Homilette for Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(Titus 2:1-8.11-14; Psalm 37; Luke 17:7-10)

Gene Sharp is America’s foremost theorist of non-violent conflict resolution. In a lecture given many years ago, he stated that army generals were among his most attentive listeners. Knowing that the assertion sounded odd, Sharp explained. He said that true military leaders do not want their soldiers’ lives wasted in unnecessary violence. As we celebrate today a former soldier, St. Martin of Tours, and the traditional Veterans Day we can explore more deeply the responsibilities of military leaders to limit the use of force.

Born of pagan parents, St. Martin of Tours spans most of the fourth century. As a young man, he served in the Roman military, but when he became a Christian he sought release from military duty. He said at the time, “I am (now) a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight.” As a Christian, St. Martin founded perhaps the first monastery in the Western Christendom and became a popular bishop for the people of Tours. To this day, he is generally pictured as the merciful soldier who uses his sword to divide his cloak so that it might be shared with a beggar.

In the first reading today from the Letter to Titus old men are reminded to be temperate while young men are encouraged to control themselves. These admonitions are meant for all, but they have particular import for military personnel who have such awesome firepower at hand. At least since St. Augustine, the Church has taught that there still is a time for war. But with the advent of nuclear weapons, she has insisted with increasing urgency on the need of reconciling conflict peacefully. Seasoned officers must not recklessly risk their own soldiers nor must they seek the annihilation of the enemy in pursuit of victory. Likewise, young soldiers must remember the sanctity of human life and not inflict more injury than necessary to achieve a valid military objective.