Saint Martin de Porres
Apostle of Charity,
Saint of the Slaves
The Holy Spirit is so powerful; He works in marvelous ways. We began the chapters on St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima on the Feast Day of St. Toribio de Mongrevo, who baptized St. Rose. He was the Archbishop of Lima, Peru and had a tremendous effect on the spirituality of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin. The lives of these three Saints of Lima, Peru are strongly interwoven.
Although this is not an account of the life of St. Dominic, the father-in-faith of Saints Rose and Martin, a special tribute has to be paid to this great “Watchdog of God.”1 St. Dominic was a powerhouse during his lifetime, a true defender of the Church, a watchdog of God. His followers have been commissioned and mandated to be an order of Preachers, to bring the word of God to the whole world and as part of that commitment, to defend the Church in the name of God against her enemies. The two Dominicans we have written about in this book (as well as St. Catherine of Siena, the role model of St. Rose of Lima), truly followed in the footsteps and charism of their founder, St. Dominic.
This is how the Lord works. He never leaves us alone. He doesn’t just give us one Saint, one powerful man and woman in a period of crisis, but we find ourselves leaning on many of the brothers and sisters who came before us. The whole foundation of our Church lifts us up. We feel their strength behind us, as we encounter attacks from the enemy, experiencing uncertainty about whether we’re doing what the Lord wants, or what we want, in our everyday struggles, and what path we are to take to the Kingdom. Martin de Porres was to lean on his brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those children of St. Dominic.
Martin has been given many titles over the years including Apostle of Charity, Saint of the Slaves, Patron of the Negroes, Patron of Social Justice, and others, all true, all describing one or more of his attributes, but none actually goes to the heart of who this Saint was. He was love; he was Christian; he was truly son of the Father, brother of the Son, and vessel of the Holy Spirit.
It’s hard to describe all the charisms of St. Martin de Porres, or cover all the gifts he received from the Lord. The more we read about him, the more we realize what a powerful instrument of God he was. He had the gifts of bilocation, healing, multiplication of food, reading men’s minds, raising the dead, levitation, ecstasy, visions, inner locution; it goes on and on. Martin de Porres was one of the most powerful and yet one of the gentlest Saints in the history of our Church, and without doubt, a true disciple of the Lord in the New World. We will try to give you just a taste of how the Lord worked in this hemisphere through this Saint.
Martin was born in 1579, in Lima, Peru. It was only 83 years after Columbus placed a small Spanish flag on the island of San Salvador, claiming it and the entire new world for the Catholic Queen, Isabella, as it was she who had financed this expedition in thanksgiving to God for deliverance of Spain from the Moors. In 1535, the city of Lima was founded, and in 1551, the Dominicans Saint Martin de Porres began a university there. [An aside, the Dominicans were the first order of religious to preach the gospel in Peru.]
Martin was born of John de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and Knight of the Order of Alcantara, and a black free woman, Anna Velazquez. Martin’s father was not very happy to find his child was black. He did not want to be connected with the child in any way. As a matter of fact, on the baptismal record there was no mention of the father at all. The Baptismal certificates read only “Martin, son of an unknown father.” But some years later, he officially acknowledged Martin as being his son. We’re not sure if John ever married Anna Velazquez. If he did, he didn’t treat her very well. He spent most of his time in other countries, leaving Anna and the children, Martin and his sister Joan to fend for themselves. Though Martin was not from a poor background, you would not have known it by the way he and his family lived. They were always at least borderline poverty, and sometimes full-blown poverty.
But none of this had any detrimental effect on Martin. If anything, it gave him an understanding and empathy for his poor brothers and sisters. From his earliest days, he focused completely on his Lord present in the tabernacle of all the churches of Lima and in helping out the poor. His mother became furious with him in the early days. She would send Martin shopping for food, entrusting to him the meager pennies the family had, just enough to get some bread and a few necessities to see them through their meals. Martin inevitably took the money and gave it to the poor. When he returned home with nothing in his basket, his mother would let him have it. “How can you give to the poor? We are the poor! It’s bad enough that you will not eat today, but what of your sister and me? We didn’t volunteer to starve!”
He got lost in the churches. This was his most favorite time. When he entered the dark, cool church, the entire world was left outside. He was in a haven. He spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament, before the Crucifix looming high on the altar or a statue or painting of Our Lady. This was truly his home. He was Saint Martin de Porres an orphan on pilgrimage, journeying through this time on earth in preparation for his trip to his heavenly Home in Paradise.
Although John de Porres only came to Lima on very rare occasions, he must have been shamed by his relatives or neighbors who could see the way Anna and the two children were living. They needed some kind of home, education, food and clothes. Anna also had need, but John had never cared much about her well-being, so it was not thought that he would now spend any amount of time and money, taking care of her or her children. Never mind that he was the father. Although he had finally recognized them as his own, his behavior towards them was the same as towards a slave. However, when Martin was about eight years old, the father came and took him and his sister back to Ecuador with him, which was where he was living at that time. The children went to school; they were fed and clothed properly. The father actually admitted to being the parent of both children to his various relatives whom they met in the few years they lived in Ecuador.
But when John de Porres left Ecuador to govern Panama, he again dropped the two children off in Lima, at the home of their mother. This time, he left her enough money to get them out of poverty and put Martin through school where he would learn a trade. This was a very important move, and we’re sure it was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Martin chose to learn the trade of a barber. Now you may say to yourself, “What’s the big deal about being a barber?” Well, in Europe, as well as in Central and South America, a barber was an honorable profession, like a doctor or a lawyer. It carried with it the same prestige. As a matter of fact, as part of learning to be a barber, Martin also learned surgery, or the surgery of the day, which was letting blood with leeches, healing wounds, broken legs and arms, fractures, and giving out medicine for illness. So the barber was also a surgeon, doctor and pharmacist. [When Penny was a child in Brooklyn, her grandfather’s profession was a barber. He brought that profession over from Sicily. As barber-surgeon-doctor, he was very well respected by the people of Brooklyn.]
