Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. -- Saint Augustine of Hippo from “The City of God

Monday, September 26, 2005

Saint Martin de Porres


Saint Martin de Porres
Feast Day: November 3

Patron Saint of: barbers, hairdressers, racial harmony

Saint Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru in 1579. He was the child of a Spaniard, Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and adventurer, and Ana Velasquez, a freed African slave. Abandoned by Don Juan, Ana supported her two children. She though impoverished, had a kind and sensitive soul; she did not instill bitterness or selfishness in her children. Martin remained throughout his life sensitive to the plight of the poor, and especially the orphans to whom he would devote much of his time and resources.

As a child, Martin gave scarce family resources to the beggars whom he saw as less fortunate than himself. He often heard of himself referred to as a “half-breed” yet in his profound humility, he saw himself only in the magnanimity of God amid the inadequacy of his origins. Don Juan, his father, returned to Ana and claimed his two mulatto children in spite of shame and gossip. He provided a good education for his children.

As a young boy, Martin began an apprenticeship with Marcel de Rivero, a barber/surgeon and proved extremely skilful at this trade. Martin could exercise his charity to his neighbor while earning a living. At this tender age, he was already spending hours in prayer at night, a practice that increased as he grew older.

Martin joined the Dominican Order of Preachers as a donado (lay helper or tertiary). The donados were the lowest-ranking Dominicans, performing the heaviest chores in the Order. He was eventually elevated to brother but never did become a full priest. He was assigned to the infirmary where he remained till his death. He lived a life of deep prayer, austerity and charity. He took care of the sick brothers with great affection and efficiency, all while remaining very humble. Martin often challenged his brother Dominicans on their racial attitudes. He is a great example of humility and a sign of hope for all those who are discriminated because of ethnic or racial intolerance.

He was endowed with many graces and wondrous gifts including bilocation. This lay Brother had always wanted to be a missionary, but never left his native city; but during his lifetime he was seen elsewhere, in regions as far distant as Africa, China, Algeria, and Japan. An African slave who had been in chains said he had known Martin when he came to relieve and console many like himself, telling them of heaven. When later the same slave saw him in Peru, he was very happy to meet him again and asked him if he had had a good voyage; only later did he learn that Saint Martin had never left Lima. A merchant from Lima was in Mexico and fell ill; he said aloud: “Oh, Brother Martin, if only you were here to care for me!” and immediately saw him enter his room. And again, this man did not know until later that he had never been in Mexico.

He extended his healing gifts to everyone, visiting people in their quarters and treating their ailments. Martin's spiritual practices were rather harsh: he fasted for extensive periods on bread and water. There were all-night vigils in which he prayed in the position of the crucified, and sometimes kneeling a foot or more off the floor. He scourged himself with chains--three times a day: for the souls in Purgatory, for unrepentant sinners, and for his own soul.

Martin’s love was all-embracing for all of creation. Martin fed, sheltered and doctored hundreds of families. In addition he established the Orphanage and School of the Holy Cross that took in boys and girls of all classes and taught them trades or homemaking skills. He insisted that the workers of the orphanage be well paid and respected for their service. St. Martin predicted his own death, falling sick with a fever. With his Dominican Brothers around his bed chanting the Salve Regina and the Creed. Martin died on November 3, 1639.

Saint Rose of Lima was a friend and confidant of Saint Martin de Porres. Pope John XXIII canonized Saint Martin on May 6th, 1962.

He is an inspiration for all those who commit themselves to protect creation and promote life in all its forms.

God, You led St. Martin by the way of humility to heavenly glory. Help us to follow his example of holiness. Amen

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