The following post has been written by Michael Fabrizio, who is currently serving at Indiana University.
“Let me be useful and unnoticed, like a broom behind a door.” –St. Martin de Porres
November 1st is a feast in the Catholic Church known as All Saints Day. Fr. Simon-Felix Michalski, O.P., the superior of the Dominican community at St. Paul’s Catholic Center and the Director of Campus Ministry for the Newman Center at Indiana University has been known to say, “If you want to know more about God, read theology. If you want to know how to practically get there, read the lives of the saints.” The saints, in turn, all strived to imitate the life of Christ. Thomas à Kempis says in his spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ, “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God.” (The Imitation of Christ I,1).
Many young adults today lack a personal relationship with Christ. The issue is often that we don’t even know where to begin. St. Augustine once said, “Christ as God is the native land towards which we travel. Christ as man is the way by which we journey.” (Sermon 123,3). Sometimes it is hard even to turn to Christ, even as a human, and follow Him in our journey towards God. That is why we need the lives of the saints to guide us and serve as our compass, pointing us towards heaven.
November 3rd is the feast of St. Martin de Porres, an extraordinary Dominican Saint who devoted his entire being both to Christ and to the poor. Mystical and mysterious, compassionate and caring. Saint Martin de Porres is known for many things, the greatest of which is being a friend to God’s poor at all times. Saint Martin de Porres knew how to truly be exalted, by taking the most humble places at the table and letting the host of the heavenly banquet elevate him. (see Luke 14:10). Saint Martin was indeed a humble man, of humble beginnings. Born Juan Martin in the city of Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579, he was the illegitimate son of a freed slave of Panama, and a Spanish nobleman. His father abandoned his family shortly after the birth of his sister.
In this period of abandonment, where Martin and his family were barely able to get by, Martin developed an unconditional love for the poor, and for God. In his book Martin: The Legend and Miracles of St. Martin de Porres, author Ernest Haywood writes, “Sometimes Martin was given a few coins and an empty basket to go and do the shopping for the food for the family. Often he would return without any money and the basket still empty. He would be stopped by someone poorer than he and begging for money to buy food. Martin could not help but give what he had to a beggar who had not eaten for days. As he would give away coins for food, he would say, ‘May God bless you.’ Then he would run away so that he would not hear any outpouring of thanks to him.” (Haywood 39-40). As a teenager, he took on an apprenticeship as a barber-surgeon. It was at this time that he would spend much of the night in prayer, a spiritual practice that would only gain momentum as he grew older. It was there also he learned many aspects of medicine. It was not long before Martin applied to the Dominicans, however not as a professed friar, but as a tertiary, or third order. In this sense, Martin was simply a lay helper, not feeling himself worthy to be a religious brother. Eventually, his humility did not go unnoticed. Though it took nine years, his example of his prayer and penance, charity and humility led the community to request him to make full religious profession. (American Catholic Saint of the Day: St. Martin de Porres (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1188).
After Martin became professed, he continued to devote his life to helping the sick and serving the poor. A powerful testament to his character was that he treated all of God’s people, paying no attention to color, race, or status. He established an orphanage and a children’s hospital, yet still managed to keep a vigilant prayer life. At one point his priory was in debt. He offered to the prior that he be sold as a slave rather than sell the paintings in the monastery (Haywood 72-73). He is known as well for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. In one account, “…he was praying in front of it one night when the step of the altar he was kneeling on caught fire. Throughout all the confusion and chaos that followed, he remained where he was, unaware of what was happening around him.”(Wikipedia: St. Martin de Porres).
Another particularly extraordinary characteristic of Saint Martin was that he was known to be blessed with “levitation, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures, and an ability to communicate with animals.”(Wikipedia: St. Martin de Porres). One incredible story about his bilocation was an occasion when St. Martin was out ministering to the poor and his prior wanted him to return home. He sent out four friars in four different directions to look for St. Martin. They all found him helping the poor! He was also known as an excellent fundraiser, and worked hard to raise money both for his religious community and for the poor he devoted his life to serving. Yet, his humility remained with him, referring to himself as a poor slave, until his death on November 3, 1649.