For Martin, this was a God-given gift. He was remarkably good at this profession. Remember, we’re talking about a twelve year old boy, beginning his apprenticeship as a barber. He learned quickly and well, and before very long, he was outdoing the teacher. The instructor was able to leave him in charge of the shop, knowing full well that whatever happened during his absence, the young barber could manage it as well or better than he. The instructor was very astute in this assumption, because being left on his own was the opportunity Martin wanted and needed. He handled himself brilliantly in many situations where the patients who were brought in, were in very bad condition. He cured them and had them back to work in a short time. His clinic was like an emergency room. Soon, people came into the shop, not looking for the owner, but for Martin. And he never disappointed any of them.
At the beginning, this was a good way for Martin to continue the works of mercy he had begun as a young boy, when he used to go to the market and wound up giving the family’s money to the poor. Now, he treated the poor and would charge them nothing. This was his way of serving the Lord and putting back in the pot, so to speak, paying the Lord back for the gift of healing which had been given to him through his profession. His fame spread throughout the entire city of Lima. People came for any and every ailment imaginable, and the professional young mulatto barber was able to heal them, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Martin never forgot where his gifts were coming from. He never for a moment thought there was anything about him that caused these healings to come about. They were from the Lord, and he knew it.
St. Martin’s Miraculous Lemon Trees
It was also at this time that the beginning of his special gifts became apparent. One of the first and most lasting was a fruit tree, a lemon tree which Martin planted in the courtyard of his house. No sooner was it planted than it bloomed immediately, and its blossoms gave forth fruit abundantly. The tree continued to yield fruit so bountifully, the branches, weighed down by its yield, often appeared as if they would break. This tree would provide lush lemons until well after Martin had died. It came to be called Martin’s Miraculous Lemon Tree.
Martin loved Jesus so much, he could not spend enough time with his Lord. He went to the church as often as he could. He would just stay by Our Lord Jesus, adoring Him in the Tabernacle. He spent all his evenings alone in his room, arms outstretched in the form of a cross “en croce”3 praying, concentrating, in ecstasy. He focused his attention on the Crucifix in front of him. He blocked out every other image in the world but Our Lord Jesus on the Cross. There was a fervent expression of love on his face. This was witnessed by a close associate of his, who peeked in on him through the keyhole of his room as he prayed there on many occasions. Martin and Jesus were becoming so close that anyone or anything else was a distraction. The few hours, he was able to spend before the Blessed Sacrament, were not enough. Martin wanted to spend all his time with Jesus, adoring Him as he did in his cherished hours away from the barber shop.
During the four-year period of his apprenticeship as a barber/surgeon, he became so proficient in his healing profession, his name became very famous; most especially among the Indians and blacks in the town, both slave and free. He was their symbol of respectability. He gave them self-worth! In an era when the question, often asked among Catholics, was whether blacks had souls and could warrant being baptized, this beautiful young black child of Jesus was proof positive that Jesus was the God of all creatures, large and small, and the blacks in Lima were no exception. This is one of the reasons that his decision to leave his profession and turn his entire life over to God as a Dominican brother threw them into a panic. His people needed him to be highly visible. They needed him as a representative of the poor and often unwanted people in the city. They needed him to remain an important figure in the town.
Martin had his own needs, however, and he believed his greatest need was for total consecration to the Lord. He had always felt that he served the Lord best through his work with the poor of Lima. He found himself being pulled apart. [We’re reminded of one of his role models, St. Catherine of Siena. She wanted more than anything to lock herself up in her small cell, and spend the rest of eternity with Jesus. But she also knew, He wanted her to be for the people. If she would have become a nun, she would have disappeared behind the cloister, and never would have been able to touch the people in the way that she did.] St. Martin de Porres had the same dilemma. We believe the reason, he chose to be the lowest of the low in the Dominican order, a donado, was so that he could have the best of both worlds. He could serve his Lord, concentrate His life on Jesus, and still serve the poor, the brothers and sisters who looked to him to give them respect in the Community. He was sixteen when he joined the Dominican order as a donado.
Most likely Martin had made his decision without asking the advice of his father, and definitely not his consent. Although John de Porres had never been a real part of his son’s life, he felt that Martin was his son, a possession, and was dragging the good name of the family down. He had no problem with Martin entering the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. His problem was where Martin was entering the order. John felt he should at least be a lay brother of the First Order (the priests), but definitely not a lay brother of the Third Order. This was the lowest of the low. He appealed to the Father Provincial, Fr. Lorenzana, who was more than willing to allow Martin to enter on the higher level. But Martin refused. He insisted on being the lowest of the low. Perhaps Martin wanted the world to know that he was nothing; Jesus was everything. To quote St. Paul,
“Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”
We know that John de Porres was not very happy with the type of work for which his son had volunteered. But Martin dove into his new career of sweeping the cloisters, scrubbing the corridors, and cleaning the toilets, with the same enthusiasm and dedication he had shown for barbering and tending the sick. He never stopped doing these loving tasks. No matter how important he became in the eyes of the world, and a time was to come when he would be sought out by the most important people in the known world, he never forgot who he was, and Who It was Who was working through him. And lest he ever get a swelled head, the filth of the mud and dust being trampled in from the outside, the foul stench of the toilets would bring him out of his reverie very quickly.
There’s a really important point, to stress here. Don’t for a moment believe that Martin de Porres enjoyed cleaning toilets or sweeping floors. This was a reality check. This was his way of disciplining himself to understand and accept his role in this life, the role the Lord asked him to take on, and to which he said Yes. At one point in the life of St. Bernadette, the little visionary of Lourdes, a famous photographer came down from Paris. At the time, Bernadette was one of the most famous women in France, though she was only fourteen years old. He said to her, “Bernadette, come with me to Paris. I will make you rich and famous.” to which she replied, “But no Monsieur, I would much rather stay here in Lourdes and be with the poor people. This is my place in life.” At another time, when she was deathly ill in the Convent of Gildard in Nevers France, she was asked why she would not return to the Grotto at Lourdes for a healing, and she replied, “The Blessed Mother used me like a broom. What do you do with a broom when you are finished with it? You put it behind the closet door.”
So Martin brandished his broom as a knight would wield his sword. To this day, when you see paintings of St. Martin de Porres, or statues of him, you will always see his weapon of Sainthood-his broom. He was Don Quixote, the Man from La Mancha, the dreamer of impossible dreams. In Lima, when pilgrims go to venerate the great Saint, they are often given a broom as a sign of the humility which Martin embraced so happily.
Martin had a tendency to reward those who treated him badly. As a matter of fact, he showered them with gratitude. An example of this was when he continued his profession of barber-surgeon after joining the Dominicans. Now, instead of the clients he was used to serving in the clinic, his clientele was mostly brothers and priests of the Dominican Order. Martin tried his best to remain a humble servant; he desired neither praise nor recognition for doing what he believed was his duty. He would never take credit for being a good servant.
At the cause for Martin’s beatification, a priest gave testimony of Martin’s great humility. When the priest, Fr. Francis Velasco Carabantes was a novice, he wanted to talk to Martin, who was busy at his duties as barber. The novice did not want his hair cut; he felt great disdain for the way the Dominicans shaved their heads in the tonsure style (The entire crown was shaved bald, while the smallest section of hair was left around the head). Perhaps our novice, Brother Francis at the time, had a little vanity left over from his secular days. At any rate, he just wanted to talk to Martin. But while he was deeply engrossed in thought, trying to determine how he would approach his mentor, Martin grabbed him, put him in the barber’s chair, and began working on his head. By the time Brother Francis became aware of what was happening to him, his head had been shampooed, shaved, and was being dried. He went into orbit.
He jumped out of the chair and berated Martin with every expletive he was supposed to have forgotten when he entered religious life. He called him a mulatto dog, a hypocrite, a cheat. At that point, Martin was still lost in his job of tonsuring the novice’s hair, during which he always prayed deeply. It was, as though the Angels were doing the work, while Martin was conversing with Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary in ecstasy. So he was going through the motions of drying the novice’s hair, when he came out of his ecstasy and realized he was being scolded.
By this time, one of the rectors, Fr. Gamarra, had witnessed the entire outburst. He grabbed Brother Francis and began to criticize him severely for his attack on Martin. Meanwhile Martin wanted the novice to look at his head in the mirror, so that he would realize he didn’t look bad with the tonsure. Brother Francis backed off on his attack. But the rector inflicted a severe punishment on Brother Francis and sent him away. This was when Martin went into action. He went to the Superior and begged forgiveness for Brother Francis. He tried providing the brother with every excuse he could. He even tried to justify how Brother Francis might have called him a mulatto dog and a hypocrite. His mother was Negro, while his father was white. That took care of the mulatto part. He was a Dominican, which meant “Watchdog of God!” That could loosely have taken care of the dog slur. In an effort to close the case in favor of the brother, his final argument was, “Everyone knows what a sinner I am.”
The rector, who was also the disciplinarian, knew too well what a Saint Martin was, and how he berated himself. He could not refuse Martin, so he forgave the novice and relented Saint Martin de Porres of the punishment. As if that was not enough of a reward for Brother Francis, Martin sent him fresh fruit, a rare delicacy in the monastery.
In a very short period of time Martin was asked to take care of the sick, for which he was well-trained as part of his profession as barber, and so the cycle was complete. He was now doing everything he had done in secular life, only he was doing it for the Lord as a religious. Most of the sick who came to him were the black slaves who had been brought over from Africa. This became a major part of his healing ministry. Oftentimes, he would miraculously increase the food portions which he gave to the people. He would go out of his way to do anything he could, to make their sufferings lighter. This done, his greatest gift was to be able to spend time in the chapel with the Lord. Martin could not have been happier.
He was treated badly very often by those to whom he ministered. But he never let that bother him. He offered up everything for the glory of God. More often than not, people he accused him of false modesty and humility. He agreed with them when they reviled him, criticizing the work he did. They really hated when he agreed with their insults. His Superiors, after much investigation, ascertained that he really did believe himself the lowest of the low, the worst sinner; whereas they all recognized the true Saintliness of the little brother.
One aspect of Martin’s life which all his biographers found most exceptional, including Butler’s Lives of the Saints and the Acta Sanctorum was that he handled three major jobs: barber-surgeon, wardrobe keeper, and infirmarian. Each of these loving tasks was a full-time job, requiring a tremendous amount of work and concentration. However Martin managed all three of these jobs with ease, with joy, and with a great deal of competency. Now remember, he did these in addition to all his other non-assigned tasks and spent hours each day in the chapel, adoring Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. One way he was able to accomplish these goals was by not sleeping.
The Gift of Bilocation
Martin was in an excellent position to evangelize in his ministry as barber-surgeon. He was an ardent follower of St. Dominic, his father in faith. He believed firmly in Dominic’s commitment to teach the people of God. St. Dominic maintained that the cause of a great deal of the heresy which was rampant throughout the world was ignorance and neglect. Wherever he went, he found these two evils. He was convinced that the only way to stop heresy was to preach and teach. In this way, freeing it from the basic causes of evil, Christian society would be restored to the Church that Jesus founded. St. Dominic named his order, “The Order of Preachers” for that reason-that they would go out and teach the faithful.
The enemy finds his richest soil in the ignorant. Martin had an open invitation to preach to the unlearned. They came to him every day, not looking for spiritual aid, but physical and material aid. What better opportunity to share the word of God? He had a captive audience. As he filled their stomachs and healed their bodies, he fed their souls with stories of this great Church and its Saints.
In many ways, he reminds us of Blessed Juan Diego, the visionary of Guadalupe. He became the sacristan in the little chapel built after the apparitions of Our Lady. When people came into the little chapel, Juan Diego told them the story of the Indian and the Lady from Heaven. Pretty soon, they would find themselves seeking out the priests, and they were on their way to conversion.
Most of the poor, uneducated people who came to Martin were slaves, or former slaves from Africa, who had come to Peru on the slave ships. But as part of his outreach ministry, Martin had what he termed the “Pain of Desire.” He reached out to Dominican missions in Japan and China. There were Spanish prisoners in infidel countries, such as Turkey. Martin ministered to those brothers also, not in Peru, but in whichever country they were located. How did he do this? He was given the gift of bilocation. Witnesses testified having seen Martin in China and Japan, sitting with little street people all around him, teaching them about the love of Jesus, erasing the ignorance to which they were the victims.
Another example of bilocation occurred one day when Martin instituted a new medical treatment in the infirmary, relatively new in Lima and not really tested. The brothers questioned him on it. They asked him how he was sure it was safe to use this procedure. To which, Martin very matter-of-factly replied, “Oh, I saw it done this way in France, in the hospitals of Bayonne.” The brothers looked strangely at Martin. They knew he was not making up a story, and yet, they knew he had never been out of Lima, Peru from the day he entered the Dominican order. It was, in effect, an admission of the powers the Lord had given him to bi-locate.
One day, a Spaniard came to the Dominican Monastery of the Holy Rosary. He passed Martin, and stopped in his tracks. He was awestruck. He called out to Martin, “Father! Liberator!” Martin brushed him off with a smile, and a quick assurance he would speak to him later. The Spaniard rushed to the other brothers to tell them how he had been a prisoner in Turkey, when Martin visited him and his fellow prisoners. He brought them whatever he could to make their condition more livable. He brought food for the body and food for their souls. He left them a little money. This was not once or twice, but often during long years of imprisonment, the Spaniard further testified. He said, it was the little money that Martin brought over the years that finally gave the Spaniard what he needed to pay a ransom to the guards to get out of prison. While the brothers were astonished at the tale, they were not really surprised. They knew there were many times when Martin was off by himself in deep meditation. Who knows where the Lord brought him during these times?
Martin and the locked doors
The brothers knew firsthand, some of the things he did in the Monastery. It was a known fact that the doors to the infirmary and the doors to the novitiate, where Martin had his quarters, were locked with heavy locks, and the keys were in the possession of the Superior. On more than one occasion, when a sick or dying brother in the infirmary would ask for Martin to come to aid or console him, the infirmary personnel would run to the Superior to get the keys to open the doors so that Martin could enter. Then, as they were running towards the locked door, to let Martin come in the infirmary, they would find him already in the patient’s room, ministering to the sick person, without interference from locks and benefit of keys.
Another instance of Martin and locked doors occurred when two novices ran away from the Monastery. The Master of Novices, in a panic, asked Martin to lift them up in prayer, as Martin’s prayers always got the desired results. Martin began to pray and immediately knew where to look for the two runaway brothers. He went to the place where they were, two miles from the Monastery. The door was locked; that meant nothing at all to Martin. He went through the door, and awakened the brothers, who had been fast asleep on cots. Rather than berate them for fleeing the Monastery, he spoke to them in the gentlest tone he could muster. Within minutes, they were eager to go back to the Monastery. But now a new problem arose. How would they get back into the Monastery? We know it was no problem for Martin, but what about the brothers? How would they get in? No problem. They just huddled next to Martin, and as he went through the locked doors, they just went in with him.
Sometimes when Martin would pass through locked doors, he would be carrying heavy things with him. Nothing seemed to get in his way. He had a lot to do, and a limited amount of time, so he couldn’t be bothered with things like locked doors or cumbersome objects.
He would always comfort the sick. It could be any hour of day or night. If Martin felt it necessary to be with a sick brother, he would just appear out of nowhere with sheets, or linens, or a brazier. When the patient awakened, he would find Martin sitting there, with whatever it was that the sick one had been craving, whether it was water to cool a fever, or something to eat. He would mop the brow of those who were perspiring heavily. He was just there. Another gift was that after Martin left the ill person, they usually improved greatly and very often experienced a total healing.
Martin and the Dying
One of Martin’s special gifts was a little scary. He knew when someone was going to die. The brothers would watch him when he paid a lot of attention to a particular patient in the infirmary. They knew that person was going to die. There was even a saying among the brothers, “That brother will soon die, because Martin goes to see him often.”
A dear friend of Martin’s, Fr. Cyprian de Medina, became very ill. He was admitted to the infirmary, but according to the doctors, he was a hopeless case. Five of them had given up on him, advising everyone in the Community, it was time to administer the Last Rights of the Church. But Martin had not come to his room to console him. Now, Fr. Cyprian knew well that Martin always consoled and prepared those who were ready to enter the Kingdom. He also knew the prognosis of the doctors. The question that kept going through his mind was, “Where’s Martin? Has he abandoned me?”
