Martin was the child of Spain’s domination and conquest of the Peruvian people. His father was a Spanish nobleman who denied any connection to young Martin. His mother was an black former slave who had been taken advantage of by Martin’s father. She raised Martin and his sister Juana in poverty and to the best of her meager abilities. Though there was often a lack of money and food in the family, there was never a lack of love among those who shared a roof with each other. Their poverty was influential and therefore Martin became a servant boy to the local group of Dominicans. He was of mixed race and they were hesitant to accept him (and it would be many years before they would accept him fully) but he steadily rose through their system and was eventually the almoner of the monastery. As almoner, it was his duty to disburse the alms and funds of the monastery to the local poor. When it became clear that Martin had a gift for hospitality, he was also put in charge of the infirmary. Martin didn’t try to do great things but instead focused on loving people. He brought a cup of water to the poor and to the sick with the intention of relieving a need but in the cup of water they often found healing. It wasn’t Martin’s intention to do great things but his loving spirit effected great changes. It was this same loving spirit that came out as the primary force in his life time and time again. His devotion to love is what made him saintly.
When he was young, he truly was a servant at the Dominican monastery. The priory that he was associated with underwent some considerable financial distress when he was still the servant of the monastery and not fully a member. The debts that they had accrued became an unmanageable burden for the brothers. As the brothers gathered to discuss the serious and precarious situation they were surrounded with, Martin intruded upon them and said, “I am only a poor mulatto, sell me. I am the property of the order, sell me please!”The brothers were shocked that he had come in and offered his freedom to purchase their own.In Martin they saw that the ethic of love and sacrifice was more primary than his desire to be free. They did not choose to accept Martin’s offering and found another way to avert their disaster but Martin’s words echoed in their heads for years to come as a testimony of the primacy of love over freedom.
Martin had a habit that wasn’t expressly forbidden but was not smiled upon by his fellow Dominicans. His love of the poor and the disenfranchised seemed to extend beyond that of his brothers. In fact, one evening he was stopped by a brother after he had been observed escorting a sick and dirty person into his own room and giving him rest and comfort in his own bed. As he entered again into the hallway to go and fetch some food and water, the brother said that he had gone too far. “That man will dirty whatever he touches–including your own bed.” He looked loving into the eyes of his brother and responded, “Compassion, my dear Brother, 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.” Without saying another word, the brother walked away with Martin’s words echoing in his ears, again. Martin had made it clear that, for him, love was more important than preference,cleanliness, or comfort. The brother walked away wishing he could say the same for himself.
In many of the places where Spain conquered, disease followed in their footsteps. Peru was no exception. Martin’s heart was broken for the sick and the needy in the streets. He understood that the monastery doors were locked for a rational reason: to protect those inside from the contagion that crept through the air to lay low the rich and the poor. Yet, the rationale was not enough for Martin who would unlock the doors so that he might take care of the sick. In doing so, he was being disobedient to his superiors even though he had vowed obedience. This was no little matter and eventually his superior approached him to say that this must stop. He was ordered to stop being disobedient. To this, he replied in a small and humble voice:“Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” In doing so, he was not being passive-aggressive to his superior but, rather, articulating the implications of what his superior was teaching. He was willing to be obedient as long as it did not require him to subvert his calling to love. His superior withdrew the request to stop and insisted that love was, in fact, more important than obedience to superiors.
Martin died in Lima, Peru, in 1639. He was widely acclaimed as blessed and a healer of the sick and unfortunate. His life had proclaimed the power of love and in death he was united with the God that is Love.
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