List to Fr Jeremy’s Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 4, 2018
What could a man born in 1579 have to teach our contemporary, modern society? I would suggest a lot. This man experienced racial profiling, ethnic-based injustice, poverty, and persecution. He knew abandonment, isolation, hardship. He lived in a society torn by power, corruption, and fear. Born in Lima, Peru, Martin was the illegitimate son to a Spanish gentlemen and a freed slave woman from Panama of either African or possibly Native American descent. As a young child, Martin’s father abandoned the family to utter poverty. His lack of legal standing as an illegitimate son was only amplified by his mix-raced ethnicity. In the clear socio-economic divide of his day, he was an outcast to everyone.
Even the Church struggled to accept Martin. Martin had a deep faith and a vocation to religious life but the Church struggled to embrace him. By the Peruvian laws of his day, all African or Native American were prohibited from joining a religious order. And so, Martin volunteered for the Dominicans of the Holy Rosary as a servant doing the most menial of tasks cooking, cleaning, doing laundry. Sadly, even some of the Dominica friars of the community, whom he dutifully served, regularly joined in the racial name calling and mockery of his day regarding slaves. After nearly ten years of such dedicated service and over the objections of same friars, the superior of the community, Juan de Lorenzana, permitted Martin to make vows in the lay third order in clear defiance of the racial laws. Martin would eventually be moved up to the church officer in charge of distributing funds to the poor and infirmarian. Martin considered no task beneath him. He exhibited great patience, subtle tenderness and acceptance of all people. Martin was praised for his unconditional care of others, regardless of race or class.
Given the direct racial hatred, discrimination & abuse Martin experienced, he was confronted early with a choice. React against hate with hate or response with love. St Martin de Porres responded with Love and his feast day is Nov 3. St Martin can speak some profound truths to our day, to our nation, to our world torn by much fear, hatred, and racial/ethnic tensions.
The first truth St Martin can teach us is Jesus’ two great commandments are numbered for a reason. When Jesus was asked what was the first commandment in the Law, He responded: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk 12:29-30). One’s first love must be God, God the Creator and Father of all creatures. It is only by hearing God voice, adhering to God’s precepts, and revering His Holy Name in heart, soul, and strength can one can possibly proceed to the second commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31).
Our times seem to forget the first and stumble with the second. Martin’s love of neighbor – whether rich or poor, whether kind or mean, whether accepting or belittling – was rooted in Martin’s own fundamental love of God as God, and his neighbor as loved by God. Martin loved God, and all that God loved, even his neighbors who failed to love Martin.
This is where I think St Martin can teach yet another vital lesson. Love for Martin was not some mere abstract thought. It was not a passing emotion, feeling, sentiment, or mood. No doubt, St Martin’s feelings to racial injustice was anger and hurt. But St Martin knew Love is a theological virtue. Martin knew that “Love was acquired [and demonstrated] by education, by deliberate acts, and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts purified and elevated by divine grace” (CCC 1810). Love grows by loving. Love is purified by loving under God’s direction. Knowing love as a virtue rather than an emotion, reminded Martin of the need to persevere day-by-day. Love would be formed in his heart only by his every deed. He knew the habit of love by the daily habit of demonstrating love to those around him, by the daily habit of responding in loving service to those he encountered, by the daily habit of working for love in the life of the sick, the poor, the needy. He did the hard work of responding to racial slurs with words of mercy and respect. He fostered the habit of love word by word and deed by deed, all infused with God’s grace.
The final lesson St Martin can teach us is one of humility. By himself, Martin knew he could not love God or his neighbor. But, by God’s Grace, Martin could truly love both. How did Martin receive God’s Grace? He prayed. Martin was a man of intense prayer, often spending entire nights in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Martin learned the love of God and neighbor by contemplating the love of Christ own self-sacrifice.
Fear, Racial tensions, Social Injustice are nothing new. Neither are their solutions. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and body; and love your neighbor as yourself. If only more could learn these lessons, if only all would live them half as boldly as St Martin, we would not be far from the Kingdom of God.