The Missouri Synod, with this feast, continues its refusal to use the term 'saint' for those on its list of commemorations. If Martin of Tours is not a saint, then why commemorate him? Such criticisms will seem nit picky to some, and will feel to some to be getting rather old. Shouldn't we, after all, simply be grateful for all the good things in the new worship resources? What ought to get old, on the other hand, are all the ways in which these resources display shortsightedness, and all too much reflect the limited thinking of our own protestantized culture. They won't "get old," though, unless gadflies who care about their Church keep the issues alive. Another example of this limited, protestantized thinking, is to refer to Saint Martin merely as "Pastor." Of course the mini bio on the Synod's web site admits that he was made bishop of Tours. But why the need to downplay his office as bishop in the title given him in his commemoration? Just as the makers of these lists would, I am sure, agree that Martin is a saint, the real question is not what they think of Martin, but why the need to downplay these truths. Is being a pastor the same as being a bishop? Sure, it is exactly the same, at least if one can think of himself as pastor of a whole city, or even a whole region, filled with several parishes, and a crew of presbyters and deacons. So why do we play these games?
Just as strange is that some apparently think that Martin should be commemorated not only for his episcopal office, but also for the fact that before his conversion he was a soldier. I myself see much rich significance in Martin's military experience. There is great potential, for example, for connecting allegorically the soldier Martin with the Lord who fights for us against sin and the devil, whose office Martin would go on to fill. Yet to commemorate Martin as "soldier, pastor, and bishop," seems a bit much. It fits all too well the militaristic politics of the day.
Martin was a great saint, the renown of whose holiness extended throughout the long history of the Western Church, especially in France. He was a faithful and fearless bishop, and a confessor of Christ, evidenced in both his teaching and life. I would add another thought here. Martin was also a faithful catechumen, who can serve as an example for all catechumens today. Polycarp had his John, Augustine had his Ambrose, and we ought not forget that Martin had Hilary, the great bishop of Poitiers. Hilary recognized in Martin much potential for service in the Church, and even offered Martin diaconal ordination before Martin felt ready for it.
So much to say of Saint Martin. But let me at this point encourage you to do two things, if you can.
1. Go to church. If your church has Mass today, take advantage of that gift, if you are able. If you cannot, at least be sure to thank God for the life He lived in the holy bishop of Tours.
2. Read a good treatment of Saint Martin, such as Regine Pernoud's excellent book, Martin of Tours, published by Ignatius Press.