Whoever makes himself out to be great
will be humbled,
and whoever humbles himself
will be raised up.
Luke 14: 11
Today the Catholic Church remembers St. Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay brother who lived in Lima, Perú.
In an age when Indians and blacks were denied entry into the priesthood Martin entered the Dominican priory in Lima as a lay helper. Later, when the community recognized his gifts of service and healing he was accepted as a lay brother. The prior wanted to violate the law and accept him as a full member but Martin saw himself as a “poor mulatto” and refused the offer.
What is extraordinary about St. Martin is his sense of his role as a servant. Perhaps a little of the racism and classism of his day influenced his way of articulating his humility, but he offers us an example of one who recognized the importance of the humility of Jesus, who washed the feet of his apostles.
Martin, poor and humble, served not only his Dominican brothers, but was known for his care for those at the margin of society in Lima – the poor, the blacks, the indigenous, the slaves. His love and care for him earned him the title of “Father of the Poor.”
But he saw that only by living humbly, not trying to be great, can one really serve the poor. We must come to the poor as their servants, not seeking to do things for them but seeking to serve them.
Martin is an example of this humility.
But his humility was not a debasing kind of humility that bows and scrapes before authorities. This story is indicative of his spirit.
St. Martin used to take some of the neediest sick and care for them in his cell in the priory. His superior forbade him to do this but Martin persisted. When the prior found out and reprimanded Martin, he answered:
Forgive my mistake, and please be kind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.
Martin had the humility to see the priority of love and so continued to care for the poorest, even in his own small cell.
May we imitate St. Martin’s obedience to the law of love, in a spirit of humility and service – not bowing to those who would place law above love, but bowing in service to the poor among us.