St. Martin De Porres
"Compassion, my dear Brothers, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create."
– St. Martin De Porres, spoken to his Dominican brothers when admonished for bringing an elderly, dirty beggar off the streets and allowing him to take the saint’s own bed while he cared for the sick man.
A Brief Biography of St. Martin
November 3rd, the Church honors and remembers Saint Martin De Porres, the first black saint of the Americas, who would be come well known for his humility and help of the poor and in hopeless causes. He is often depicted with a broom, and even affectionately referred to as the ‘Saint of the Broom,’ because he considered all work to be sacred, no matter how menial.
The saintly man was born to modest beginnings, the illegitimate son of a Spanish Nobleman and a freed former slave in Lima, Peru in 1569; he had one sister, born in 1581. All his life Martin was profoundly humble, and had a great sense of the magnanimity of God. Even as a child, Martin would spend hours each night in prayer. He was joyous when at age 10, he was placed with a surgeon to learn the medical arts; this path in life would allow him to exercise charity to his neighbor and care for the sick while earning his living.
Soon after this time, Martin became a servant in the Holy Rosary Dominican priory in Lima; in time he was placed in the infirmary to work, having become known for both his medicinal knowledge and the tender way he cared for the sick. At age 24 he would take vows as a Dominican brother. He would remain working in the infirmary, caring for the ill until his death at age 60.
Many miracles were attributed to Martin; among them were bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and an ability to communicate with animals. Martin had always wanted to be a missionary but never did leave his native city. His good works in Lima were a blessing to the area, however. He worked tirelessly for the poor, founding an orphanage and a children’s hospital. It is said that on average Martin was able to feed about 160 poor people with alms each day. The vigorous prayer life he had begun in childhood only increased as he grew older, and he would practice mortification of the flesh, both for his own failings and for the conversion of pagans and sinners.
The man was so beloved that after he died in 1639 he was venerated almost immediately. He was declared Blessed in 1873 and canonized in 1962. Due to his humble, persistent attitude toward the sanctity of work and his giving, charitable nature, St. Martin is the patron saint of the poor and of social justice; he is also a patron of people of mixed race and racial harmony.
To learn more about St. Martin De Porres, take a look at the inspirational DVD Fray Martin De Porres or, to teach children about this ‘apostle of charity,’ get the Glory Stories audio CD volume 7, which covers the lives of St. Martin De Porres and St. Clare.
Blessed Pope John XXIII’s Homily at the Canonization of St. Martin De Porres:
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 neighbor as yourself."
When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus "suffered for us and that he carried our sins on his body to the cross,” he would meditate with remarkable ardor 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. 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 of Charity.’
It is remarkable how even today his influence can still move 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.
A Prayer to St. Martin De Porres
To you Saint Martin de Porres we prayerfully lift up our hearts filled with serene confidence and devotion. Mindful of your unbounded and helpful charity to all levels of society and also of your meekness and humility of heart, we offer our petitions to you. Pour out upon our families the precious gifts of your solicitous and generous intercession; show to the people of every race and every color the paths of unity and of justice; implore from our Father in heaven the coming of his kingdom, so that through mutual benevolence in God men may increase the fruits of grace and merit the rewards of eternal life. Amen.