Martin de Porres

St Martin de Porres: a beloved memory

“My dear brother, please tell your friends to go into the garden, and I will bring their daily sustenance there”.

The speaker was St Martin de Porres, whose feast day this is; his interlocutor was a mouse who had taken up residence in the priory of the Holy Rosary in Lima, Peru, where Martin was – well, what was he? For many years he has been thought of as a co-operator brother, but recent studies suggest that he may have been a lay Dominican with permission to live in community. The illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave (they also had a daughter), Martin had studied to become a barber – a profession which, at that time, included a certain amount of medical training, of vital importance in Martin’s years of service to the Order of Preachers. He entered the priory at the age of fifteen, regarded with diffidence by many of the brethren because of his colour and because he did not have the kind of preparation in Scripture and theology that would have permitted him to become, eventually, a priest. Nonetheless, he astonished some of those who deprecated his presence among them by displaying the ability to quote Thomas Aquinas’s  Summa Teologica correctly and in an undeniably apposite manner. One example that has come down to us is of two students who, intending to humiliate him, asked him about the problem of the existence and the being of God, whereupon Martin replied: “St Thomas says that existence is more perfect than being, but that in God being is the same as existing”. We can imagine how foolish his interrogators felt.

Stories of Martin’s service of the poorest and humblest are legion. He sought out those in need, helping them with his medical knowledge, on occasion bringing them into his own cell, where he cared for them. And when the prior objected that they were filthy and stank, Martin answered simply: “Compassion matters more than cleanliness. We can wash the sheets, but no amount of tears can wipe out the sin of ill-treating an unfortunate person”.  Not, evidently, a comfortable companion!

Martin also had a wonderful relationship with animals. The mouse who was invited to move into the garden did so, and never troubled the community again; a bull in a furious temper was gently asked to calm down, and did so. A cat with an open wound on its head, obviously delighted with the medical treatment offered by our gentle brother, came back the following day to have its dressing changed. Are these legends, attractive stories with only the feeblest relationship with the literal truth? It hardly matters: they express an aspect of this saint’s personality that is irresistible, his unfailing gentleness, compassion and generosity. He even offered to be sold as a slave to help solve a period of economic difficulty for his community. No wonder the adjective used of him over and over again is “lovable”.

Martin also shared the gift of tears with our father Dominic. In his homily on the occasion of Martin’s canonisation, Pope John XXIII had this to say: “[H]e would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the blessed sacrament”.  And he went on to say: “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 your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and second, by loving your neighbour as yourself.’… Such was his humility that he loved [others] even more than himself, and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was”.

In those years Lima was extraordinarily rich in saints: John Macias and Isabella de Flores, whom we know as Rose of Lima, were Martin’s contemporaries. As Guy Bedouelle has noted, their example reminds us that our own work at the service of others is all the more credible if it is the fruit of our awareness of our own poverty. Humility, simplicity, love of our neighbour – these are the qualities of which Martin de Porres is a glowing example for us all to follow.

St Martin de Porres: a beloved memoryhttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Martin-de-Porres.pnghttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Martin-de-Porres-150x150.pngRuth Anne HendersonEnglishHistorySlider,
“My dear brother, please tell your friends to go into the garden, and I will bring their daily sustenance there”. The speaker was St Martin de Porres, whose feast day this is; his interlocutor was a mouse who had taken up residence in the priory of the Holy Rosary in...
“My dear brother, please tell your friends to go into the garden, and I will bring their daily sustenance there”. The speaker was St Martin de Porres, whose feast day this is; his interlocutor was a mouse who had taken up residence in the priory of the Holy Rosary in Lima, Peru, where Martin was – well, what was he? For many years he has been thought of as a co-operator brother, but recent studies suggest that he may have been a lay Dominican with permission to live in community. The illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave (they also had a daughter), Martin had studied to become a barber – a profession which, at that time, included a certain amount of medical training, of vital importance in Martin’s years of service to the Order of Preachers. He entered the priory at the age of fifteen, regarded with diffidence by many of the brethren because of his colour and because he did not have the kind of preparation in Scripture and theology that would have permitted him to become, eventually, a priest. Nonetheless, he astonished some of those who deprecated his presence among them by displaying the ability to quote Thomas Aquinas’s  <em>Summa Teologica</em> correctly and in an undeniably apposite manner. One example that has come down to us is of two students who, intending to humiliate him, asked him about the problem of the existence and the being of God, whereupon Martin replied: “St Thomas says that existence is more perfect than being, but that in God being is the same as existing”. We can imagine how foolish his interrogators felt. Stories of Martin’s service of the poorest and humblest are legion. He sought out those in need, helping them with his medical knowledge, on occasion bringing them into his own cell, where he cared for them. And when the prior objected that they were filthy and stank, Martin answered simply: “Compassion matters more than cleanliness. We can wash the sheets, but no amount of tears can wipe out the sin of ill-treating an unfortunate person”.  Not, evidently, a comfortable companion! Martin also had a wonderful relationship with animals. The mouse who was invited to move into the garden did so, and never troubled the community again; a bull in a furious temper was gently asked to calm down, and did so. A cat with an open wound on its head, obviously delighted with the medical treatment offered by our gentle brother, came back the following day to have its dressing changed. Are these legends, attractive stories with only the feeblest relationship with the literal truth? It hardly matters: they express an aspect of this saint’s personality that is irresistible, his unfailing gentleness, compassion and generosity. He even offered to be sold as a slave to help solve a period of economic difficulty for his community. No wonder the adjective used of him over and over again is “lovable”. Martin also shared the gift of tears with our father Dominic. In his homily on the occasion of Martin’s canonisation, Pope John XXIII had this to say: “[H]e would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the blessed sacrament”.  And he went on to say: “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 your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and second, by loving your neighbour as yourself.’… Such was his humility that he loved [others] even more than himself, and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was”. In those years Lima was extraordinarily rich in saints: John Macias and Isabella de Flores, whom we know as Rose of Lima, were Martin’s contemporaries. As Guy Bedouelle has noted, their example reminds us that our own work at the service of others is all the more credible if it is the fruit of our awareness of our own poverty. Humility, simplicity, love of our neighbour – these are the qualities of which Martin de Porres is a glowing example for us all to follow.

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