Feast Day: November 03
Martin de Porres was a mulatto, the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and a freed slave woman from Panama. Martin was trained as a physician, but he also possessed gifts of healing. After a few years in a medical apostolate, Martin applied to the Dominicans to be a “lay helper,” not feeling himself worthy to be a religious brother. After nine years, the example of his prayer and penance, charity, and humility led the community to request him to make full religious profession. He became a professed brother in 1603.
Many of his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices, sometimes accompanied by visions and ecstasies; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. He turned the monastery into a dispensary, a ramshackle prototype of a modern clinic where hundreds of Lima’s poor came to him for help, irrespective of race and color. With medicine or miracles, he healed the sick. At the monastery door, he fed several hundred people every day. He collected money and distributed it among the needy. Once he provided dowries for twenty-seven poor young women who could not have married without his aid. And his most significant act of social justice was funding, designing, building, and staffing an orphanage and school for the street children of the city.
Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry, and infirmary, Martin’s life reflected God’s extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures, and a remarkable rapport with animals. His charity extended to beasts of the field and even to the vermin of the kitchen. He would excuse the raids of mice and rats, on the grounds that they were underfed; he kept stray cats and dogs at his sister’s house. In addition, many of his fellow religious took him as their spiritual director, but he continued to call himself a “poor slave.” He was a good friend of another Dominican saint of Peru, Rose of Lima.
Martin always tried to stay little, hidden in the background. For example, he attempted to conceal his healing gift by using some herb or poultice as a decoy when he ministered to the sick. Nevertheless, despite his efforts he became well known for his healing.
At the age of sixty, Brother Martin died of a violent quatrain fever. The people of Peru gave him the name: “Martin of Charity.” His veneration by the faithful was immediate and spontaneous, miraculous cures were claimed at his tomb that eventually led to his canonization as a saint.
Martin de Porres was both a contemplative and an activist, setting us an example of balancing prayer and social action. Martin devoted most of his day to serving others. Much of the night he sacrificed sleep to worship the Lord before a Crucifix. Few of us are called to duplicate the saint exactly. But all of us should imitate him by building both prayer and social action into our busy lives. And in our own small ways, keeping them in balance as Martin did.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons