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astmartinAll I ever knew of St. Martin of Tours was a line I learned in elementary school: Martin of Tours battled the Moors in 732. Today is his feast day and this morning I was shocked to read Martin’s biography to find that he died in 397! Since elementary school is a vague memory for me, I must conclude that we were taught that the battle with the Moorish troops was won under the protection of Martin, who actually was a soldier who subsequently founded a monastery close to where this battle was fought. Although disappointed in my search for some closer connection of the stories, I thought it interesting, on this holiday when we pay homage to veterans, that St. Martin was a man who was conscripted into the army when he was 15 years old and after some years of service lobbied to be released as what we would call today a conscientious objector.

It seems that Martin resisted much in his life but was strong in his convictions and his faith. The son of pagan parents, americancatholic.org says of him that he lived more like a monk than a soldier, only discharged from the army after great difficulties to become a monk. He was a monk who was maneuvered into being a bishop, a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy for heretics…It seems that the people of Tours demanded that he become their bishop, brought to the church by a ruse – the need of a sick person – where he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.

There are great stories of Martin but what drew me most powerfully this morning was the comment at the end of the biography that I read. I repeat it now because I have been immersed in such thoughts lately and I think it is worthy of our attention. Martin’s worry about cooperation with evil reminds us that almost nothing is either all black or all white. The saints are not creatures of another world. They face the same perplexing decisions that we do. Any decision of conscience always involves some risk. If we choose to go north, we may never know what would have happened had we gone east, west or south. A hyper-cautious withdrawal from all perplexing situations is not the virtue of prudence; it is, in fact, a bad decision, for “not to decide is to decide.”