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November 3 — Martin de Porres

Martin de Porres
Icon by Robert Lentz

Today’s Bible reading

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  — 2 Corinthians 8:9

More thoughts for meditation

Martin de Porres could have grown into a bitter man. In his day people of “mixed blood” were called “half-breed” or “war souvenir” by those of “pure” blood. He did not grow bitter. It was said that even as a child he gave his heart and his goods to the poor and despised.

He was the son of a freed woman from Panama (probably black but also possibly of indigenous stock) and a Spanish aristocrat from Lima, Peru. His parents never married each other. Martin inherited the features and dark complexion of his mother. That irked his father, who finally acknowledged his son after eight years. After the birth of a sister, the father abandoned the family. Martin was reared in poverty, locked into a low level of Lima’s society.

When he was 12, his mother apprenticed him to a barber-surgeon. Martin learned how to cut hair and also how to draw blood—a standard medical treatment then, to care for wounds, and to prepare and administer medicines.

After a few years in this medical role, 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 ask him to make full religious profession. Many of his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. It was particularly impressive that he treated all people regardless of their color, race, or status. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage, took care of slaves brought from Africa, and managed the daily alms of the priory with practicality, as well as generosity. He became the procurator for both priory and city, whether it was a matter of “blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!” When his priory was in debt, he said, “I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me.”

His main work was in the kitchen, laundry, and infirmary. but Martin’s life was filled with the Spirit. Stories tell how ecstasies lifted him into the air, how light filled the room where he prayed, how he could be in two places at once, how he had miraculous knowledge, how he effected instantaneous cures, and how he had a remarkable rapport with animals. Many of his fellow religious took Martin as their spiritual director, but he continued to call himself a “poor slave.”

Want more?

  • Catholic hagiography about the “original social worker.”

Suggestions for action

Racism is a sin almost nobody confesses. Like pollution, it is a “sin of the world” that is everybody’s responsibility but apparently nobody’s fault. One could hardly imagine a more fitting patron of Christian forgiveness -– on the part of those discriminated against, and Christian justice — on the part of reformed racists, than Martin de Porres.

The symbols that reflect his character and work are represented in the icon above. As you gaze at the image, relate to the man. What might be painted in an icon of you? Who is an influential person in relation to your spiritual development? What would be pictured in their icon?

Keep your attention on Martin de Porres until God gives you the message he would like to deliver through or deliver through your experience of his icon.