Saint’s lives often become stories — vignettes describing charming and delightful episodes attesting to their sainthood. This holds true for St. Martin de Porres. St. Martin’s dealings with the rats of Holy Rosary Convent (also known as St. Dominic Convent) in Lima, Peru, are famous. As are his stories of bi-location, he was seen all across Central America, Mexico, and even Japan! Perhaps St. Martin is best known as a healer. He was a barber, an herbalist/pharmacist, a minor surgeon, the convent’s infirmarian, the porter, and performed hundreds of menial tasks. People, especially the poor, sought him out for his skills and his prayers, and St. Martin was more than willing to help.
St. Martin indeed was all of those things, and so much more. He was a lay brother (cooperator brother), a non-ordained man, of mixed race born in 1579 in Lima, Peru. Most importantly, St. Martin was a Dominican friar.
Dominican spirituality takes many forms. I heard in a recent homily a reminder about we Dominicans — we are the Order of Preachers, we stand on the shoulders of an 800 year tradition, we walk in the footsteps of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albert the Great, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Rose of Lima, St. Juan Macias, St. Martin de Porres, we’re the Order of Bl. Fra Angelico and of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.
St. Martin, when he joined the Order that he so admired, became a model of the Order’s motto, Laudare, Benedicere, Preadicare, to Praise, to Bless, to Preach.
In his lifetime, St. Martin was known as a holy man. It is said of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order, that he either talked to God or about God. The same could be about St. Martin. The stories about St. Martin’s prayer life are abundant, he prayed day and night, he would levitate, and many others. Among his many duties was that of bell ringer. The bells rang at 4:30 am and St. Martin was there waking up the parish to come and worship the Lord.
While St. Martin is well known today as a doctor and healer, he didn’t always get the results we may think of — some of his patients didn’t recover from their illnesses. But people still came, especially the poor. They came in hope of healing, but once they arrived and met St. Martin, they knew they were blessed. St. Martin would help all those he could, giving of his time and even of his own food. To the poorest he would even give up his own bed. One of St. Martin’s “prescriptions” was prayer, Mass, and time with the Lord. St. Martin cared for the body and the soul.
St. Martin didn’t deliver any homilies from the pulpit, yet he rarely missed an opportunity to tell others of the Good News of Christ. As the porter and the distributor of food to the poor, St. Martin talked to countless people on a daily basis. His love for God and His people could be seen in his words and his works. It is said that St. Martin never complained about the many, many menial tasks he had to perform. Perhaps this was so because the tasks gave him the opportunities to tell others about Christ! Ever since I was a novice I’ve been told that a good Dominican never turns down an opportunity to preach!
The Dominicans were founded in 1216 for preaching and the salvation of souls, and throughout the centuries friars like St. Martin have been exemplars, showing us how to do this. St. Martin teaches us how to praise, to bless, and to preach!
These icons and more can be seen at the St. Martin de Porres Shrine and Institute in Memphis, TN. And for more on St. Martin de Porres, check out Br. Joe's most recent preaching video: "How to Celebrate St. Martin."