How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel! They are like gardens beside a stream, like the cedars planted by the Lord. His wells shall yield free-flowing waters, he shall have the sea within reach…
These words of prophesy come from Balaam, a wicked, but not a false prophet, who visualized the Israelites in the wilderness on their way out of Egypt. In his vision, they are making their way to the Promised Land but are still far from it. So, how can this prophet see encampments in a desert as gardens beside a stream and wells with free-flowing waters? Well, prophets see with the vision God grants them. So, this prophet saw that the encampments were full of people trusting that God would take them to a better place. He could already envision that wonderful place. He was right. The Israelites followed Moses through the desert. Though suffering temporarily, they kept going in trust. St. Martin de Porres also saw what was ahead and kept going in difficult times. He kept the vision of the Promised Land of heaven before him always.
Born in Peru in the late 1500’s, Martin’s mother was a freed slave of African and/or Native American descent. His father was a Spaniard who never married his mother and left the family when Martin was very young, just after his sister Juana was born. His family was poor, and his mother took in laundry to support them. When her work was no longer enough to support both children, his mother sent Martin to a free school and later found him a place as an apprentice to a barber/surgeon where he learned the healing practices of the time. Always religious, Martin worked by day and spent much of the night in prayer. Gradually, he felt called to religious life. Unfortunately, the laws of Peru did not allow children of African or native descent to be fully accepted into religious Orders. This did not stop Martin from following the call of God.
At age 15, Martin applied to become a volunteer at the Dominican Priory of Holy Rosary in Lima. In exchange for living with the religious, he did menial tasks in their service. He cleaned, worked in the kitchen and did laundry. At the same time, he used the healing skills he had learned when apprenticed to the barber/surgeon. After eight years the Prior, head of the Holy Rosary Dominicans, recognized Martin’s holiness and gifts. Listening not to human’s laws but to God’s, the Prior allowed Martin to take vows as a lay brother in the Order at age 24. Ten years later, the Order knew Martin had the skill and compassion to be placed in charge of the infirmary at the Priory. He remained in that position until his death at age 59. During that period, he not only cared for the sick in the infirmary but reached out to the poor in the streets. Some he brought to the Priory; others he brought to his sister’s home where Juana welcomed the dying poor.
Martin collected alms, managed to feed over a hundred hungry people a day, gave money to the destitute for their needs, and healed the sick no matter the risk to himself. He also built a home for orphaned and abandoned children. Medical miracles abounded when he was present. Soon his compassion and kindness were known all over Lima. Certainly, he had a vision of the Promised Land to keep him going toward heaven. His energy, free-flowing waters of the Holy Spirit, helped all those he tended.
When we feel a bit droopy and need to water the gardens of our lives, St. Martin might just have the perfect answer. Let’s put our lives near God where the Spirit’s stream of holy energy will revive us and keep us moving toward the Promised Land.
St. Martin de Porres is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
How can you see even everyday menial work as sacred?
What are some ways you find refreshment when you turn to God in prayer?