It was late in the evening. The brothers began a death watch over Fr. Cyprian, not believing he would last until the morning. Fr. Cyprian asked for Brother Martin. No one could find him. The hours flew by. Fr. Cyprian became very nervous. He prayed for Brother Martin to come. It was now about three in the morning. The priest and the brothers had given up hope of Martin arriving in time to see Fr. Cyprian before he died. All of a sudden, very quietly, Martin entered the room. The priest thought he was seeing a vision. He was so happy to see Martin, he had new energy and used it to really let Brother Martin have it for not being at his bedside at this, his hour of death. Martin just sat there, head bowed, while his friend went through their entire life together, all the time complaining, he could not believe that Martin could have abandoned him at this time; and then adding, he had been sure he would die without Martin praying over him.
Finally, after Martin felt that Fr. Cyprian had gotten all his hurts out of his system, he raised his head and said very quietly, “Father, you should have realized that you were not in danger. Everyone knows that when I make frequent visits to the cells of the sick, it is a bad sign. Do not be upset if you have grown worse. This crisis will only serve to end your illness more swiftly. But you will not die now. God wills that you should live and give Him more glory by continuing to serve Him in Religion.”
Naturally, Martin’s prognosis was correct. Fr. Cyprian recovered; he and Martin remained the best of friends; and he continued in his ministry for many years. As a matter of fact, Fr. Cyprian ministered to Martin at his death.
Martin, Wardrobe Keeper and Beggar
Many of the jobs, Martin took on himself, were out of Holy Coincidence. He would do any task, others did not care to do. The job of wardrobe-keeper was thrust upon him because he was in charge of the infirmary. Actually, he was responsible for two areas of the Community: he had to be sure they had enough habits for the brothers that they were in good shape, and clean, and he had to be responsible for the infirmary, and all the supplies necessary, such as bed linens, blankets, pajamas, and the like. One reason, he was assigned the job, could have been that the cupboard was virtually bare. There were no supplies, and the powers that be knew that it would take a miracle to restock the bare shelves, and the only one who was good at asking God for miracles was Martin.
We don’t know if he did or didn’t want this job. Martin knew that it was a necessary task which needed organization, and he was great at organization. When he saw the condition of the supply department, he immediately put his logical mind to work. They needed supplies, but didn’t have any money with which to buy them. They needed money, but where would they get it? From those who had money. Martin began to build a list of benefactors, who would be most happy to cooperate with Martin and the Community. He was very well known in Lima. Even if it had not been that his father was a political figure of the town, Martin, by his years of service in the Community, and the word of his closeness to God, had developed quite a name for himself.
When he went looking for help, it came fairly easily. Martin was able to purchase a complete new set of everything the Community needed. But while he was a good fund-raiser, he was also frugal. Once he had all this equipment, he made sure that it was well taken care of. He gave all the brothers a number. He attached the number to their clothing. He also set up a cubbyhole system in the supply room. Each week, he would distribute clean clothing and pick up the dirty clothing. He organized a similar setup in the infirmary. Things were a little more difficult to handle there. The items-like sheets, pillow cases, blankets, mattresses, beds, were all items in demand by the local people. And they had no qualms about stealing whatever they could, when they could.
The problem was that Martin was no fun. He knew where everything was. One day, when Martin left a patient alone in the supply room, the man shoved a few sets of sheets in his trousers, which were very blowzy. When Martin returned to the room, the man casually headed for the door. Martin, very lovingly but firmly, ordered him to return the sheets, saying “The sick have so little linen, they can’t get along without even this pair of sheets.”
Then there were the mattresses and the beds. Once, he had left a mattress on the line to air out. When he went to retrieve it some time later, it had disappeared. He immediately went with another brother to a dark storeroom, directly to the spot where it had been hidden. Another time, a whole bed was stolen. A black worker, who had been using it, complained to Martin that it was missing. Martin told the man to wait for him in the infirmary. He then went to one of the priests, whose servant had stolen it. He told the priest “Father, if that servant has no bed, please see to it that he gets one, but he should not take the bed of the Negro who works in the infirmary.”
Martin and the Mice
St. Martin de Porres and the mice remind us of St. Francis of Assisi9 and Lupo, the Wolf. The farmers in the town of Gubbio were going to kill a wolf who was attacking their chickens and cows, and eating all their crops. Francis asked to speak to the wolf. He met him in the forest and pleaded with him to stop his vandalism immediately. Francis said he realized that the wolf, whom we now call Lupo, was hungry. He said he would make a deal with Lupo. If he would stop vandalizing the farmers’ crops and animals, Francis would guarantee that the farmers would feed him. Lupo stopped vandalizing the farms; the farmers took turns feeding him, and Lupo not only became their friend, he also became their greatest defender against invaders. To this day, there is a statue of Lupo in the center of the town of Gubbio.
When you look at a prayer card, or the canonization painting of St. Martin, you see him wielding the broom, as we said before. Then you see the dog. But to his right, on the floor, there is a dish, with a cat and a mouse and a dove all eating from it at the same time. The mouse is a very important symbol of the ministry of St. Martin de Porres. It began with a problem.-St. Martin's wardrobe room. After all his work, getting new clothing, shirts, sheets and such, one day he found that there were mice in the room. They were nibbling on the shirts and sheets, making holes, and doing their business there, making a terrible smell. Martin didn’t know what to do. His Superior suggested spreading poison to kill the mice. That would do it. But Martin wasn’t having any of that. He waited and watched until, one day he was able to catch one of the little enemies. He held him in his hands. The mouse was sure this was his end. His little heart was beating so fast.
