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St Martin de Porres
(entered heaven this day in 1639)
Still suffering from racial slurs, eh? It pains me to hear it, but I have to say that it doesn’t surprise me. Racism is not dead, and, in some form or other, it will always live on. Certainly, that doesn’t mean that we should condone it or give in to it – on the contrary, we should be the first ones to condemn and undo it, without, of course, falling into the equally deplorable trap of angry resentment. Racism is sin, and all sin is rooted in rebellion against God. So only a deeper love for God will enable us to battle effectively for racial justice, and for all justice, as a matter of fact. Today’s saint shows us the way.
Martin was born in Peru, the son of a Spanish knight and a black woman (a former slave). From his childhood he was scorned for being mulatto. Perhaps it was this experience that made him so sensitive to the message of Christ. He used to contemplate the crucifix with extraordinary love and devotion, deeply sorrowful at the suffering Christ had to endure, but deeply joyful that Christ had thereby penetrated our miserable lives with his grace and his love. The only earthly entity Martin loved more than the crucifix was the Blessed Sacrament, which he tried to receive as frequently as possible (he was helped in this endeavor once he became a Dominican lay brother, where he served as infirmarian and general caretaker of the Friary of Dominican priests in Lima), and which he often accompanied in prayer for hours on end, even entire nights. This deep appreciation for the sufferings and generosity of Christ was the motor of his own remarkable life. He spent every waking (and non-praying) hour caring for people in need, seeing in them the needy Christ, the souls for whom Christ had died. He cared for the sick Dominicans with the gentleness of a mother, and extended that service throughout the city. He founded orphanages and hospitals, raised money to feed the poor, tended the maltreated slaves, and even took care of stray animals (he kept a “cats’ and dogs’ home” at his sister’s house) – though his Dominican confreres considered his attentions towards the rats and mice a bit exaggerated. He truly considered others to be God’s children, and himself to be their less worthy brother. Once when the integrity of the Friary was threatened by heavy debts, he offered himself as payment, “I am only a poor mulatto,” he said, “I’m the property of the order. Sell me.” It was with this absolute humility, which overflowed in tireless and selfless service, that he won countless hearts to God – and that was his greatest joy.
I will ask him to pray for you, my young nephew, so that your response to the evils of this sinful world will always be motivated by humility, faith, and love for God. Always remember that the foundation of every fault against justice is our injustice towards God. Real social progress, therefore, can come only from acknowledging the primacy of God’s rights.
Sincerely your uncle,