Today’s saint, Martin de Porres, bears witness to the importance of prayer and humility in our interior lives and in our lives of service to others. In light of the Scripture readings we can see even more clearly what this beloved saint teaches us about following Christ as members of the family of the Knights of Columbus.
II. Brief Sketch of his Life
We are told that St. Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru in 1579. His father was Spanish nobleman and his mother was black; they were unmarried. His father abandoned the family and they lived in poverty, but after a time he returned and sent his gifted son, Martin, to study medicine. Even as young man, Martin was very prayerful and heard the call to religious life. He entered the Dominicans as a servant and only later, as his extraordinary qualities of mind and heart became apparent, was he allowed to received the Dominican habit.
Because of his compassion and his skill, Br. Martin was put in charge of the infirmary where he served not only his confreres but the poor and the sick of the community. In addition, Br. Martin founded an orphanage and a children’s hospital and daily begged for donations to keep them going. In the midst of his labors, Martin led an austere life of penance and spent many hours adoring the Blessed Sacrament. He came to be known as “Martin of Charity” for he shared the poverty of poor and the humility of the Lord who willed to share our humanity & to come to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. His was a life of humility, asceticism, and love for the Eucharist.
III. St. Paul to the Philippians
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes of his deep love for the Person of Christ. Having encountered Christ along the road to Damascus and having traveled far and wide preaching the Gospel of Christ, St. Paul longed to be fully united with Christ. “For to me,” he wrote, “life is Christ, and death is gain.”
It is not hard to imagine St. Martin de Porres taking those words to heart as he spent many hours in the adoration of the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharistic mystery St. Martin de Porres encountered the living Christ and through the Eucharist he was drawn into the love of the Trinity – a love which is all glorious because it is a supremely humble, self-effacing love. It was from the Eucharist that he derived the strength he needed to serve the poor not as their master but as their fellow servants.
What Pope Benedict XVI wrote of Mother Teresa applies to St. Martin as well: “In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,” he said, “we have a clear illustration of the fact that the time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from an effective and loving service to our neighbor, but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service” (DCE, 36). What an antidote to an activism driven by confidence, not in God’s love for us, but rather by an egotistical reliance on one’s talents and good will.
IV. He Who Exalts Himself
In the Gospel Jesus tells the story of a wedding banquet in which he advised the Pharisees and his closest followers not to vie for places of honor but rather to go to the lowest place, to observe what Blessed John Paul II once called, “the etiquette of the Gospel.” Going to the lowest place makes sense, for it is likely to result one’s being invited to a higher place. And that is how it works in the Kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.”
And that is how it worked in the life of St. Martin de Porres. By serving the poor and the sick with so much love and skill, he claimed for himself the lowest place in society, by his willingness to associate with the Dominicans first as a servant and then to spend his life in service of the sick, the poor, and the orphan. For that reason he is exalted in heaven and celebrated by the Church throughout the world. His life became a living sign of the Triune God’s utterly self-giving love in which we created and by which we were redeemed, a love like no other which was definitively revealed by Christ and communicated to us by the Holy Spirit.
V. Conclusion – The Importance of Humility
Humility is not a denial of our God-given dignity and talent, it has nothing to do with burying the talents that God has given us. Rather, isn’t it the case that when we are set free by God’s grace from an overweening attachment to self, from inner worries about our image or our position or what other people think of us – that then we are freed up to pray as we ought and serve in charity as we ought? … to absorb God’s self-giving love so that we put that very love into practice. That is how, as the family of the Knights of Columbus we can live the first principle of our Order by putting into practice that charity which leads all those around us to Christ and to the very heart of his Gospel and attracts others to want to join us in service to one and in service to all.
Through the intercession of Mary, the humble maiden of Nazareth, and through the prayers of St. Martin de Porres, may we, as the leadership of our beloved Order, be marked by that prayerful humility and charity which makes our service to those in need fruitful in spreading the Gospel.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love.