One of the stories that has caught the imagination of countless generations of all ages is that of St Martin drawing his sword to give half of his cloak to a beggar who had no proper clothes against the cold.
This simple gesture has an abiding value, and many of us give our surplus clothes for charity. It is still a noble gesture, especially in our culture which is so sensitive to the messages transmitted by the clothes we wear: everywhere there is an obvious link between clothing and respect for one’s dignity.
Dare I go beyond passing on my extra clothes to charity? I can decide to dress more simply, and give not only my extra clothes but also some of the ones I still use as a sign of respect to those who are in greater need. I might decide this Lent to skip a purchase of clothes and donate the money to a children’s home or to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In this way it will not be just about giving unwanted things away but about owning less and offering support to those who don’t have enough.
I can also decide to supplement my donations with brand new articles of clothes which people will always need but probably never find among the ’surplus’ stuff. Like underwear. I might choose to go out of my way and involve myself more by making the purchase myself.
The night after his encounter St Martin realised during a dream that that poor man was in fact Jesus himself, so that by being merciful to someone in need he had received much more. Jesus insists, very concretely, that ’Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me’. (Mt 25)