Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary His Most Holy Mother! As everyone knows, tomorrow November 11th we will celebrate Veterans’ Day. We will all pray for the members of the armed forces of our nation and we will pray for all those who have given their lives for our country, making the supreme sacrifice. Some parishioners may recall when the holiday was called Armistice Day. My father always referred to it by the former name until the day of his death. The origin of the holiday goes to the year 1918 when at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the armistice was signed ending what we call today the First World War. But the day itself was sacred long before, for it is the Feast of the great Soldier-Saint, St. Martin who is the only saint given the wondrous title Equal to the Apostles. (In Latin he is called Martinus, Pars-Apostoli!).
In 1918 November 11th was also a Monday. The hostilities had ceased on Friday November 8, 1918. The German Emperor fled to Holland on Saturday the 9th, and the last Austrian Emperor, the Blessed Karl (beatified in 2004) and his family left Vienna on Sunday the 10th. But the warring parties made the solemn agreement that the armistice would wait to be signed until the Feast of the great St. Martin. For he is the Patron of all soldiers and the patron of both Germany and France. Who was this saint upon whom history waited and what is his story?
St. Martin lived at the end of the fourth century and was from the Roman province of Panomia (in present day Hungary). As a young man he enlisted in the Roman Army and was a centurion assigned to the province of Gaul (present day France) where there was fierce fighting. He was considered the bravest and most valiant soldier serving in the Imperial Army at that time.
Soon he heard of the preaching of the Faith and became a catechumen, one preparing for baptism. One day the great Martin entered a French village where he found an old man freezing in the cold. He immediately drew his sword and with one graceful swoop, cut his red military cloak in two, giving half of it to the shivering man. That night in a dream Our Lord appeared to Martin wearing the half cloak. And Our Lord said to him, “Martin whatever you have done for the least of my brethren, you have done for me. From now on you shall be a soldier in my army, marching beneath the Cross.” Martin was immediately baptized and began to live in the forest as a monk.
Soon his reputation for holiness became so great, that when the city of Tours needed a Bishop the townspeople came looking for him to be their Bishop. Rather than seeking this honor, he fled from them and actually hid in a barn under a bale of hay. When the people entered the barn in search of him, he almost eluded them until suddenly a flock of geese ran into the barn, making their characteristic honking noise near the bale of hay and betraying him.. He was discovered and the people brought Martin back to Tours there to be made Bishop. He became the holiest Bishop in the world and was noted for his love for the poor and his desire for the priests to live exemplary lives. The bravest soldier of the Roman army now became the greatest bishop in the history of the Church.
There are several charming customs that have grown up around the figure of this great Saint. On his feast day, it is the custom in Germany, France and Austria that families gather in a similar way to our American Thanksgiving and one can guess what is served as the family feast, roast goose. (Some say it is to honor the geese for leading the faithful to Martin; others say it is a punishment for their treachery that they are eaten!)
On St. Martin’s Day in Italy the first of the new wine is drunk, wine that had been grapes on the vine just a few weeks earlier. There is an Italian Proverb that goes:
Si beve il buon vino!
O Glorious St. Martin, Equal to the Apostles, pray for us and save us. Watch over our armed forces and watch over our children! May You who gave your life to doing good, and still do so from heaven, bless and protect us. Warm the coldness of our hearts so we may love God as did You. Help us to see Our Lord in the poor and suffering as You did. O St. Martin bring peace to the nations of the world and save us who pray to You!
May I then on this Veterans’ Day extend the gratitude of the parish to all of our own parishioners serving in the armed forces and to all our (and my fellow) veterans. (I had the honor to serve in the USAF for eight years).
But today I also salute another category of parish veterans. Although some did indeed serve in the armed forces, the veterans of whom I write are our founding parishioners. How blessed we are that so many of them are here with us; they are our mothers and fathers in the faith. They saw the dream of a church arise here and their sacrifices have built our parish. How happy I always am, when standing in front of the Church, people approach me and say with true and justified pride, We were here at the beginning. You saw Monsignor Potterton (then Father) unearth the first shovel of dirt. We will ever be grateful for all you have done, dear Veterans of St. Paul the Apostle. May God bless and reward you! To that end, I would like to invite all of the founding parishioners of St. Paul to the 11.00am Mass on Sunday November 24th, the Solemnity of Christ the King. I would ask them all to sit in the “pie” close to the shrine of the Blessed Mother to receive a blessing and our recognition and gratitude. To that Mass also I would like to invite all parish volunteers so that we may thank them on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and that they, too, may be blessed and recognized. After Mass refreshments will be served in the Lower Church.
Please save the date of Friday May 16th. It will be our annual parish party held at the Cottage of the Milleridge Inn, our neighbors and parishioners. We are all grateful to Mrs. Paula Maturo and her committee who have already been working for several months so that we may all have a pleasant, enjoyable and grace-filled evening.
Please be sure to attend the little mission which Father Al will give this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Please pray for all the sick and dying and please, if you can, remember to say a little prayer for me also.
Monsignor James F. Pereda