One of the best-known Dominican saints around the world is not famous for his eloquence or his education. There are no sermons of his passed down through the ages, nor are there books and treatises attributed to him elaborating deep theological mysteries. And yet, throughout the whole Catholic world, there are devotions, novenas, prayers, and statues of St. Martin de Porres which proclaim his intercession and influence in countless peoples’ lives.
Born in 1579 in Lima, Peru, Martin was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and an indigenous woman, probably a freed slave. Due to this mixed heritage, Martin suffered bigotry and prejudice throughout his life. Peruvian law prohibited those of mixed race even from joining religious communities, so Martin was only allowed to follow his vocation to the religious life by joining the Dominicans as a sort of partial member. He was allowed to wear the habit and live in community, but initially was not allowed to take vows. He served the brothers by cleaning, cooking their meals and washing their laundry. As a barber, he both cut hair and took care of basic medical procedures. Despite the simple, joyful love which he showed in all his humble service, he was often ridiculed for his origins, including by some of his fellow brothers.
Over time, however, Martin’s charity shone as a unique yet powerful kind of preaching. He was put in charge of distributing alms to the poor, and was often requested to visit the sick and dying around Lima. Many stories attribute miraculous healings to his hands, though he was always adamant to give credit to God. Soon, both rich and poor requested his presence and his prayers. The prior of his community decided to disregard the law and allow Martin’s profession into the Third Order of St. Dominic. Martin de Porres was truly a preacher: every moment of his life proclaimed Christ’s love for all people and the duty of all people to reciprocate this love through love of God and of neighbor.
Martin’s suffering in the face of bigotry and oppression makes him a relatable and beloved saint for many. Such evils seem to be present in nearly every place and time. Yet to follow Martin’s example in responding to this evil is no easy task. St. Martin took the narrow way of living the words of Christ: “Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39) and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Fighting for justice is an important and praiseworthy part of Christian life. But, when we ourselves become the victims of such oppression, let us follow St. Martin’s example: let us go out of our way to be kind and charitable to those who hurt us, truly reflecting the love of Christ crucified.
Br. Antony Augustine Cherian, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE