Today, which is the day after election day in the United States this year, is also a special day in the church that deserves a nod: The Feast of St. Martin de Porres, Defender of the Poor and Renewer of Society.
St. Martin was born in the late 16th Century in Lima, Peru. His mother was an herbal healer, and his father was a Spanish knight (Don Juan de Porres…I kid you not). Since Don Juan had not married Martin’s mother, Ana, he refused to acknowledge that Martin was his son.
St. Martin, raised by his mother, became well versed in both herbal healing and the teachings of the spreading Catholic faith in Peru. He married the two together in his head, heart, and practice, and became a physician-monk, continuing to heal people using herbal remedies and folk-magic while living in the Dominican friary (he entered the order at 15).
He was known for caring for the poor and the sick who came seeking him at the friary gates, especially those who were refused medical help because they were black, too poor to pay, or seriously ill. He became known as a friend of those everyone else forgot and laughed at.
He also became known for his delicate care for animals, both domesticated and wild. There are many wild tales of how he befriended rats and rodents, much to the dismay of those around him.
Finally, St. Martin was a congenial and wise mediator, helping to solve marriage problems, finding ways to help the poor pay dowries, and coming to the defense of those without anyone to defend them.
Many say he had magical powers, but in reading about him, I’d suggest that his real magic was being the embodied Divine for people and animals the world tried to throw away.
He once wrote, “Compassion, my dear Brothers, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”
He was canonized in 1962 as the patron saint of racial justice and harmony, and good grief if that doesn’t speak loudly on this day, this year.
St. Martin is a reminder to me, and should be for the church, that healing comes in many forms and through many people, and that the ailments of the physical body and the body politic both need attending to by people of faith.
-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon written by Britta Prinzivalli