This past Wednesday we observed Veterans’ Day, a day to honor all those who have served our country in our armed services. It was also the Feast of St. Martin.
St. Martin was a bishop of the city of Tours in the fourth century A.D., around the time of the emperors Constantine and Julian. He was also a veteran. St. Martin was conscripted into military service at the age of fifteen. Among the most famous stories of St. Martin is the story of his cloak. While riding into the town of Amiens, St. Martin encountered a beggar, to whom no one had shown mercy or given alms. Perhaps Martin could have just reached into his purse and produced a few coins, but that was not good enough. It may be that Jesus’s words came to him at that time:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:32-40)
So Martin drew his sword and cut his great cloak in two, clothing the beggar with the half cut from his own cloak. The next night, the story goes, St. Martin had a vision of Christ wearing the part of the cloak he had given to the beggar, and he heard Christ saying to the angels, “Martin gave me this.” Not long after, St. Martin was baptized and dedicated the rest of his life to being a “soldier of Christ,” giving up his military service to serve the poor, the hungry, and all those in need.
While we certainly honor those who serve in our armed forces, we ought also to honor and emulate veterans like St. Martin, who was willing to give even the cloak on his back to clothe Christ in the poor. Indeed, this is the peculiar valor of Christians, not that we are willing to fight, but that we are willing, with all the passion, discipline, and focus of the soldier, to wage compassion.
This is a vital lesson for us all as we approach the coming months. The winter months are hard for many. Christ frequently goes cold and hungry, but also alone and un-visited. At St. Mary’s, we will be offering new opportunities to stay connected, but as St. Martin gave of what was his to wrap the beggar in compassion, let us consider how we might wrap others in compassion. As the pandemic lingers, and in fact worsens, we are called to the front lines of mercy and compassion. Who do we know who may be experiencing even more loneliness than ourselves? Could we call them, or arrange a physically-distanced greeting in the driveway or the garden? Who do we know who needs a little extra tenderness, or a little extra encouragement, or a little extra hope? Or how might we give generously and with open hands to the ministry and mission of St. Mary’s as we continue our work of lifting up our community and staying connected in these times?
Like St. Martin, let us have the wisdom to recognize that all that has been given to us is not just for us, but also for our neighbors, and let us have the audacity to cut our own cloak to show mercy to one another.