But then Martin spoke to the mouse, softly and gently. In a short period of time, the mouse relaxed. He had no fear of Martin. Martin explained the problem. They couldn’t have the mouse and his friends chewing up all the supplies needed for the Monastery and the infirmary. He realized it was because they were hungry and were not getting enough food. Martin worked out a deal with the mouse. If he led his friends to the far end of the garden, where they would find a new place to live (which Martin would show them), Martin promised that he would be sure they received more than adequate food every day.
We’re not going to say the mouse actually answered “Okay” but in effect it seemed like he agreed with his eyes. When Martin put his little newfound friend down, the mouse scurried away. Within minutes, from all over the wardrobe room, the heads of hundreds of little mice appeared from every nook and cranny. Martin led them out of the wardrobe room, out to the garden where there was a whole area which would be suitable for them. They immediately began nuzzling into the dirt, making holes where they could set up their living quarters.
Martin was good to his word, as the mice knew he would be. Every day, after he finished feeding everyone else-the shut-ins, the workers in the Monastery and the street people, he would go out to the garden with food for the mice. For their part, they never came back to the wardrobe room or disturbed the Monastery in any way.
The Mystical Gifts of St. Martin
St. Martin de Porres was a very specially blessed child of God. The Hand of the Father was on everything he did. Mystical gifts abounded in Martin, to such a degree that they were accepted as daily occurrences. The Lord had blessed him with seemingly all the gifts from Heaven. But they were all for the benefit of the children of the Kingdom.
A perfect illustration would be what we would call a repeat of the biblical Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes; only in this instance, it was not loaves and fishes, but soup and bread. One of Martin’s tasks, which we did not classify up above, with that of “Barber-surgeon,” “Wardrobe-keeper,” and “Infirmarian,” but which in itself could have been a full time job, was that of feeding the poor. At the beginning of every day, there was never enough food. By the end of each day, there was not only enough food, there were baskets filled with food, left over, for the little animals that waited hopefully at the kitchen doors to be fed.
Martin would come every day to the refectory where he would feed the poor. He would look at the meager provisions available for that particular meal, then look at the swarm of hungry mouths waiting to be fed. One of the brothers who helped out in the kitchen, Brother Aragonés, testified that he watched as Brother Martin began to serve them. He prayed, first for the Salvation promised by Jesus, and then he prayed, “May God increase it through His infinite Mercy.” What was in the pots was enough to feed four to six people, meagerly. What was waiting to be fed was anywhere up to two hundred and fifty. Martin began to pour and serve, as more and more poor people came to be fed. Every one of them was given huge helpings, yet there was enough for all, and then for the little dogs and cats. Remember, Martin had a great love for the animals.
Martin was also known to levitate. There were many eyewitnesses to this miracle. It had a blessed effect on the people who witnessed it. They were strengthened greatly in their vocations. One priest, Fr. Ignatius of Dominic, proclaimed this throughout his priesthood. “I’ve said it and I’ve repeated it millions of times, that I decided to become a Dominican because I saw Brother Martin de Porres in prayer, lifted high above the earth, almost embracing the crucified Christ in the chapter room.”
Unfortunately, this great espouser of the mystical gifts of Martin was not alive when it came time to give this testimony at the Beatification process. The Superior whaled, “If only Fr. Saint Martin de Porres 25
Ignatius were alive to give his testimony.” A surgeon, Marcel de Rivero asked, “Isn’t my testimony enough? I saw him, just as Father Ignatius did, high above the ground, in the chapter room, and my word is just as good as his!” We get the impression that Marcel de Rivero was a little miffed that his word might not be as good as the deceased priest.
The Saint of Social Justice
The term Social Justice has been bandied around a great deal in this 20th century. Martin has been called the Patron Saint of Social Justice. But we must clarify what is meant here by Social Justice. On the surface, Social Justice would seem to mean feed and clothe the poor. And that is so. It does mean that, but not just that. Feeding the body is not the entire extent of it. That’s only part of it. We have heard that in some dioceses in the United States, those reaching out to the poor are not even to mention the name of Jesus. They are to find out what the physical needs are, and take care of them. That’s not Social Justice, at least not Catholic Social Justice. Without Jesus in the center of it, it becomes Socialism. With Jesus in the center of any program, be it feeding the poor, visiting the sick or clothing the naked, it will be abundantly blessed and prosper. Without Jesus in the center, these programs are Socialism at best, and Communism at worst, and they will fail.
Martin spent a great deal of his life taking care of the poor. He did all of the things above, and more. But he had one focus. “Martin’s whole apostolate of charity had only one purpose; to awaken the love of God in souls; in all souls, without exception, in the souls of the rich as well as the poor.” There’s the difference. His charity was God-centered. Many of our brothers and sisters of today could take a lesson from our little Saint of Lima.
St. Martin and the devil
It would make a great deal of sense for Satan to hate St. Martin. Martin was one of his worst enemies. Martin did everything he could to keep souls out of hell and on the road to Heaven. The Lord gave him the power to take away all the excuses people have to sin. They looked at this simple man and saw Jesus. He took away prejudice and bigotry. He was a black, the lowest of the low in Lima of that time. Yet, he was the special one of God. He took away starvation. People came to Martin, and they were given Manna from Heaven. It went on and on. Whatever Satan could come up with to drag people down to the depths of hell, Martin could counter with Jesus and His promise of everlasting life in Paradise.
