Soldier Saints and Patriot Pacifists | Sojourners

Soldier Saints and Patriot Pacifists

This year, Nov. 11 will be a particularly joyous day for this veteran. Though I will not be attending any events, I can still reasonably expect a few pats on the back or some kind words in recognition of my six years in service to our country. Thankfully, I am past the awkwardness that used to greet me as supporters approached me with their gratitude in airports or shopping malls - seeking hugs and handshakes to express their appreciation for my sacrifice. I have overcome the demons that accompanied me back from Iraq, who insisted the strangers' thanks were idolatrous and superficial. However, I do continue to pray that well-wishers offer "welcome home" in place of "thank you" - the latter often being misunderstood, as many service members do not consider the acts they have committed to be commendable. Beside merely a celebration of patriotism, Nov. 11 is also a day to remember and rejoice in peace. Armistice Day holds a place in history as the day the Allies and Germany signed a treaty in Compiègne, France, ending hostilities on the Western Front. To this day, many people still reserve a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. to respect the 8 million who perished in WWI.

Though for Christians, the day does not end there. This Sunday the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, one of the first saints not to be martyred. In fact, St. Martin was one of many to be beatified who, by today's standards, would be identified as a conscientious objector - an individual verifiably opposed to "war in any form." At one time a Roman centurion, Martin came to a "crystallization" of conscience, laying down his sword and declaring, "I am a soldier of Christ, it is not permissible for me to fight." It has been speculated that in 1918, Nov. 11 was chosen as Armistice Day in part due to St. Martin, who is especially the patron of soldiers and chaplains. It is curious to consider that this Christian soldier in fact thought it more Christlike to return to the front lines unarmed than with the sword the empire placed in his hands. David Thoreau, an inspiration to another saintly Martin, believed that a creative, nonviolent minority could serve the state by resisting it with the intention of improving it. Could this in fact be the embodiment of service to the state Paul speaks of in Romans 13? After all, he and St. Martin both were imprisoned for their beliefs

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