Here is what the world, I hope, knows. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, Congress in 1954 changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.
What's an armistice? The English word is transliterated from the Latin armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce, a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities may well resume at some point. And always have.
Here is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of, guess what, soldiers! Hmm. Martin was born a pagan around 316 and was career military in the Roman army. One day he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave it to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. Shook up, he went to the bishop (now called St Hilary) for direction. He was taught the faith and baptised, obtained a discharge from the army and set about combating the Arian heresy which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now. He was forced into exile by persecution, lived as a hermit, and later was finally persuaded to become the new bishop of Tours when the old one died, and from there soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul.
11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? The armistice of 11 November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become World War One as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two. Along with the millions of lives lost, and millions more of lives forever changed, something changed in what might be called the spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.
The Titans had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who were the victorious Olympians, or if there even were such, was not clear. Man began to speak of life as absurd, the old certainties were gone, the search for "meaning" was on amid an apparently essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man. And, at the present writing (2007), hostilities continue amid the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.
So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of them.
There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. Not "the church", the twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the One God has sent that because of Him one can be washed clean by being covered in his sacrificial blood and even amid the brokenness of this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it, dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day where God calls and feeds Man in his Word properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.
Interesting that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against heresy.
So as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for real and for ever.
Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis.
Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee.
(John 14:27, used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)
Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:
Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
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