Thursday, November 5, 2009

Short Life of St Martin de Porres


Saint Martin de Porres was born in 1579, in Lima Peru, the son of a black/mulatto freed slave and a Spanish nobleman. At first, because of the stigma of having dark skin in a culture dominated by Spanish aristocrats, Martin's father did not acknowledge Martin and his sister, and deserted Martin's mother leaving her to fend for herself and her children by bringing in laundry to her home in the slums of Lima.

By the time Martin was 10 or 12, however, his father had a change of heart for the better. He began to support the children, and aquired an apprenticeship for Martin as a barber/surgeon's assistant. Martin was overjoyed at this.

Having lived with discrimination of color and of lack of legal parentage all his life, he could have become bitter and troublesome, but instead he was blessed by God with a gentle spirit, a heart's understanding of humility, and a desire to serve God in prayer and charity, the positive fruits of this particular type of suffering.

Martin used his good fortune at his apprenticeship to further his opportunities to serve the suffering. Even this young, in his teens, his landlady (from whom Martin had begged used candles) spied him through the keyhole in ecstatic prayer.

At around the age of 15 he was received into the Dominican friary as a tertiary and servant, apparently quietly taking on the most menial of duties. After nine years of denying himself entrance into the order as a lay brother because of his self-held unworthiness, he finally relented and was made a Coadjutor Brother, and promoted to Almoner.

He is recorded as having begged and received $2000 per day, an amount many say was miraculous in origin, which he used to feed and care for the sick and poor of all races of Lima. He was also made head of the infirmary, caring for the sick of the Dominican order.

Life was not all joy for Martin at the friary. He was often in "trouble" with his superiors for what they perceived as overzealousness in his solicitude for the poor, hungry and sick. Hungry, dirty people in large numbers were forever "roaming" the friary in search of Martin's care as well as his prayers, creating quite an inconvenience for the other members of the community.

When upbraided for allowing a filthy man covered by sores to lie on his bed, his famous reply was, "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."

The religious were also curious about Martin's gifts, and would sometimes play pranks on him to test him. But his spiritual gifts were witnessed by many, including his superiors, and there were many who experienced first hand his ability to pass through locked doors to care for the sick, to bilocate worldwide, and to heal with just a cup of water.

His love for creation did not end with man and woman, but was extended even to animals of home and field. While this is not so remarkable today, it was greatly so at his time and in this culture, where animals were mainly left to fend for themselves unless being a beast of burden needed for work. His started a shelter for cats and dogs at his sister's home, where he fed and cared for them in sickness and injury.

There is even a legend that he made a deal with the priory mice, warning them about the poison traps set for them and making a deal with them: if they left the priory, he would feed them at the back door. Having a gift of communication and mastery over all animals, including the mice and rats, they bought the deal, and left the priory, not to return. For these reasons, to exemplify his charity even to the beasts who were lower than even the slaves, Saint Martin is most often pictured with mice, birds a cat and a dog.

Saint Martin died in 1629 on November 3 of fever, and was venerated immediately at his passing. He was known as the "Brother of Charity" and the rich and poor mourned him and avidly sought relics of his habit. He was made Blessed by Pope Gregory, and in 1962 was canonized by Pope John XIII.