St. Martin – from soldier to bishop

St. Martin

On a bitterly cold winter evening, sometime in the 4th century AD, a poor beggar sits freezing and hungry by the roadside. He has neither food nor shelter for the night and relies on someone passing by to give him something. So far the result has been rather poor and people hardly have an eye for the neglected beggar. Even those he addresses directly, hoping for a small gift, ignore him, look another way and see that they pass him quickly. Despondent, the poor fellow stares into the thickening snowflakes and the prospect of something edible slowly fades away.

Another night hungry in the cold

He was almost about to leave his place and try his luck elsewhere, when he recognizes the outline of a horse and rider in the thick snow. As the rider approaches, the beggar realizes that it is a Roman soldier. Should I even try with him, he thinks to himself. But then again, what have I got to lose. In the worst case, he will ride on heedlessly, as so many have done that day. When the soldier comes close enough, the beggar raises his voice and asks for a gift, something to eat or a few pennies. And because he had not expected it at all, he flinches violently when the soldier brings the horse to a halt with a strong pull on the reins. He would have overlooked the beggar and actually ridden past him.

Threateningly the big horse stood in front of the beggar crouching on the ground

There is something almost threatening about this huddled poor man and the big horse with the soldier in front of him. And now the beggar flinches a second time when the soldier suddenly draws his sword. Now his composure is gone and he thinks he is at the end of his life. What might happen now? The soldier calmly removes his coat, skillfully applies the sword and divides the large soldier’s coat into two equal parts. He throws one half to the beggar without a word, wraps the other half around himself and disappears without a word into the thick snow. What remains is a speechless man who can hardly believe his luck. With this piece of coat, he can at least warm himself a little on his meager camp.

A dream brought the turnaround in Martin's life

Actually, the story would have ended at this point. The Roman soldier would have ridden back to his garrison and probably would have received a new coat from the clothing store. But it turned out quite differently. During the night, the soldier had a dream encounter. With a person he thought was Jesus Christ, dressed in the half of the cloak he had given to the beggar, who asked him to follow him and enter the church.

Martin, the name of this soldier, complied with the request. And this despite the fact that he was the son of a high-ranking Roman soldier. He left everything behind, resigned from the army, entered a monastery and became known in the region as a generous and helpful churchman. So well known, in fact, that he was eventually appointed Bishop of Tours. On November 11, 397, Martin of Tours was buried. Therefore, November 11 is the so-called St. Martin’s Day, to this day. In many countries in Europe.

St. Martin - meaning then and now

What would Martin’s contemporaries say about him today? That he was brave, generous, helpful, bold – after all, he even stood up to the emperor against injustice – compassionate. And what would the beggar not have to say about this incident?

What can we say about St. Martin? With a few hundred years distance to the noble deed? That we have him to thank for the lantern parades? That without him there would be no St. Martin’s geese? Sometimes, especially when celebrating such old customs, it’s worth thinking about the history behind them. Why is something celebrated? Why do children love a certain ritual? Why are lanterns made with fervor? Why do people walk singing behind a horseman dressed as St. Martin?

What do your neighbors think about you?

But isn’t it also worthwhile to think about what the people around us would have to say about us? During our lifetime, or post mortem, as they say.

How do we come across, how do we arrive? Are we also helpful, cordial, fond of children, empathetic, friendly, generous, courageous or bold? Or are we rather closed, taciturn, critical, looking for distance? How do my children see me, how does my life partner see me? Have you ever thought about how you see your children? How your life partner looks at you? Well, you’ve been together a little longer, you’ve gotten used to each other, you’ve locked horns. But have you ever told each other how you feel about the other after so many years? Has the love grown bigger, smaller perhaps (hopefully not), does your partner have traits like St. Martin, have you discovered qualities over the years that have surprised you in a positive way?

What do you think about your partner?

Is this such a typical question of conscience? Has your partner met your expectations? Do you always agree? Or are there more disagreements, more often than you would like? Have there been any positive surprises over the years, have you grown together more? Did you always agree on raising children, choosing vacation destinations, making purchases?

Have you ever taken stock? Maybe you made a list of things that form the basis of your good relationship? Maybe even thought about putting your relationship into a story, a story, a real book?

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