Choosing your battles

One of my favorite early saints is Martin of Tours. Born sometime between 316 and 336, Martin was the son of a Roman tribune. He attended church over his parents' objections and became a catechumen. At the time, Christianity had been legalized, but was not popular, especially among those who served in the military. Martin joined the cavalry, and it is thought that he may have been a member of an elite corps that guarded the emperor.

At some point in his military career, Martin grew reluctant to obey the apostate emperor Julian and allegedly declared, "I am the soldier of Christ and therefore, I cannot fight." His conscientious objection earned him an arrest on charges of cowardice, and he was thrown into jail. There, he volunteered to go to the front unarmed. Before that could occur, however, peace was negotiated and the battle was avoided.

Martin went on to become a monk and hermit under the direction of St. Hilary of Poitiers. Later, he reluctantly became the third Bishop of Tours. As bishop, he was known for showing mercy and compassion, even toward heretics. When he died in 397, thousands of monks and religious women lined the banks of the Loire to pay their respects and process his body from the river to where he was buried. Martin is among the earliest non-martyred Christian saints. Over the centuries, many have visited his tomb. Most notable was St. Patrick, who is said to have made a pilgrimage there before he undertook his mission to Ireland in 432.

The most famous legend about St. Martin, however, involves an event that occurred just outside Amiens, when he was still a soldier -- and not yet baptized. Encountering a nearly naked beggar, Martin reportedly cut his military cloak in half with his sword and gave part of it to the poor man. Later that night, Jesus appeared to Martin in a dream, wearing the part of the cloak that Martin had given away.

Interestingly, the half of the robe Martin kept became a relic treasured by French royals. But I doubt that is how Martin himself felt about it. Imagine discovering that you have given only half your coat to Christ. How I'm sure St. Martin, whose deed was good and generous, regretted not giving Christ Jesus the whole thing. And that, I think, is what motivated how he lived the rest of his life.

Perhaps that is the challenge St. Martin of Tours lays before all of us today. The call to total gift, to wholeheartedness. Our faith isn't meant to be a something-is-better-than-nothing venture. Giving half our cloaks, half our effort, half our hearts, or half our lives to Jesus is bound to be something we grow to regret. That's because the sacrifices we make seem so painful when we make them, and so much less so when we recall making them. Christ gives us all of himself. And he longs for us to imitate him in that.

The battles Martin chose to fight could not be won with weapons. They were inside his own heart. When he stopped serving the emperor, he began to understand that the Christian life was one of total, and not partial, immersion. Serving the King of Kings would entail everything. And that is what Martin learned to offer.

Jesus gives us all of himself -- body, blood, soul, and divinity -- in the Holy Eucharist. While we should never despair of small beginnings, we must still find a way to keep our eyes and hearts on the ideal. Holiness is our goal. And holiness will never mean keeping part of anything -- including ourselves -- for ourselves.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.