In the study of hagiography, that is the writing of the lives of saints, one can easily notice the great effect St Martin of Tours’s life story has left on many other saints, starting, of course, from the life of St Francis of Assisi himself. He too, like St Martin, was challenged by the sight of a leper and, instead of running away, as he first did, he overcame himself and allowed that leper change him into the image of Christ. It is obvious that that leper was Christ himself who says in Matthew 25 verse 40: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
This is also the gospel pericope which the Church purposely chose for the feast of St Martin of Tours. In Matthew 25 Jesus encourages us to a selfless love for our neighbour who is suffering and is in great need. St Martin’s life story details exactly this point: we are to welcome Christ in the neglected and in those who are at the fringes of our society. Thus, St Martin is a great holy example for us to live this very actual gospel message.
When reflecting on the figure of St Martin of Tours during his Angelus message of Sunday 11 November 2007, Pope Benedict XVI gives us an outstanding summary of the powerful dynamic of St Martin’s act of charity:
While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.
Moreover, as Pope Benedict beautifully explained it, St Martin’s charity was in fact rooted in his deep and ardent Eucharistic faith. True faith in the Eucharist bears concrete eucharistic acts. He said:
[St. Martin] would receive the Sacrament in his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment…Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity.
From his end, Pope Francis had this to say in his message for the 2023 World Day of the Poor which will be celebrated on November 19, 2023, the thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Caring for the poor is more than simply a matter of a hasty hand-out; it calls for reestablishing the just interpersonal relationships that poverty harms. In this way, “not turning our face away from anyone who is poor” leads us to enjoy the benefits of mercy and charity that give meaning and value to our entire Christian life (no. 8).
Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that, at the last, we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.