Although the school holiday for us in high school was unique to our school I was startled to discover when I arrived at St. Mary College in Leavenworth, Kansas, that November 11 was a holiday there as well – but it had little to do with St. Martin and everything to do with the foundation of the sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who owned and operated that wonderful college now known as the University of St. Mary. For the eight years of my adolescence, then, I observed a holiday each year on November 11 that never had anything to do with World War I. Celebrating this day as a feast day of faith is a hard pattern to forget even years later! But what I learned so young was the value of taking time and honoring the great men and women of our historical tradition who have handed on the gift of their faith to us. The purpose of memorials in the Church’s liturgy is precisely this . . . to hold a day of gratitude in honor of those followers of Jesus who continue to manifest the Kingdom of God by their generous lives and labor.
The readings for this memorial fit the pattern of ordinary time rather than the memorial, but they remind us of two of the great virtues that our saints and founders challenge us to share with them: The first reading speaks quite firmly about the reality that those who are given any authority must be diligently accountable for that authority; must humbly recognize that such authority comes from God and may not be exercised arrogantly to oppress others. Martin of Tours, forced to become a bishop by the need and pleas of the people of Tours, is reputed to have reported carefully to his people, as Augustine did more famously a few years later, about the state of their diocese – not his. He saw himself as their representative to the larger Church and to Christ – and so he was accountable to the Baptized – that is the whole Church – for his stewardship. The writer of the Book of Wisdom would have looked favorably upon his wisdom as a faithful shepherd of his flock.
Luke’s Gospel of the ten lepers who beg for healing calls us to gratitude. This passage invites me to more deeply grasp that my life, my health, my well being, is gift of God. As I thought about this day I recalled recently finding a book mark in an old bible that said: “We have every reason to be thankful to the Father of all for the protecting care His Divine Providence had extended over the community”. The words were attributed to Mother Xavier Ross, the founder of the Sisters of Charity who came to Leavenworth on November 11. She knew that gratitude brings us close to God and serves as the source of humility and of service – those most necessary virtues of the Christian life.
Today is a very good day for me to practice the accountability and gratitude that I learned from those heroic Benedictines and Sisters of Charity by thanking them, and thanking God for the wonderful education they provided and the model of virtue they witnessed.
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