Acta Sanctorum: St. Martin de Porres (Nov 3)
November 03, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S

November 3
St. Martin de Porres
Life (1579-1639)

St. Martin de Porres was a Peruvian black, but Catholics of both South and North America have adopted him as patron and symbol of the Africans who came to the Americas out of force, not out of choice.

Martin was the son of Anna Velasquez, a free black woman, and a white father. The baptismal record said the father was unknown. Actually, he was John de Porres, a knight of noble family. He was repelled, we are told, when he saw that his son was so dark-skinned (what did he expect?). But, to his credit, eight years later he acknowledged the paternity of Martin and his younger sister, and promised to pay for their upbringing. Nevertheless, it was Anna who did the raising. The two children had little to aspire to in racist Lima.

Surprisingly, neither child grew up embittered. At age 12, Martin was apprenticed to a “surgeon,” at that time a combination of barber, druggist, physician and surgeon. Once trained, he began to use his skills to serve the poor. After four years he applied for entrance into the Dominican monastery of the Holy Rosary: not as a lay-brother (he was too humble to consider that) but as a lay helper.

By the end of nine years, however, he had so impressed the Dominican Fathers with his prayerfulness, humility and charity, that they urged him to become a lay-brother. He joined the community as such, and proved to be one of its glories.

Brother Martin was a model religious. His tasks may have been lowly, but his holiness transfigured them. Not only was he barber-clothier-nurse to his fellow-friars, he spread his ministry to the rest of Lima. Each day he distributed food to the hungry, he was doctor to the sick, and he helped to establish an orphanage and a hospice for abandoned infants. A good manager, he knew how to collect funds and budget them. He was happy to train others in his many small skills. For Martin, all people were God’s children. There was no distinction between rich or poor or white or black or red.

In addition to these human talents, God graced him with charismatic gifts: visions, ecstasies, bilocation (being two places at the same time), healing, supernatural understanding. Particularly notable was his rapport with lesser animals. Like St. Francis of Assisi, he treated them as brothers and sisters, and they did whatever he told them to do. His sister helped him by keeping an “orphanage” in her home for stray dogs and cats.

St. Martin’s fellow-Dominicans, even the priests, so respected his wisdom that they engaged him as their spiritual director. But if he consented to this unusual request, it was with a protest of his own unworthiness, calling himself a “poor slave” and even a “mulatto dog.” Indeed, once when his convent’s funds were low, he urged his superior to sell him into slavery, and use the price to balance the accounts.

Although Lima was a haughty city, it counted among its citizens in the same generation four remarkable saints who were friends of each other. St. Toribio, the archbishop; St. Rose of Lima; St. John Massias (another Dominican lay-brother); and St. Martin. Haughty or not, the people of Lima appreciated this quartet. When Martin de Porres died, prelates and noblemen vied for the honor of carrying him to his grave. Beatified in 1837, he was canonized in 1962.

We recall Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who, though himself a outcast, did not hesitate to help anybody who was in need. Martin de Porres was a latter-day Samaritan. For him the commandment to love neighbor ruled out any form of discrimination. Yes, even against birds and beasts and creatures that scurry through the dark. God made us all.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (Phil 4:4-9)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Year A). The example of Martin’s life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and salvation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first, by loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; and second, by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that He carried our sins in his body on the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. Whenever he would contemplate Christ’s terrible torture he would be reduced to tears. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin the Charitable.’

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. It is remarkable how even today his influence can still call us toward the things of heaven.  Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us. (Pope John XXIII)

Musical Selection (Mary Lou Williams)
St. Martin de Porres, his shepherd’s staff a dusty broom
St. Martin de Porres, the poor made a shrine of his tomb
St. Martin de Porres, he gentled creatures tame and wild
St. Martin de Porres, he sheltered each unsheltered child
This man of love, born of the flesh, yet of God,
This humble man healed the sick, raised the dead, his hand is quick
To feed beggars and sinners, the starving homeless and the stray
Oh Black Christ of the Andes, come feed and cure us now we pray
Spare, oh lord
Spare my people
Lest you be angered with me, forever
This man, this man
Of love, born of the flesh, yet of God
This humble man healed the sick, raised the dead, his hand is quick
St. Martin de Porres, he gentled creatures tame and wild
St. Martin de Porres, he sheltered each unsheltered child
Gracious Father, 
who chose Martin of Porres 
to be an example of humble service, 
overcoming the prejudice of the society in which he lived: 
teach us the gifts of simplicity of life and holiness, 
that in all our deeds 
begun, continued and ended in Christ, 
we may praise you 
for the gift of your Son, Jesus the Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, 
now and for ever. Amen. (English Missal)