This week is great for feasts, and today we celebrate the feast of one of the Church's most popular saints - or was in the past. St Martin of Tours was one of the Church heavyweights, a man who started his adult life as a Roman soldier and ended it as a great bishop, renowned for his holiness. In his lifetime he was a staunch defender of the Incarnation of Christ, he established monasteries and was noted as a messenger of peace and mercy.
The most famous story from the life of St Martin is that of his charity to the beggar. Still a soldier, and yet to be converted, Martin cut his cloak in two to give half to a beggar he met along the road. According to the story, the beggar was Christ himself, and later that night, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and restored the cloak. The cloak became a precious relic, and it is from this relic (cappa = cloak) and its minders (the cappellanu) that the word chapel and chaplain come.
There was great devotion to St Martin in Ireland and bonfires were lit across the country to celebrate St Martin's Day. In fact his feast day was a traditional day of feasting throughout Europe, particularly in the Middle Ages. It is a pity that we no longer celebrate his feast, or indeed continue the Catholic festivities which are part of our tradition. St Teresa of Avila says in her writings that there is time for fasting and a time for partridge: today is partridge day!
Fr Vincent Twomey in his book The End of Irish Catholicism? laments the loss of the feast days, the days when we took great pride in our faith and our saints and made their commemorations days of feasting and festivity. Ironically, secular Europe still holds onto some as many of the Church holidays are in fact state holidays too. That is gone in Ireland, the reason being we tended to go a little overboard. Ireland traditionally celebrated "pattern" days, feasts of the Irish saints where the locals gathered to drink, dance, gossip, gamble and "get intimate" in a manner not appreciated by the Church. Things got so bad the bishops of Ireland had to ban the pattern days and so deprived the Irish of another opportunity to relive the pagan days of yore. We have since found other ways to do it.
That said, we need to get back into our Catholic traditions, celebrating with festivities the great feasts of the year. A good book to inspire such celebrations came out a few years ago. The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living is a great read, funny and inspiring. It goes through the year's feasts with suggestions as to how to celebrate them. So I must dip into it today to see if I can get any ideas. No bread and water today.