Door into God’s home

Daily Reading for August 23 • Martin de Porres, 1639, Rosa de Lima, 1617, and Toribio de Mogrovejo, 1606, Witnesses to the Faith in South America

Although not many English-speaking Catholics are familiar with St. Martín, he is one of the most popular saints in Latin America. St. Martín was the son of the white, blue-eyed hidalgo (a Spanish noble) Don Juan de Porres and the freed black slave Ana Velázquez. Born in Lima on Dec. 9, 1575, Martín also was born into a kind of exile. His own father would not acknowledge him as his son in public. The baptismal entry in the registry of the church of San Sebastian in Lima reads simply: “On Wednesday the ninth of November of 1579, I baptized Martín, son of an unknown father.”

At the age of 16, Martín presented himself as donado to the Dominican friars of the Monastery of the Holy Rosary. Donados were members of the Third Order who received food and lodging for the work they did as lay helpers. In Spanish eyes this work was menial and not fit even for the lay brothers of the monastery.

St. Martín, however, saw things differently. At the door of the monastery, he began to greet the conquered Inca, the African slave, the homeless Spanish poor, and even dogs and cats who had been brutally abused. Standing at the door, a border between the friar’s holy life and the city’s crushing cruelty, made St. Martín a guide for the people of Lima in his day and also for us today. Out of that menial position, St. Martín became known for his skill in healing; his social work among widows, orphans, and prostitutes; his founding of hospitals and orphanages; his work with the indigenous, black, and mixed-race poor of the city; and for his love of animals. Indeed San Martín was known as the “St. Francis of the Americas.”

St. Martín transformed living at the margins of society into service at the door of the kingdom of God. He saw attending the monastery’s entrance as attending the very entrance of God’s kingdom. For this reason, St. Martín has been my guide and light. Rather than curse the marginal life that was my exile, I began to see it as a door into God’s home. I believe it is also the reason so many in Latin America see Martín as a guide as well. Those who find themselves outside of society find themselves welcomed home at the door attended by St. Martín.

From “Come Together: St. Martín de Porres” by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, in U. S. Catholic 73:2 (February 2008): 47-48.

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