Today, the Church celebrates the holiness and witness of Saint Martin of Tours.
Martin was born in the year 316 AD and was a convert to the Faith of the Church. The story of his conversion is one of the great tales of the Faith.
Martin, a dashing young soldier, was confronted by a poor beggar who pleaded for Martin’s assistance. Martin’s heart was moved with compassion for the frail, sickly man, shivering in the cold and clothed only in tattered rags. He removed his magnificent military cloak from his broad shoulders, drew his sword, and divided the garment in two, placing half of his cloak around the impoverished beggar.
That night, Martin stirred uncomfortably in his sleep. He was graced with what appeared in his dreams to be a vision of the Lord Jesus who stood before Martin clothed in half of his cloak. He awoke from this dream, resolved to complete his instruction in the Faith, later becoming a priest and then a bishop.
This powerful and evocative story of conversion has captured the imagination of Christians for centuries.
Some scholars can only accept it as a kind of Christian folk tale, for it seems to them to represent a genre of storytelling in which a saint comes to appreciate the presence of Christ in his suffering poor, and with this realization the saint had no choice but to serve Christ by giving their lives over to service for the least among us. But I think that such an objection to the veracity of the story is really quite shallow.
Martin did see the Lord Jesus, just as clearly as he saw the beggar, and he was able to see in both the divine image of God become man in Christ. But more than this (if there could be more!) he saw in that half of his cloak that God who made himself a beggar for our sake deserved not half of what we have been given, but everything. To truly follow Christ means not simply to give part of ourselves to the Lord, but to give ourselves over to him completely.
Martin knew that Christ did not simply want his cloak, he wanted the man who owned the cloak—Christ wanted Martin.
And the Lord who so wanted Martin also desires all of us.
This is precisely the spiritual challenge of Saint Martin to us. Surrendering ourselves over to Christ completely might not lead us on the same path of sanctity that Saint Martin followed, but for us as it was for Saint Martin, Christ presents himself to us, and begs—will you give yourself over to me wholly and completely?
This piece was originally published on November 11, 2015, in the Word on Fire Blog.