02 November 2009

Saint Martin de Porres

3 NOVEMBER 2009. Today is the memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican cooperator brother who is an example to all of us of humility and compassion in the service of God.

Saint Martin (Juan Martin de Porres) was born in Lima, Peru on 9 December 1579; the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a young, black girl, who had been born in Panama. Like so many children today who come from similar circumstances, St. Martin grew up very poor, and his mother ultimately could not care for him and his sister, Juana. St. martin was confided to a primary school for two years, and then was placed with a barber/surgeon to learn the medical arts. Even though only 10 at the time, St. Martin took great joy in learning the medical arts because that learning would enable him to serve others while earning a living.

At this early age, Saint Martin spent hours each night in prayer, a practice that increased as he grew older.

At the age of 15, Saint Martin asked to be admitted to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima. There Saint Martin was first received as a tertiary, and worked as a servant boy, but his duties grew as the saint's superiors noted his charity and piety. Dropping the racial limits that were in place at the time, Saint Martin was received as a full member of the Dominican Order at the age of 24.

Upon receiving the habit of a cooperator brother, Saint Martin was made the head of the convent's infirmary, where he remained in service to the convent until his death.

Saint Martin was deeply attached to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. So much so, that he was unaffected when the step he was kneeling on one night, while praying before the Blessed Sacrament, caught fire. There was much confusion and chaos that followed, but Saint Martin never noticed it and never moved.

Saint Martin was also known for his charity and care for those outside the convent. One day a beggar covered with ulcers came to the convent. Saint Martin provided his own bed to care for the poor man. When one of Saint Martin's brothers reproved him for going too far in his charitable work, Saint Martin said this:
Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.
When an epidemic struck Lima, there were at one time as many as 60 ill religious in the convent. Although the postulants and professed members of the community were on opposite sides of the convent, isolated from one another, there were many reports of Saint Martin moving freely through closed doors to tend to them. During this epidemic, the convent became unable to house all the ill that Saint Martin was cared for. So, Saint Martin's superior forbade him from taking in anyone else. In response, Saint Martin's sister opened her home to care for the overflowing ill.

Then, upon finding a poor native in the streets bleeding from a dagger wound, Saint Martin brought him back to the convent and used his own bed to treat the man until he could be moved to his sister's house. When the superior learned that Saint Martin had disobeyed him, he chastised Saint Martin, who responded by saying: "Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity." Acknowledging the response, the superior allowed Saint Martin to continue to care for the ill.

It is said that during normal times, Saint Martin's alms fed about 160 people every day, and that the amount of money he distributed to the poor is difficult, if not impossible, to explain by ordinary calculations.

While Saint Martin is said to have always wanted to be a missionary, he never left his native Lima. However, he was reportedly seen all over the world (China, Africa, Algeria, and Japan) during his lifetime. An African slave said he knew Saint Martin when he was consoled by him in Africa, being told of the fruits of heaven. When that same man saw Saint Martin in Lima he was overjoyed to see him and asked if he had enjoyed a good voyage. It was only later that the man learned St. Martin had never left Lima.

Saint Martin also extended his love and charity to animals, keeping a hospital for dogs and cats at his sister's house. Saint Martin is sometimes depicted with a dog, a cat, a bird, and a mouse eating from the same dish. Saint Martin was also well known for his spiritual wisdom.

Saint Martin died on 3 November 1639. When he died his virtues and the miracles attributed to him were well known. After death, Saint Martin's body was displayed for all to pay their respects. Each person person who saw Saint Martin's body snipped a small piece of cloth from his habit to keep as a relic. It is said that three habits were snipped from his body.

Saint Martin was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837. Blessed Pope John XXIII canonized Saint Martin de Porres on 6 May 1962.

Saint Martin is the patron saint of the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi, black people, hair stylists, innkeepers, mixed-race people, Peru, poor people, public education, public health, public schools, race relations, social justice, state schools, television, Mexico, and Peruvian Naval Aviators.

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