St. Martin de Porres
So, if you don’t know, my first name is DePorres. That’s not because my parents were overly zealous in naming me. It’s not my baptismal name. It’s my religious name. And it’s for Saint Martin de Porres, whose feast we celebrate today.
Why Saint Martin de Porres for me? Well, in particular, it’s because I find in his life a very compelling example of what it means to be Christian. Now, of course, on some level, that’s true of any saint. Any saint can be a compelling example of what it means to be Christian, because they’re saints.
But what is it about St. Martin de Porres, whose feast we celebrate today that was so compelling to me? Well, I have to say that, first of all, as a little kid, the stories that I heard about Martin de Porres were compelling.
So, Martin de Porres, just if you don’t know much about him, was from Lima, Peru. There were actually three saints who lived contemporaneously in Lima. There was, of course, Saint Martin de Porres, who we celebrate today. There was Saint Rose of Lima, who Martin probably knew of, but not necessarily knew. And Saint Juan Macias, who we probably don’t know as well, but was a very good friend and companion to Saint Martin de Porres. He also was a brother.
The story that compelled me as a little kid had to do with mice, because if you know the legend of Saint Martin de Porres, the convent was being overrun by mice. The brothers, I think understandably, wanted to kill the mice, but Martin felt a little bit of charity toward the mice and said to them, as legend has it, if you stay out of the convent, I will make sure that you are fed.
And the legend goes, I don’t know that this is necessarily true, but I kind of like to believe it is, only because it makes me feel better, but I will take care of you. I will feed you. It led to the belief among many who were devoted to Martin de Porres, that if you are asking him to pray on your behalf for some intercession, and then you see a mouse, it is divine confirmation that your prayer will be granted.
I am not suggesting you don’t take care of mice if they happen to show up in your house, but his life is really much more compelling, and these are true kinds of things. There is a wonderful book whose name escapes me now. I think it is like Black Saint of the Americas or something like that.
But anyway, what do we know about Martin? First of all, we know that his father was Spanish and was a government official in Lima, Peru. His mother was a freed African slave, and she was black. Much to the chagrin of his father when Martin was born, he was born black. They didn’t understand genetics.
Martin has a younger sister named Joan, who when she was born was also black, and this was too much for his father to bear, and he abandoned the family. And they were very poor. But in the poverty developed a deep heart of charity, which really was not necessarily the best thing.
His mother would send Martin to the market to buy something along the way, and he would see poor people there, and with the money that he had been given by his mother to buy sustenance-type food, he’d give it to the people in need and have nothing and come back with nothing.
Needless to say, his mother was none too happy about this development. Thanks be to God, his father had a kind of a conversion and came back to the family, and Martin was educated, which would have been a great luxury in his day in Lima, Peru. And he was educated.
Today, (he would call it in that day a barber), but a barber was not simply someone who cut hair. A barber was as much a pharmacist, a surgeon in some levels. Have you ever wondered why barber poles are red and white? They were white if you cut hair. They had a red stripe if in fact you let blood, which was seen as a way of treating people.
In other words, making people bleed so the disease would bleed out. That was the theory. That’s not the way it works, but that was the theory. And so Martin knew a lot of things, and he joined the Dominicans, and he was known in his life for these things.
First and foremost, his charity. People in all of Lima used to come to the convent, and they would see to it that they were taken care of in terms of physical need. But because he also had skills in terms of being a pharmacist, he took care of their physical needs as well in terms of healing and sickness. He took care of the convent.
At one point when the convent was struggling financially, he offered to sell himself as a slave for the sake of the convent. He was told that the prior at the time said to him, No Martin, you are our treasure. All of that is an example worth imitating.
It reminds me of a Dominican who I really admired because he noticed people that were not usually noticed. If you were in, let’s say, an airport for example, he would notice the people that were cleaning the airport, the people that were doing all of these things in the airport that we take for granted, but they were working hard to do that. He would be likely to notice the homeless and people on the street.
In many ways, if we’re living the example of St. Martin de Porres, I think it’s noticing those who are in need and meeting their needs as disciples.
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