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St. Martin de Porres

by Fr. Gregory Dick, O.Praem.


If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

The Holy Spirit left His own profile so mysterious and untranslatable so we would come to discover it as a child discovers the beauty of its mother: gradually and only as it gazes less at itself and more at her, and this happens especially when she is feeding it.

To this end, St Paul gives the secret to attaining the qualities of our great Paraclete: humility. And to forestall our definitions, he describes a characteristic trait of the Spirit. Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. Humility is that virtue the devil so hates that he sought to devise a way of undermining its spread by the very nature of the self-centeredness he has sown in the heart of man from the beginning. But he erred. He thought he could do what only God can do. In fact, he only pretended. He knew better. His pride was the source of his compulsion to attempt to do what he knew he could not do.

While tolerating Satan’s presumption, God did what only He can do: He sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His children to teach, not by word, not by definition, but by example. The catechism, drawing from the Fathers, calls it the pedagogy of divine condescension. While the Holy Spirit reveals God to us, making known Christ His Word and living Utterance, the Spirit does not speak of Himself. He is, as it were, always hiding behind, or between, or within the Father and the Son. But this is not the only way that the Holy Spirit ‘humbles’ Himself, regarding others as more important than Himself. He dares to enter into the most dangerous place on earth: the human heart, where He can be ignored, forgotten, blasphemed, offended —you name it; and like the best of friends, thinking only of us, He will stay there until the last split-second of our earthly life if only then to catch our attention and save us. And in the meantime, it is in the Family of God that the ways of the Spirit are made known, as the features and ways of parents are revealed in their children. And that is why we call the children of the Spirit, saints—“holy,” after the Holy Spirit.

Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. Better to say, the Holy Spirit translates this teaching perfectly in His child, Martin de Porres. Martin was born of little account, by human standards —and that’s always where pride is born, in human standards, man’s worldview which is so very, very puny. Martin was an illegitimate mulato, a ‘half-breed,’ as he was considered. Good for nothing but slavery. A ‘slumdog’ as we call them now. He was so much an embarrassment to his Spaniard father that he (his father) refused to be known as his father on the baptismal registry. But if his father gave him nothing more than life and baptism, he already gave him very much in doing so, for at the fount Martin became a child of God. And he took the ball and ran with it! From that day forward, almost literally, he always sought to choose the way of a servant, like his newfound Father, the Holy Spirit. And, far from being embarrassed about his lowly features, he delighted in them, for they were his, from his Creator and Father.

In fact, Martin was well endowed by nature with a bright mind and a most caring heart, and he soon acquired the science of medicine, which fell under the role of ‘barber’ by which he is more commonly known. And he came to make quite a name for himself, even among the more famous, to the point that by the age of fifteen, he sought to flee it all and enter the Dominican Order. Which might have actually been a step up in status for him, except that he wanted to be a donatus, equivalent of a servant, not even a lay brother. It was his chosen motto, “To be a doorkeeper in the House of His Father.” And that he was, sweeping corridors, cleaning the bathrooms, and providing his service as barber to the close to 300 Dominicans in Lima, Peru, not all of whom were gracious in response to his excellent service. Treated well or ill, he was always cheerful, even grateful to be of service. He was even more grateful to be treated ill for his service. One may ask: Why?!

The Faith came to the New World continent of Martin in two ways: through the Missionaries and through the ‘Conquistadores.’ The Catholic missionaries taught it by word and (for the most part) by deed (as even one Protestant historian affirms). The Conquistadores, on the other hand, carried it by word only. Like the Pharisees in the Gospel, they used the faith they professed as a means, or at least as an excuse, for the atrocities they wrought—in the case of the Incas—upon a people who, though pagan, had more natural virtue than their Christian oppressors. Faced with such a culture, Martin chose to be a New World missionary: to teach by example what was already preached far and wide. Like his Father, the Holy Spirit. And like his Mother who had visited the land just a little to the north 150 years earlier in Guadalupe where she appeared as … a mulata! Martin knew well his noble parentage.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are faced with living the gospel in a culture not too different from Martin’s and for much the same reasons. Let us choose the same kind of evangelization. And let us begin this day by asking the Virgin Mary to teach us humility, even to send us humiliations. She will; but don’t stress out, she won’t squash us! She’s a loving mother. She’ll send them in small bites. Hear her words at Guadalupe: “Am I not your Mother? Are you not beneath the shadow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?” And when she sends us our little portions of humiliation, let us ask our angel to remind us to step back a little—and sometimes it’s good to actually physically step back a little—and allow the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do.

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