It only stands to reason that Satan would have his demons attacking Martin at every opportunity. One evening, Martin was rushing from his room to the infirmary, loaded down with supplies. He used a rickety stairway which had been closed down because it was too frail and dangerous. He wasn’t supposed to use that stairway, but it was the most direct route between his room and the infirmary, and he felt he was under the protection of the Angels anyway, so it should be okay. Right? Wrong!
As he was moving along at breakneck speed, he was stopped in his tracks by this monstrous, unbelievably hideous demon from hell. It’s impossible to describe accurately, except that it was revolting. A very ugly face emanated from the body. Martin addressed the thing with great anger: “What are you doing here, accursed one?”
The creature replied, “I am here because it pleases me to be here, and because I expect to profit by being here.”
Martin replied, “Away with you to the cursed depths where you dwell!”
The demon held his ground. Martin dropped his supplies, took off his belt, and began whipping the creature, who disappeared immediately. Martin took a coal from the brazier, which he always carried with him, and made the Sign of the Cross on the wall, and prayed in thanksgiving to the Lord for taking care of him.Saint Martin de Porres 27
Another instance of demonic attack was witnessed by Francis de la Torre, an officer of the guard, who was sharing Martin’s cell, the night of the battle. Martin’s cot was in the back part of the cell, and the captain’s was in the front. Francis was preparing to go to sleep when he heard a door open and close, and Martin spoke. Francis could tell something was wrong by the tone of Martin’s voice. Now you have to understand that Martin was a man who never raised his voice, who always spoke gently and with a great deal of love. To hear anything other than that emanate from Martin’s mouth was to know that there was a serious problem afoot. Martin’s tone was angry. He said, “What have you come here for, you troublemaker? What are you looking for? This is not your room. Get out!”
By what Francis could make out from the sounds that he heard, there had to be more than one demon. It could have been as many as a legion of devils. At any rate, they attacked Martin with a vengeance, knocking him about the room. Francis went to the alcove separating the room. He wanted to come to Martin’s aid. He looked at the scene. He could see Martin being thrown from one side of the room to the other; he would flinch, move his head from one side to the other, back and forth, and then again, back and forth as if he were being struck. He doubled up with pains in the stomach and he went flying to another part of the room. But Francis could not make out even a hint of anyone beating up Martin.
Suddenly, the entire room was in flames. Francis ran to help Martin. He couldn’t let Martin burn to death. He burst into the room and, with Martin’s aid, put out the flames. The fire extinguished, the noises stopped. The room abruptly returned to a harsh silence. The two men went back to their beds, and as soon as their hearts stopped pounding, they fell into the sleep of the innocent.
A few hours later, Martin rose to ring the dawn bell. He lit a candle for Francis and left the room. Francis jumped out of his bed to assess the damages from the fire and the brawl which had taken place there a few hours before. As he looked around, he could see no signs of a battle. There were no burn marks; no broken furniture; nothing was in disarray. Francis de la Torre was bewildered.
Martin was a simple man of few words. He showed an inner control, almost a total peace. He was the epitome of humility. In everything he did or said, he projected the best of his father-in-faith, St. Dominic and all that was espoused in the Dominican family of brothers and priests.
But when he did speak, you could count on whatever he said. In addition to his gentle, lilting voice, the content of his speech was so solid, so filled with the Spirit, his listeners were enraptured by him. Martin was so concise, his words so well-chosen (although not deliberately so), he brought his points home so effectively, it was obvious these gifts were coming from above, as he was just a lay-helper, the lowest of the Dominican Order. He didn’t waste his time talking about sundry things; he concentrated his efforts on things above, rather than of things of the earth. He took to heart the Scripture passage, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore.... Instead, seek His Kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.... For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Luke 12:29-31,34)
Martin embraced the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience as an alcoholic would embrace a drink, or a man stranded in the desert for 30 days and nights would embrace food and water. There are those who take the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. There are those who actually embrace these vows. But Martin ate, breathed and lived these vows. They became part of who he was, the fiber of his very existence. He woke up in the morning, for his vows; his last thought of the day were these vows; they brought him closer to Jesus.
Martin goes Home!
We believe that Martin spent his whole life as a pilgrim on his Journey of Faith to the Kingdom. Everything he did, everything Saint Martin de Porres 29
he said, was in preparation for that time when he would shed his earthly body and be with his beloved Jesus in Paradise.
The Lord made him work for sixty years before allowing him to leave the earth. Martin went to his Heavenly on November 3, 1639, but he could not leave his beloved Dominican Community without preparing them for his absence Towards the end of the preceding summer, his body just fell apart on him. He had abused it for decades, in an attempt to break the chains that shackle us to our flesh. Physical mortification was a nightly practice, all the years he was a member of the Dominican Community. Because of his special relationship with the Lord, his Superiors gave him more leeway with this than they might have given an ordinary brother. Apparently they felt Our Lord Jesus or Our Lady or St. Dominic would have stopped him if he were embarking on areas which would prove dangerous to his health.
Martin knew when he would die. There were indicators which the brothers shared in the beatification process. The first indicator that death was in the offing came when one day, out of the blue, Martin wore a new habit. That may not seem unusual, but when you consider that he wore the same old beat-up habit for twenty five years, without ever changing it, the sight of a new habit would draw stares from everyone in the Community. When Fr. John Barbazán said in surprise “What happened,” Martin smiled his gentle smile and responded, “This is the habit I am to be buried in.” Martin had never spoken about his own death before.
This statement put a chill in Fr. Barzabán’s heart. He loved Martin very much. Martin was his mentor; he considered himself one of Martin’s spiritual sons. Fr. Barzabán was leaving the Holy Rosary Monastery shortly to take a teaching position in Cuzco. He feared, if Martin’s demise was as imminent as he made it appear, he would never see Martin again. He knew he could not return to Lima before the end of the year. But when he was to depart Lima, Martin said to him, “We will see each other very soon, because you will not be absent from Lima very long.”
