As the soldier approached the city he saw off to the side of the road a beggar dressed in rags. The wretched man shivered in the cold air and the heart of the soldier was moved.
As part of his equipment the soldier was issued a large blanket. It served many functions. It protected him from the cold, it served as a bedroll at night and a tent in the rain. Dismounting from is horse the soldier took the blanket and cut in half, giving part of it to the beggar. What was left, while short, was still large enough to suit his needs. It was a simple gesture, made out of compassion for a freezing man, and it cost him little.
The soldier proceeded on his way. When he arrived at his barracks the other soldiers noticed the size of his blanket and were quick to chide him and jeer at him for his act of mercy.
But the soldier simply shrugged and went about his business. He had been conscripted into service and although he now held a rank of honor in an elite unit, the military life did not suit him.
That night while he lay sleeping he had a dream. In the dream he saw Jesus wearing the half-blanket that had been given to the beggar. Jesus was proudly showing the tattered garment to the angels. “Behold this cloak which my son Martin has clothed me with.”
Through a simple act of charity, Martin found himself on a path that eventually led to his appointment as the Bishop of the city of Tours.
Saint Martin of Tours led a life of service, first as a soldier and later in life as a bishop. In many different ways, he laid down his life for the sake of others.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Most of us will probably never be faced with the prospect of sacrificing ours lives for another. But actually we are called to do just that every day. Every time we put someone else’s wellbeing ahead of our own, we are laying down our lives for another. Every time we respond to a baby’s call in the night, every time we listen to a friend’s tale of family tensions we die to ourselves. Every time we volunteer for a charity or help a stranded traveler or give money to the needy, we lay down our lives for another.
This may be seen as ordinary run of the mill behavior but then you might be surprised to learn how extraordinary it is. Such behavior is the result of a choice, a choice for love. Every time we do one of these small things for someone else, we love our brothers and sisters as Jesus loves us and we have chosen to pay the cost.
The cost is the pain we feel for those we love. The cost is giving up our self pride and living only for Christ. In this way the love of God, His saving power, is revealed to all the world through us, His Church.
Let us remember to follow Christ as He taught us, and lay down our lives daily in all the innumerable small ways that we encounter from day to day.