Today is the Feast of S. Martin de Porres, a.k.a. Martin of Charity or the Saint of the Broom. He was born in 1579 in Lima, Peru, the illegitimate son of a white Spanish knight and a black freedwoman. Martin inherited his mother’s dark skin, much to the disappointment of his father. Although his father acknowledged paternity, he refused to provide for Martin or his sister, and the family lived in poverty.
At age 12, Martin was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, and learnt from him some medicine and care of the sick. At around 15, Martin joined the Third Order of the Dominicans, and went to live in the Dominican Priory of the Holy Rosary in Lima as a servant. As time went by, his humility, holiness and devotion to the care of the sick and poor began to convince his superiors that Martin was called to the religious life. They dropped the rule that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or profession of our order,” and Martin was professed as a lay brother in 1603.
Martin was placed in charge of the Priory’s infirmary, where he nursed the sickof the city, including victims of the plague. Martin showed the same care and attention to all his patients, regardless of their ethnicity or social background, and only left the infirmary to pray and to beg alms for the poor. He set up an orphanage and a foundling hospital, distributed food to the poor throughout the city and ministered especially to the slaves who had been brought to the Americas from Africa.
But it wasn’t only humans who benefitted from Saint Martin’s care. He set up an animal shelter at his sister’s house in Lima, and cared for the the many stray cats and dogs who arrived there in need of food and medical attention. Most of his contemporaries simply couldn’t understand why Martin cared about animals, much less how he could be so successful in healing them and have such a close relationship with them. But Martin realised that even the smallest of creatures are children of God, and worthy of care and attention.
On one occasion, his Priory became overrun with rats scavenging the food supplies, and the Prior ordered Martin to put down poison to eradicate them. Martin, out of holy obedience, complied; but then he went out into the garden and softly called the rats to a meeting. He reprimanded them for stealing food from the Priory, and warned them about the poison. But he said he realised that they were hungry, and promised that if they stopped annoying the Prior, he would feed them in the garden every day. The rats agreed, and never bothered the Priory again.
We have long been fans of this gentle Saint, whose image has pride of place in our little statue collection in the kitchen. The Vicar has always liked him too, because of his care for animals, his abstention from meat and his concern for social justice. But recently we discovered a story about him which makes him a perfect patron for the Vicar.
Once, Martin was out on a picnic with some novices from his Priory. Suddenly, they realised that they had lost track of time, and would be late for prayers. Quickly, Martin (who is said to have been graced with the gifts of bilocation and the ability to walk through locked doors) told the novices to hold hands. In the blink of an eye, they found themselves standing in the Priory grounds.
Nobody (not even the novices involved) was able to explain how they had travelled a distance of several miles in mere seconds; but if someone could teach the Vicar how to do it, life at the Vicarage would be a lot less stressful.
Most humble S. Martin de Porres,
whose burning charity embraced not only your needy brethren,
but also the very animals in the field:
Splendid example of charity, we hail thee and invoke thee,
from the high throne which you now occupy.
Deign to listen to the supplications of your brethren,
that by imitating your virtues,
we may live contented in that state in which God has placed us,
and carrying with strength and courage our Cross,
we may follow the footsteps of our Blessed Redeemer
and His Most Afflicted Mother,
that, at the last, we may reach the Kingdom of Heaven,
through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.