We can learn from the life of Saint Martin that a life dedicated to prayer and vigilance is very important, but it is to be complimented with a life of service to others, done in the most humble of ways. As our Lord says, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) Saint Martin de Porres was one who humbled himself greatly, and therefore was exalted greatly.
A relationship with the Saints is important for any Catholic for many reasons. For me, St. Martin is a perfect person to have as a patron saint. He understood what it meant to surrender completely to God, to abandon his own self and let God take over. It was only through doing the ordinary, with a great humility and a reverence to God in all things that God eventually took over. It took nine long years for his community to ask him to make his first profession. While we all may want to be recognized as holy people deserving of praise and glory, St. Martin and all of the saints realized that we had nothing to be proud of-save our Lord. Obedience to God is a path to freedom. It is through this that we can become like the Blessed Virgin Mary, and let our prayer be hers: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). St. Martin’s prayer was the same, and he was known to say, “Let me be useful and unnoticed, like a broom behind a door.” Sometimes I wonder if the good I do, even the little things, is noticed. But sometimes it’s better not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and let your good be done in secret, for our Father who sees us in secret will repay us in secret. Before he left home to join the Dominicans, Martin, in explaining to his mother why he was becoming a lay brother and not a student priest said, “Mother, the Lord has big tasks to be done, and He has small tasks to be done. I just don’t think He intends for me to do the big tasks; therefore I have chosen to do the small tasks. In that way I will be showing Our Savior all the more how much I love Him.” (Haywood, 55).
So what does St. Martin de Porres have to do with me, Michael Fabrizio? Why do I have a devotion to him? Well, I first learned about him on his feast day last year, November 3rd, 2012. A sister asked me if I could do some research on him for her as a favor, and I ended up writing a short report on him that served as the basis for the biographical part of this article. However, no biographical report can describe my devotion to him. St Martin is someone whose intercession I seek because he is someone that I hope to imitate. In my ministry at St. Paul’s, there are many times when I can relate to St. Martin. In Martin’s early years of ministry, he was not a professed religious. He was not under vows and didn’t wear the habit. He simply did his duty and continued to do this his entire life.
I am not a priest. I am not a brother. I am a lay person without extensive theological or spiritual training. If I look at this as constraining, it will be constraining. If I look it as freeing, it will be freeing. Since I don’t wear a habit I am unable to go to campus and just sit in Starbucks and be a visual magnet for students to approach and chat with. I can’t celebrate the Mass. I can’t hear confessions. I am unable to preach at the ambo to the crowd of parishioners. But this is not my mission. The mission of the Dominicans is to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls. I am not a Dominican. I do eat with, pray with, and work for Dominicans. And more importantly, I am of service to the Dominicans here. I am like the simple broom Martin described when I plan out a retreat, and then pray for its success. I am the same way when I slip out of a prayer service early to warm up food to be served afterwards. I am a servant when I listen to a student’s troubles and pray with them, and then let my lips remain sealed, holding everything they have told me in my heart and in my prayers. If all I desire to be is who I am, and who God wants me to be, then I can allow my Lord to work through me. My mission is the salvation of souls. I may not be the one preaching to them, but I can pray for those who are and support them in all they do. And I can recognize that as God forms me into a finer instrument, able to do His work in a more precise way, I cannot claim any of the good that I may do to be my own doing. Rather I am a poor slave of Jesus, and it is only in true servitude that true freedom exists.
O Lord, let me be like St. Martin de Porres, and realize that the only good I do, I do through you. O Christ, let me recognize like St. Martin that there is only you. O Holy Spirit, if it be your will, fill me and allow me to be like my dear Martin and work as your tool, doing all you command of me. O Blessed and Sacred Trinity, All glory is yours for all eternity. Amen
Prayer to Saint Martin De Porres
Most glorious Martin de Porres, whose burning charity embraced not only thy needy brethren, but also the very animals of the field, splendid example of charity, we hail thee and invoke thee! From that high throne which thou dost occupy, deign to listen to the supplications of thy needy brethren that, by imitating thy virtues, we may live contented in that state in which God has placed us and carrying with strength and courage our cross, we may follow the footsteps of Our Blessed Redeemer and His mist afflicted Mother, that at last we may reach the Kingdom of Heaven through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.