God’s Humble Servant, Martin de Porres


But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, `Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:10-11)

Well, you can’t get much lower than Martin de Porres (+1649), who exemplified the virtue of humility more than most, in a very incarnate way. The offspring of a Spanish nobleman, aptly named Don Juan de Porres, and a freed slavewoman, Ana Velazquez, Martin was a ‘mulatto’, he was accepted neither by the native population, nor by the colonizing Spaniards. After the father abandoned the family early on, after the birth of his sister, Martin was raised by his now-single mother in abject poverty – who took in laundry to make ends sort of meet.

Rather than grow up resentful an ‘angry young man’, with the now-nearly ubiquitous victim mentality, Martin instead turned to God and prayer, offering up what sacrifices were required of him, and, God, Who loves a cheerful giver, was not to be outdone in generosity; as often happens when one turns to Him, Deus providebit.

Martin was sent to a public school, then to learn the surgical art from a barber (in those days of primitive medicine, barbers were surgeons and vice versa). Yet the call to a higher life pulled him, and he applied to join the Dominicans as a simple lay brother – the rules at the time forbade natives, and still less mulattos. An enlightened superior rightly considered those rules, shall we say, not quite right, and admitted Martin, who proceeded to take the lowest place, doing all the jobs no one else wanted to do, from laundry and scrubbing, to tending the most repulsive sick and suppurating, putting his medical knowledge to good use. When he would place the most desperate cases in his own bed, and his fellow Dominicans murmur, Martin would calmly reply, ‘compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness’, something we might learn anew in this antiseptic Covidian era.

He refused official entry into the Order as a brother, but after years was eventually admitted, even though he always refused the great dignity of the priesthood. When the community was low on funds, he would, only half-jokingly, suggest they sell him, since he was expendable and of so little use.

As was his habit from early childhood, Friar Martin spent hours in prayer, and joyfully followed an ascetical life, perpetually abstaining from meat, his time and attention always open to one and all. Miracles soon abounded – healings, prophecies, mystical lights, walking through locked doors, even bilocation. God showered abundant graces on His servant.

He was soon known as a thaumaturge, and people would gather from all around to vist him, even to touch the fringe of his cloak: After his death on this day in 1639, the miracles abounded all the more, such that when his body was displayed, they purpotedly had to replace his habit three times, so many pieces were snipped off as relics. When that same body was exhumed 25 years later, it was found incorrupt, giving off a fine fragrance – a manifestation of that ‘odour of sanctity’.

Yet that sanctity took some time to be recognized officially by the Church, part of Martin’s amare nesciri, his love to be ‘unknown’, we may suppose. He was not beatified until October 29, 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI, and his canonization took place just prior to the Second Vatican Council, by Pope Saint John XXIII on May 6, 1962. He is the patron saint of those of mixed race (but who ultimately is not of ‘mixed race’ me wonders?) innkeepers, barbers, public servants, and many other walks of life.

This year, besides his usual ‘optional memorial’ status, he is further overshadowed by the United States elections. But may Saint Martin de Porres intercede in that momentous decision, in his own hidden way, that life, truth and goodness win out over the forces of darkness, which fear the light, and not least that light of holiness of God’s saints.

Saint Martin de Porres, ora pro nobis!