St. Martin, patron of conscientious objectors, pray for us!

What is the purpose of Veterans Day? Most would claim that the purpose of the holiday is to thank the brave men and women who have served in the United States’ Armed Forces. That seems natural enough. The name of the holiday is Veterans Day, after all. But that name is not as old as the holiday itself, neither did the original purpose change with the name.

The date of the holiday, as everybody knows, was chosen to commemorate the end of hostilities during the First World War. It was on the 11th of November that the Armistice took effect, hence, the name of the holiday was originally called Armistice Day. (In parts of Europe, this name still prevails.) When Congress created the national holiday, the stated purpose was not to thank those who had participated in the late war; the holiday was dedicated to world peace. Armistice Day was about friendly relations with all peoples, not about celebrating those who fight wars. When the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, that was the only official change: the substitution of the word Veterans for the word Armistice. The bit about world peace has been largely ignored since then, but that is still the official meaning of the holiday. Those words were not changed.

As it happens, November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. This is a remarkable coincidence because St. Martin was both a veteran and a peace advocate. Raised in an army family, young Martin followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army himself. However, on the eve of a battle Martin concluded that his faith was incompatible with military service. There was no way for Martin to morally justify acting as an agent of war and death. He refused to participate in the war, so he was jailed. Lest we think that Martin was just a coward, it should be noted that Martin volunteered to appear before the enemy unarmed to show that his decision not to fight was based on faith rather than fear.

After being freed and discharged from the service, Martin went around preaching peace and charity. And what two virtues could be more appropriate for a veteran to exhort? Who could love peace so much as somebody who has seen war? Who could be so openhanded as one who has seen people lose everything?

November 11 is a day to remember that bravery and honor and duty are all virtues, but only so long as they are directed toward peace. Long before the weapons of the First World War was even conceivable, November 11th has been St. Martin’s day: a day for peace and charity. And roast goose. And beer.

Oh, and I almost forgot, November 11 is also Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a brand of long, skinny cookie dipped in chocolate. On Pepero Day, people give Pepero to people. On the one hand, it is an example of shameless marketing. On the other hand, Pepero Day is not a celebration of war and violence. And what do the Koreans care about the First World War, anyway?

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Beer of the week: Maxmilian Tmavý Speciál – This special dark lager comes from a brewery in the small Moravian town of Kroměříž. They had a stand at the St. Martin’s Day festival in Brno, so I had some of their beer with the traditional St. Martin’s Day goose. They made quite a combination. The beer has a thick, foamy head that lasts all the way to the bottom of the cup. The body is light and smooth. The roasted malt gives the beer the familiar tang of bitter cocoa and, although the beer is not especially smokey, there was a dryness in the finish that beckoned the next sip. A delicious holiday treat.

Reading of the week: A Key by William Penn – “This little treatise” was an attempt to clear up misconceptions (called “perversions”) about Quakers. I suspect that Quakers do not believe in the intercession of saints, so they wouldn’t pray to St. Martin. They might, however, hold him up as an example of one who was born again in the fire of baptism and a lover of peace. The paradigmatic American conscientious objectors, Penn writes that Quakers “are not fit for warriors with carnal weapons, because they believe their blessed Lord forbade the use of them to His followers.”

Question of the week: St. Martin is a patron to beggars (because of his famous charity) and geese (because they migrate on his feast day) and soldiers (because he had been one himself.) But why should St. Martin be a patron saint for soldiers even though he personally claimed that the life of a soldier is incompatible with the christian faith?

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