This is a very special day for us Dominicans of the southern province of this country, for when the province was established in December of 1979, it received the name and patronage of Saint Martin de Porres. He was an unusual man indeed. He was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, during the colonial days of South and Central America. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish soldier and a black woman who had been a slave. Thus Martin was a mulatto, and was thought of as being very low in the social register of the country. He himself subscribed to this very low opinion of himself, which contributed much to his virtue of humility. On one occasion, when the Dominican priory to which he belonged by vow was being dunned for a debt, he offered himself to his superiors, saying: “I am only a poor mulatto; I’m the property of the Order. Sell me.” Fortunately, his humble and generous offer was not accepted.
As a young boy, he was apprenticed to a barber/surgeon and there learned skills that would be of use to him all his life. He went to live as a servant with the Dominican friars in Lima, and eventually was admitted to religious vows which made him an official member of the Order. He became what is now called a cooperator brother; he did not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders so as to become a deacon or priest, but rather used his skills and very great devotion to advance the work of the Order. Thus we find that very early in the history of our religious family in the New World, a man who was considered among the lowest in the hierarchy of religious life has been elevated to the level of canonized saint—than which we have nothing higher.
This concept of humility is very important in the spiritual life, since it is the antidote to pride, the root of all sin. A person who is made to feel humble by his or her social position is ahead of the game when it comes to being pleasing to God. This was true of Saint Martin. It is also to be seen in the life of our cloistered nun, Saint Margaret of Hungary. She was a princess, the daughter of the King and Queen of Hungary. When she entered the convent, she was very much aware of the danger of arrogance because of her royal background. For that reason, she would never accept any positions of authority or preeminence in the community, and always asked for, and performed, the most menial and undesirable tasks in the monastery.
So now we begin the month of November with the solemnity of All Saints; the feast of All Souls, and then the feast of our humble and very holy brother, Martin de Porres. In the many artistic depictions of him in statuary, painting, and stained glass, we usually find him shown with a broom in one hand and a cross in the other, indicating the two principal elements of his life: his great love of Christ, and his devotion to the menial service of his community. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.