holy master in France. With his consent, he built a small monastery outside the walls of Poitiers, and lived there, with a few disciples, in the practice of austere penance.
The fame of his sanctity soon spread far and wide, especially when it became known that he had recalled to life a man who had died before receiving the holy sacrament of regeneration. On account of this and other miracles, Martin was obliged, after the death of the bishop of Tours, to become his successor. Hard as it seemed to the humble servant of God to receive the episcopal dignity, yet he administered his new functions with wonderful zeal and untiring energy. He erected a monastery not far from Tours into which he gathered a community of eighty monks, with whom he lived an extremely severe life. His clergy were instructed by him in such a manner, that they were always able and willing to assist him efficaciously in the care of his flock. With some of these, he visited his entire diocese, preaching everywhere, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick, and giving alms to the poor. He was most earnest in exhorting the faithful to make their churches fit dwelling-places for the Majesty of God, and to behave in them with due reverence. He himself was often seen to tremble when he stood at the entrance of a Church; and being asked the reason of it, he replied: “Shall I not tremble for fear, when appearing before the Highest Majesty, before my God, my Judge?” While at Church he was never seen either sitting or standing, except when his office or the service required it; and unless it was necessary, he never spoke a word while there. He was a shining example of every virtue to all under him, laity as well as clergy.
His historians say that he was never seen angry and never heard to laugh aloud. One of his priests, who had previously been very virtuous, gradually lost his fervor and began to show some levity in his conduct, for which he was kindly rebuked by the bishop. Offended at the admonition, the guilty man endeavored to arouse in others ill-feelings against the Saint, and went so far as to blame all his actions and to abuse him publicly. St. Martin bore it all patiently, treated him with great sweetness, and prayed unceasingly for him. All were greatly astonished at this, and some endeavored to persuade the Saint to banish the wicked man from the convent. Martin however, said: “If Christ bore with Judas, why should I not bear with Britius?” He then foretold that this very Britius would be his successor in the See. No one would believe this, and even Britius laughed at it; but time revealed the truth of the prophecy: for, Britius soon commenced a different course of life, and on St. Martin’s death, was raised to the episcopal throne of Tours. Greatly as we must admire the patience and meekness of the holy bishop towards offenders, the zeal which he manifested in destroying idolatry, which still lingered in many places, was no less worthy of praise.
Wherever he found an idolatrous temple, he destroyed it either by his prayers or by force, though not without danger of his life. One day, he was about to fell a tree, because the heathens used it for their idolatry. They opposed him, most violently; at length, one of them said: “Behold! we ourselves will fell the tree if you promise that, as it falls, you will support it in your hands. By this sign we shall be convinced of the might of the God whose word you preach.” The Saint promised without any hesitation, to do as they desired. The tree was cut so that it would fall towards Martin; and when it came down, he made the sign of the Cross and stretching out his hands, not only received the tree into them, but threw it back to the opposite side, without injuring any one. By this and several other miracles, the holy bishop not only converted a great many heathens, but also made a great impression on the Arians, who, at that time, cruelly persecuted the Catholics.
The holy man was greatly esteemed and highly honored on account of his apostolic zeal, his great virtues, and the gifts bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Therefore Satan was much embittered against him and sought to ruin him. One day he appeared to the Saint, in royal magnificence, saying that he was Christ, and had come to visit him, Martin, startled at this apparition, said: “My Lord Jesus Christ did not say that He would come in such splendid array, but in the same form in which He ascended to heaven.” At these words Satan vanished. Many other incidents of the life of this Saint we omit, in order to give space for a short account of his death.
The holy man had reached his eighty-first year, when he desired to be released from the fetters of earth, and go to God. The Almighty visited him with a dangerous fever and revealed to him his approaching end. His disciples grieved greatly at the thought of his being taken from them, and said with weeping eyes: “Why dost thou leave us, father? To whom dost thou give us? Wolves will attack thy flock, and when our shepherd is gone, who will defend us? Have pity on us and remain yet for a time among us.” The Saint sighed, and prayed to the Almighty: “Lord, if I am needful to Thy people, I do not refuse the labor. But not my will, but Thine be done.” Hereupon he received the holy sacraments, and lying down, in his penitential garment, upon the floor strewn with ashes, he said: “Thus must a Christian soldier die in his armor.” And when his disciples, perceiving that he lay continually on his back, and kept his eyes fixed on heaven, said to him that, in order to ease his pain, he should turn to the right or left side, he replied: “Rather let me look up to heaven than towards the earth.”
In his last hour, the tempter came once more to the holy bishop, who, fearlessly addressing him, said: “Wherefore art thou standing there, thou bloodthirsty beast? Thou hast nothing to expect from me.” With these words, the holy bishop closed his eyes and ended his holy life, in the year of our Lord 402. St. Severin, bishop of Cologne, although far away, saw his spotless soul borne to heaven by Angels. The same was witnessed by many others. The Roman Martyrology testifies that St. Martin, during his life, raised three from the dead. Many other great miracles are to be found in his biography. In conclusion, we add the words of St. Gregory of Tours in his praise: ” Oh happy man,” said he, “at the close of whose life, the Saints of the Most High sing hymns of praise, the Angels rejoice and come in crowds to meet him, the Evil One is confounded, and the Church of God strengthened in virtue.”
I. St. Martin trembled on entering a Church and never sat, stood or spoke while there, because he remembered that he was before God, his Judge. Oh, that all who go to Church, would take to heart that they appear before their Judge! How differently would they conduct themselves! May you, at least, think earnestly of it. Say to yourself: “I go to my God; I shall appear before Him, Who, in a little while, will be my Judge, and Who will sentence me for all eternity. At this moment He is still my Savior, ready to pardon my sins and give me grace, that I may go to heaven. But soon He will judge me according to His justice.”
Considering all this carefully, you will surely avoid everything that is displeasing to God, and you will guard against the least disrespect. “This place is terrible. It is nothing less than the house of God and the gate of heaven,” said the Patriarch Jacob of the place where he had seen, in his sleep, the Lord of Heaven. He was afraid, because he had dared to sleep there, though he knew not that the place was holy. How much more reason have you to fear when you are irreverential in Church, as you know that it is, in a grander sense, the house of God and the gate of heaven.
II. The Evil Spirit, who appeared to St. Martin in his last hour, was easily driven away with, the words: “Wherefore art thou standing there, thou blood-thirsty beast? Thou hast nothing to expect from me.” Consider well; if Satan dares to tempt so holy a man; if he can fill him with fear and confusion; what will he not do to those who have led an indolent, lukewarm, or even sinful life? “The devil has descended upon you,” says Holy Writ; “he is full of great wrath because he knows that he has but little time.” St. Martin feared not, but drove him away, because his conscience was free from anything with which Satan could reproach him. Oh! happy is he, who cannot be reproached in his last hour with anything that he has not confessed already and expiated. St. Martin was accustomed to fight during his life with Satan; therefore he easily conquered him in death.
Think deeply on it; those who accustom themselves during their lives to fight with Satan’s temptation, will be able, by the grace of God, to do the same on their death-bed. But how will those fare, who, during the greater part of their lives, have consented to the temptations of Satan? Oh! there is good reason to fear that, in their last hour, they will do the same, and thus go to eternal perdition. Impress this point well upon your mind, and accustom yourself in time to fight bravely against Satan and his temptations, as otherwise you are lost for all eternity. “Vainly do they promise themselves security in their dying hour, who, during their life, resist not temptation,” says St. Leo. “If Satan finds any one who is not watchful, and well experienced in fighting, he will easily conquer him,” says St. Cyprian.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.