Martin lived 1700 years ago in what are now the countries of Italy and France. His father was a soldier in the Roman army. The rule in those days was that if your father had served in the army you had to join the army too. So at the age of just 15, Martin became a soldier, though he never liked it very much.
Martin took care of the sick, the hungry, and the poor. He had a reputation for caring. It is even said that he would not allow his servant to wait on him. Even though his parents didn't believe in Jesus, Martin had heard about Christianity and the Christian ways were already in his life. He decided to study to be baptized so he could accept the faith fully.
One good thing about being a soldier was that you were given a warm woolen cloak to wear in the cold weather. One winter day, Martin was riding his horse into the gate of the city of Amiens when he saw a beggar asking for help. People walked by the beggar, as if he were invisible. Martin’s heart was touched by the beggar’s request, yet he had no money to give him. He did have his military cloak, and the cloak was big enough to share! So he took his soldier’s sword and cut his heavy cloak in half, giving one half to the beggar and keeping the other half for himself.
That night, Martin had a dream in which he was visited by Jesus. Jesus was wearing the half of the cloak Martin had given the beggar! Jesus’ message to Martin was “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Martin went to the ruler of the land—the Roman emperor. He said, ”I have served you as a soldier, but it is not right for me to fight anymore. From now on I am a soldier of Christ.” Martin was baptized at 18, became a monk, and eventually a bishop.
There are many more legends and stories about his work and his life. He was so beloved that there are more than 400 towns and 4,000 churches in France named after him.
Sometimes, the church preserves items owned by a saint. These are called “relics”. The building where people went to visit the relic of St. Martin’s cloak was known as the capella – a variation on the Latin word for cloak (cappa). That is the origin of the word “chapel”.
Capella, the building where Martin’s cloak was kept as a relic, is also the origin of the word “chaplain.” A chaplain is a pastor who does his or her ministry outside the walls of a church building. Martin served the men and women of his world wherever he found himself.
A soldier himself, St. Martin is also the patron saint of veterans – men and women who served their country in the military. We celebrate St. Martin’s day on the day he died, November 11th, which is also Remembrance Day. We take time on November 11th to honor and remember those who have died to protect us and our country, those who still serve in the military, and their families. It is also a time to remember what we can do to make peace and share as Martin did.
St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.