Fr. Barzabán replied, “I cannot possibly return before the end of the year, because the Superiors are sending me to teach theology.” So the priest left with a heavy heart, fearing he would never see his friend Martin again. However, Martin was correct again. Shortly after Fr. Barzabán left Lima, he returned. His trip was postponed indefinitely. He was there to say good-bye to Martin when he left for Heaven.
Another man, John Figueroa, came to Martin, asking for him to pray for his soul at his hour of death. Martin told him, “I shall die first.” Then, a few days after he put on his new habit, he became violently ill. Now we come to a very unusual part of the story. For most of his life, the Lord had given Martin the power to heal people. He raised people from the dead! All he would have to do is touch a person and they would experience a healing. And yet, when he became ill to the point of death, he had no power to heal himself. It may be ironic, but it is not unusual. Many Saints experienced the same thing. When it came to their own illness, they were not able to help themselves at all.
What does this prove to us? We believe Jesus is trying to tell us very clearly in these instances, that He is the Healer, and no one else. If Martin were truly healing the people, he would have no problem healing himself. However, possibly to prove to the people that he was not the healer, he couldn’t heal himself.
He suffered excruciatingly during the months of September and October. His Superiors insisted he not sleep on the hard board he had used for a mattress for so long, and to exchange his old sackcloth habit for a good, lighter habit. Martin was always obedient to his Superiors. But the new habit caused him so much more pain than the old one had, he asked permission to take off the new habit and replace it with his old sackcloth habit. Permission was granted. Martin de Porres, out of obedience, did sleep on a proper bed for a change.
One of the greatest struggles for the bedridden Martin was his inability to go about his daily duties. In addition to not being able to minister to the sick and poor, healing and feeding them, he just couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t run all over the place, handling his chores as barber-surgeon, wardrobe master and infirmarian. He was not able to serve his brothers and sisters, and that saddened and frustrated him.
But through all of it, the Lord was still showering Martin with many blessings. Towards the end, a high official came to Martin to say good-bye-to a friend and a counselor. The brothers led him to Martin’s cell and knocked on the door. There was no answer. They looked in; Martin was in ecstasy. The viceroy insisted, he would wait until Martin came out of it. He went outside and talked to the brothers about Martin. It was about fifteen or twenty minutes before Martin came out of his ecstasy. At that time, he saw his friend, bid him farewell, and asked for his prayers.
The Superior was upset with Martin for having made this important man wait for him outside. Martin said nothing in his own defense. Finally, the Superior, who really just wanted to know what was going on in Martin’s ecstasy, ordered him to explain why he made the viceroy wait so long. Martin pointed to a small altar on which the Blessed Sacrament was in reserve, waiting to be given to Martin at the moment of his death. Martin told the Superior that the Blessed Virgin was over there by the altar, and St. Dominic, his father-in-faith and St. Vincent Ferrer, along with many other Saints and Angels were there as well.
Martin said to the Superior, “I was so occupied with those holy visitors that I couldn’t receive any other at that moment.”
Martin suffered greatly, physically as well as spiritually. Satan felt that this was a perfect opportunity to snatch the holy Brother of God and cast him into the bowels of hell. He took advantage of Martin’s weakness to try to weaken him spiritually. However the Angels and Saints came to his aid, and he defeated the power of Satan. On November 3, 1639, after receiving the Blessed Sacrament for the last time, Martin surrendered his body and soul into the Hands of His Heavenly Father. He let go of the Crucifix which he had held onto so tightly. It was finished.
However, that was not the end, but the beginning of the miracles. As they were preparing to bring his body downstairs to be venerated by the faithful, bloodcurdling screams were heard from one of the priests. He was in agonizing pain. One of the brothers shouted out to him, “Invoke Martin de Porres, whose loss we all feel so keenly.” No sooner had the words been spoken than the priest’s pain disappeared, and he was completely cured.
Martin was dressed in the new habit, he prophesied would be the one in which he would be buried. He was brought into the church for the people of Lima, his brothers and sisters, those for whom he labored all his life, to say good-bye. As the brothers were keeping watch with him the night before the crowd was to come in, Father Cyprian de Medina, whom Martin had brought back to life from the brink of death, touched his body. It was stiff. Fr. Cyprian had the kind of relationship with Martin where he could joke with him, in life and in death.
He said to him, “But what’s this? So stiff and rigid? Brother, don’t you know that as soon as day breaks the whole city will come to see you and praise God in you? Ask God to make your body flexible, for you know we would render Him infinite thanks for that!” Within a matter of minutes, the body was loose and flexible. The face lost that hard look of death. Fr. Cyprian and the brothers lifted Martin’s body to a sitting position, so that he looked alive and ready for a visit with his people.
Miracles after his death, began almost immediately. As a matter of fact, they began at the veneration of his body. Sick people were carried to the church and up to the body of Martin. When they left, they were able to walk home, cured from their illnesses.
Two days after Martin's death, a brother was on the throes of death, in agonizing pain. Then the next morning, he awoke completely healed. He said Martin had come during the night with Our Lady, St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena. Martin said, “This visit will cure you.”
The miracles went on and on, and continue to go on and on. Devotion to this powerful man of God has never ended, never slacked off. The miracles through the intercession of St. Martin de Porres have never let up. In 1837, he was beatified, and on May 6, 1962, Pope John XXIII proclaimed him a member of the Church Triumphant, a Saint of our Church. Praise Jesus for St. Martin de Porres and his powerful sign in the Church, in the world.
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About the Authors:Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”