St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639)
"Father unknown" is the cold legal phrase sometimes used on baptismal records. "Half-breed" or "war souvenir" is the cruel name inflicted by those of "pure" blood. Like many others, Martin might have grown to be a bitter man, but he did not. It was said that even as a child he gave his heart and his goods to the poor and despised. He was the illegitimate son of a freed woman of Panama, probably black but also possibly of Native American stock, and a Spanish grandee of Lima, Peru. Martin inherited the features and dark complexion of his mother. That irked his father, who finally acknowledged his son after eight years. After the birth of a sister, the father abandoned the family. Martin was reared in poverty, locked into a low level of Lima’s society. When he was 12, his mother apprenticed him to a barber-surgeon. He learned how to cut hair and also how to draw blood (a standard medical treatment then), care for wounds and prepare and administer medicines. After a few years in this medical apostolate, Martin applied to the Dominicans to be a "lay helper," not feeling himself worthy to be a religious brother. After nine years, the example of his prayer and penance, charity and humility led the community to request him to make full religious profession. Many of his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. It was particularly impressive that he treated all people regardless of their colour, race or status. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage, took care of slaves brought from Africa and managed the daily alms of the priory with practicality as well as generosity. He became the procurator for both priory and city, whether it was a matter of "blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!" When his priory was in debt, he said, "I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me." Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary, Martin’s life reflected God’s extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport with animals. His charity extended to beasts of the field and even to the vermin of the kitchen. He would excuse the raids of mice and rats on the grounds that they were underfed; he kept stray cats and dogs at his sister’s house. He became a formidable fundraiser, obtaining thousands of dollars for dowries for poor girls so that they could marry or enter a convent. Many of his fellow religious took him as their spiritual director, but he continued to call himself a "poor slave." He was a good friend of another Dominican saint of Peru, Rose of Lima (August 23).
In 1962, Pope John XXIII remarked at the canonization of Martin: "He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm labourers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: 'Martin of Charity.'"
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (14.15-24)
When one of those at the table with Jesus heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I have just got married, so I can't come.' The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"
The Grand Invitation
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)
The scene of our Gospel passage today is still that of our Lord dining in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. Before his hosts Jesus has calmly flouted the strictures of the Pharisees in respect to healing on the Sabbath. Before the eyes of his silent critics he has summarily healed a man with dropsy, and they are unable to answer his challenge about his action. He then proceeds to comment on their seeking the important places at the table, and on their having invited to the meal only their friends and the rich and well-regarded. When you are invited seek rather the lower places, our Lord comments - perhaps with a smile - and in any case invite the poor and the sick to your feasts. In this way your reward will be great when the just rise again. At the mention of the resurrection of the just, one of the guests sighs before our Lord at the thought of heaven: “ Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Our Lord takes up the point but turns it to his theme that those who have been invited - and it is a warning to those before him - must not feel cocksure of a place there. The resurrection of the just will indeed be a banquet to which “many guests” have been invited. “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'” The servants carrying news of the invitation, of course, had been the prophets right up to John. The supreme messenger of the invitation was the one before them, Jesus of Nazareth. But time and again the invitation had been ignored. “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I have just got married, so I can't come.' The servant came back and reported this to his master.” The point is simple, that God had invited his people to a wondrous future, but many had failed to respond.
The warning develops in the parable. Those who had been invited but who had not responded would be passed over. The master of the banquet is determined to fill his house with guests. The banquet will proceed and it will be filled. Some of those, who from the first had been invited, will not be there and the fault will be entirely theirs. The parable, then, tells us of the tremendous responsibility of each person to hear the invitation to come to God and participate in his plan. That plan is centred on the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. A vast prospect hangs in the balance of each invitee’s response. On the one hand there is joy and happiness inside the house, while on the other there is darkness and grief outside. Which is it to be? In any case the mighty plan of God to save the world will proceed. God is resolved to fill his house, even if many refuse the invitation to come. Christ points to the coming Church with its universal mission to all the nations. “Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'” (Luke 14: 15-24) Just before he ascended into heaven our Lord said to his disciples, “Go to the whole world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The banquet of heaven will be the joy of being with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for ever. It is the universal call of every man and woman to goodness. All have this destiny, but it depends on each person’s response to the invitation when it comes. Those who hear Christ’s word and his teaching have before them the explicit invitation. Those who do not, will hear this call of God and Christ in other ways - muffled by comparison, perhaps, but nevertheless there. Cardinal Newman once described the conscience as “the aboriginal vicar of Christ.” God means all men to be saved, and Christ is the one and only way to the Father.
Every day passes rapidly, as does every hour, every minute and every second. Life is short. But that is not the end of the story, for eternity is very long. Each man and woman will live forever. In ten million years, the eternity of each of us will still be only beginning. No matter at what point in the future we care to place ourselves, our eternity will only be starting. How terrible the thought of being cast outside because we failed to respond to the invitation during this brief span! So then, now I begin! Yes, this very minute, now I begin! No time is to be wasted.