Feast of St Martin de Porres 2019 – SMC
One of the great joys I find as the hon. Assistant priest at St. Mary`s and the Good Shepherd is the ethnic variety of our Church Family and congregation and so it is very appropriate that we should commemorate Saint Martin de Porres Velazquez and, of course, we now have a statue of the saint here at The Good Shepherd. What is more this St. Martin, as of course the better known St. Martin of Tours, is commemorated in the current Calendar of the Church of England.
The Old testament Lesson from the Prophet Isaiah is a wonderful pointer to the life and work of St. Martin de Porres when Isaiah proclaims that the “fasting” that the Lord chooses for his faithful people is: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke ? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see then naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from you own kin ? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring jup quickly…”
Well, just who is this Saint Martin de Porres ? He was the illegitimate son of the Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres and Ana Velazquez, a freed slave from Panama who was of African or part Native American descent and was born in 1579 in Lima. He had a sister, Juana, born two years later but after her birth the family was abandoned by Don Juan and the children were brought up in poverty their mother supporting them by taking in laundry. When Ana could no long support the young Martin he was sent off to a primary school for two years and then placed as an apprentice to a barber/surgeon to learn the medical arts. Clearly his mother had brought him up in a devout way for even when he was apprenticed to the barber/surgeon he was noted for spending long hours of prayer in the night and this practice continued and grew throughout his life.
Clearly, from an early age, he was very close to God and wanted to explore a vocation to the Religious Life in Community however, under Spanish Colonial Law which operated at that time in Peru descendents of Africans or Native Americans were barred from becoming full members of Religious Orders. The only possibility for Martin was to become a volunteer asking the Dominicans of the Holy Rosary Priory to accept his as a donado to perform the menial tasks in the priory in returnfor the privilege of wearing the habit and living with the Dominican Community. He was just 15 when he was admitted as a servant boy but such was his obedience and willingness that his duties increase and he soon became almoner. His early training as a barber/surgeon stood him in good stead both in barbering and healing and he was said to have performed many miraculous cures. He also kitchen work, laundry and cleaning. After some eight years his Prior, the wise Juan de Lorenzana, decided to turn a deaf ear to the colonial rules and permitted Martin to take his vows as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic at just 24 years of age. Of the community of 300 not all were accepting of their Prior`s decision one novice calling his a “mulatto dog” and one of the priest mocking him for being illegitimate and descended from slaves!.
Once his Priory was in debt so he implored his brethren and Prior, “I am only a poor mulatto, sell me.” Needless to say this did not happen for, apart from anything else, he was too useful. At 34 he was assigned to the infirmary where he was in charge and remained so until his death at the age of 59. He was known for his tender care of the sick and exercised unfailing patence in this difficult role. He not only cared for the sick of his community but took to caring for the sick outsie of the convent ministering without distinction to Spanish nobles and to slaves which had been brought from Africa. It is sais that on one occasion, seeing and aged brother covered in sores and almost naked, he gave him his own bed. One of the brethren reproved him to which Brother Martin replied, “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness.”
It is recorded that once he found a poor Indian, bleeding to death fro a knife wound, and tookin him to his own cell until he transport the man to a little hospice run by his sister. The Prior reprimanded him for his disobedience to which Brother Martin replied: “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” The result was that the Prior gave him carte blanche from that moment to follow his inspiration in the exercise of compassion.
Outside of the priory Martin begged for alms to procure necessities that the community could not provide. In normal times he raised sufficient funds to feed 160 poor persons every day in addition to his prayer life, work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary. He was a vegetarian and, on addition, to his care for his fellow human beings had a wonderful rapport with animals so much so that there is an early portrait of him with three pets, a dog, a cat and a mouse – all eating happily together from the same bowl! He established a home for orphans and abandoned children.
After Martin`s death on 3rd November 1639 healing miracles and graces received when he was invoked increased greatly. His body was exhumed some 25 years after his death and was found to be completely incorrupt and giving off the sent of roses. There were appeals to Rome asking for his beatification and Pope Clement XIII issued a decree affirming his devotion and the heroism of his virtues in 1763 but it was only in October 1837 that he beatified by Pope Gregory XVI and then on 6 May 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
Saint Martin de Porres is the Patron Saint of people of mixed race, innkeepers, barbers, public health workers and all seeking racial harmony.
Martin de Porres is a truly wonderful example of the fulfilment of those two Commandments which Jesus gives in his Sumary of the Law as found in today`s gospel reading.