Of all the homilies I heard during my two year novitiate, the one I remember best was given by Fr. Raymond Fitzgerald on November 11, 2015. It’s memorable for a number of reasons, but mostly because Fr. Fitzgerald was the one giving it. At the time, he was suffering the effects of ALS, which he’d been diagnosed with about a year and a half before that. Despite the decline of his body, Fr. Fitzgerald’s spirit was nothing short of inspirational, especially for us novices. He was intelligent, funny, and above all joyful.
The day he gave this homily, my class of novices was engaging in the month long silent retreat of the Spiritual Exercises. It just so happened that particular November 11th, three events aligned. It was the feast of St. Martin of Tours in the Church calendar, Veteran’s Day in the United States, and it was also the day we were praying with the meditation in the Spiritual Exercises known as ‘The Call of Christ the King’. Fr. Fitzgerald pointed out this alignment of events at the beginning of his homily saying, “I shall attempt to connect these three with something stronger than duct tape.” Below is more or less a retelling of the rest of that homily.
In the early part of the Fourth Century, St Martin of Tours was born in southern Europe to pagan parents. Even though his parents were pagan, its believed that the young Martin encountered Christianity as a boy and embraced the faith from a young age. But his father was an officer in the Roman army and Martin was required to follow him into military service as a young man.
Soon after becoming a soldier, Martin encountered a naked beggar. Moved with compassion, Martin took off the cloak he was wearing, cut it in half, then gave one half of it to the naked man. That night, Martin was visited by Christ who told him that Martin had in fact clothed him when he gave the beggar his cloak. Soon after, Martin stepped away from military service. He had decided to give his life entirely to Christ.
Martin eventually established a monastery in Tours in 361 AD. A decade later, he was named bishop of Tours, an office he didn’t want but accepted in service to the people of God. After serving for over two decades as a hardworking bishop, St. Martin of Tours died in 397 AD.
The connection with Veteran’s Day is obvious enough. Martin served the Roman Empire under obligation. On November 11th, we Americans honor those who served the country in times of war, both those who chose to enlist and those who were drafted into obligatory service. Even though Martin eventually became a conscientious objector, refusing to kill for the Roman Empire, we know that military service in itself isn’t contrary to our faith. St. John the Baptist himself was asked by soldiers what they should do, and he responded, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”1 Notice he doesn’t tell them to abandon post. Our fallen world needs those who will take up arms to defend just causes. But we always need to remember there is a higher calling.
Which brings me to the ‘Call of Christ the King’. In summary, this meditation guides a person to reflect on a great political leader—a king. This king wants to rid the world of poverty, hunger, sickness, and starvation. And this king calls us to join him in this righteous cause. All he asks of us is to dress how he dresses, eat what he eats, act as he acts. In short, to live as he lives. St. Ignatius, who wrote this meditation, poses the question at the end of this part of the meditation, “who wouldn’t follow such a king?”
In the second part of the meditation, the focus changes to the call not of the earthly king but Christ the King of the Universe, who is actually working to bring about “earth as it is in heaven.” Like the earthly king, Christ calls us to imitate him in every way in order to join him in this mission. And if the choice to follow the earthly king was easy enough, we should be all the more ready to follow Christ the King.
St. Martin of Tours made this fundamental choice. He went from serving one of the most powerful empires on earth to serving the God-man whose weakness shamed the powerful of this world. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world,” but it is in this world, as Jesus tells his followers, “the kingdom of God is among you.” That’s the kingdom St. Martin of Tours spent the great majority of his life building.
As the son of a military veteran, I have immense gratitude for those who have served in the military. And I personally know many brother Jesuits who loyally served our country for years before making the decision to serve the God of the nations as Jesuits. There are some Jesuits who even serve as military chaplains. I give thanks for their fidelity, and I pray that on the feast of St. Martin of Tours and Veteran’s Day that all people may imitate this great soldier and saint in his loving service to the people of God.
Fr. Raymond Fitzgerald told it better than I have tried to recount, but I still think the above holds stronger than duct tape.
- Luke 3:14 ↩