Martin, a young catechumen (one who is preparing for baptism) and soldier, met a beggar at the gates of a city. It was freezing and the beggar was cold and hungry. Martin felt sorry for him, but he had nothing to give, so he took off his soldier’s cloak, cut it in half with his sword, and gave the beggar half. That night Martin had a dream where he saw Jesus wearing the half of cloak that he had given the beggar. Jesus turned to a great host of angels and declared, “Martin, though only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.”
An oratory is a small room dedicated to prayer. Several years after these events, one half of Martin’s cloak that was given to the beggar was taken to an oratory in Tours where it was preserved. The oratory was called “The Little Cloak,” which in Latin is cappella and in French, chapelle – the origin of the word “chapel.” We call this room our chapel, named after the half of cloak that Martin gave to a beggar.
Soon after his meeting with the beggar, Martin would leave his life as a soldier and become monk, starting the first monastery in Western Europe. He would be ordained a deacon and priest, but when the call came for him to be consecrated bishop, he flatly refused. However, the people wanted him, so they devised a plan where Martin was called to the city of Tours under the guise of coming to pray for a very ill person. When he arrived, the people kidnapped him and took him to the bishop who consecrated him.
Following his consecration, Martin did not change, but remained faithful to his monastic calling, while also seeing to his duties as bishop, where he remained a faithful opponent of the paganism he witnessed in his diocese, yet even the pagans respected him. It is reported that a pagan Egyptian merchant was caught in a great storm while at sea and feared for his life. Instead of praying to his gods, he cried out to “the God of Martin” and was saved.
There are so many miracles attributed to him, that they are difficult to count, which only led to his increasing popularity. Today there are over 4,000 parishes in France named after Martin and over 500 villages. More than a 1,000 years after his death on this day in 1483 in Germany, a boy was born. When the parents discovered that it was the Feast of St. Martin, they named the child Martin. Their family name was Luther.
Jesus said, ”Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him…” Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat, naked and clothed you? Then the King of Glory will answer, When you saw the naked beggar and gave him half your cloak, you did it to me.
May we all learn to serve as Martin served, by serving Christ in every person we meet.