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Martin on a Mission

Fatherhood lessons from a saintly fourth-century warrior

By Peter Weinert

November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada. It is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who lived in the fourth century, whose name means “warrior.” Martin had zeal for Christ and military discipline that proved a powerful combination. Today he is most commonly remembered for cutting his cloak in half to share it with a beggar, but he also was a strong defender of the faith at a time of many heresies.

He remains an excellent example of how martial values can be harnessed, with God’s grace, to build manly virtue among husbands and fathers to further his kingdom against the full fury of evil. Since today the powers of darkness are focused intently on the family, and especially on fathers, the roles of father and soldier coincide to such a degree that this martial saint can assist us in our daily struggles against all that would harm us and our mission.

In the military, as in fatherhood, there are times when difficulty cannot be avoided. I remember a senior non­commissioned officer speaking before a march where I had to cover 20 kilometers in less than three hours while carrying at least 35 pounds along with my standard equipment. He told us that the next three hours would be gruesome and there was nothing anyone could do about it. “Get through it,” he said. “I’ll see you on the other side.” How many times are fathers forced to discipline their children, forego sleep, give up watching the game to do menial tasks, or otherwise make the hard but right choice? “Do not hate toilsome labor” (Sirach 7:15), for it is through this crucible that we develop ourselves into leaner, more effective warriors for Christ. Like Martin, even if all we want is to be left alone, our duty calls us to be something greater than we would personally prefer.

Similarly, service and fatherhood both teach humility. There are many tasks that cannot be done without help, and many times when others see us at less than our best. Soldiers learn their limits and to know that when they fail, they must seek out aid and forgiveness, often from unlikely sources. The same is true for fathers and their interaction with their wives and children. “For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sirach 2:5). Impressive as he was, Martin knew when he needed help and was unafraid to ask for it.

Veterans also learn quickly that there is a time for thoughtful planning – seeing the goal and working backwards in phases until you reach the present while addressing contingencies – and a time for execution. When the time for execution comes, it is best to be methodical, avoid undue haste and get it right the first time rather than rush to action and make mistakes. Fathers, too, must restrain their impulse to “shoot from the hip” lest they make an error that they cannot undo. “Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity” (Sirach 2:2).

Finally, the military teaches that leadership consists of serving others before ourselves and actively training our replacements. As a soldier, I wanted each of my direct reports not only to be able to take my position if I fell, but actually to take the post the future and do better than I did. I had to accept them as they were and help them transform themselves with the lessons I learned along the way. This is precisely a father’s role with his children, as you guide and encourage them to be the best they can be. As a bishop, Martin did likewise by ordaining and training diocesan priests who would take on his duties in his absence and eventually become bishops themselves.

My hope is that this Veterans Day, after you thank soldiers and sailors for their service, you take a moment to ask God for his help in your own war against “the world, the flesh and the devil.” May your life, in its own way, mirror Martin’s, a veteran of faith who has gone before us.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us!

Peter Weinert served in the U.S. Army and federal government for 13 years and now works in the private sector. He and his wife, Stephanie, live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with their three young sons.