The man we know as Saint Martin of Tours, in France, was born around the year 316. He was the son of a man who served 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.
One good thing about being a soldier was that you were given a warm woollen cloak to wear in the cold weather. One of the most famous stories about Martin has to do with that cloak. He was wearing it one windy, cold day as he rode his horse into town. Martin really looked like a proud soldier in his uniform and cloak, his horse prancing along and his shining sword hanging from his belt.
As he rode along, he noticed a thin, sick-looking man shivering in the cold by the side of the road. The man was surely very poor, for his clothing was old and full of holes. He had nothing warm to keep out the cold.
Martin was sad to see that nobody was even noticing the man. Having no money with him, he stopped, pulled his sword out of his belt and cut his woollen cloak right in half. Leaning down from his horse, he gave half to the poor man. Then he wrapped himself in the other half, and went on his way to town.
Some people laughed at Martin as he rode by—he looked so strange with half a cloak! But that night something wonderful happened. As he was sleeping, Martin had a vision of Jesus Christ in heaven, surrounded by angels and wearing half of Martin’s cloak. Jesus said to the angels, “See how Martin has covered me with his cloak.”
When Martin heard these words, he thought of what Jesus had said when He was teaching the people. His words were, “If you do something to the least of these my brothers, you do it to Me.” He knew that he wanted to serve Jesus for the rest of his life.
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.”
Once again, some people laughed at Martin. They said, “You’re just making excuses because you’re afraid to fight.” The emperor was angry at losing a soldier he could trust and depend on.
But Martin didn’t let the laughter bother him. He didn’t let the anger worry him. For the rest of his life, he served Our Lord Jesus Christ as a priest, then as a bishop. Any person in need could count on his help. He cared for prisoners and those who had been accused of crimes, and sometimes was able to save them from being put to death.
He taught many people about God, and the joy of God’s Kingdom. Traveling over many miles on foot, by boat, or riding on a donkey, he set up parishes and monasteries in Paris, Chartres, and other places.
Saint Martin’s feast day is October 12th. Because he cared so much for the poor and for people in trouble, he is often called Saint Martin the Merciful.