Walking with the Saints

Today August 23 is the feast day of Martin de Porres, Rosa de Lima and Toribio de Mogrovejo on the liturgical calendar of The Episcopal Church.  They are remembered for their great contribution to Christianity in South America, moreover, they are honored particularly for bringing comfort to the downtrodden and the outcast.

Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579. He was an illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a young black former slave. Abandoned by his father because of his dark skin color, his tragic childhood gave him a kind heart to people like him. He applied to the Dominicans to be a “lay helper.” Placed in charge of the infirmary, he was known for his tender care of the sick and for his spectacular cures. His faithfulness led the community to request his religious profession. The stipulation that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or profession of our Order,” was dropped, and Martin took vows as a Dominican brother in 1603. Martin literally lived the Last Will and Testament of St. Dominic: “Have charity, guard humility, make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.”

Martin was a good friend of Rosa de Lima, who shared his passion for helping the sick and the poor. She was born in the city of Lima on April 20, 1586. She helped the sick and hungry around her community, bringing them to her room and taking care of them. She sold her fine needlework, and took flowers that she grew to market, to help her family. She made and sold lace and embroidery to care for the poor. Her passion for the poor, however, eventually led her to the Third Order of St. Dominic where she became a recluse. Out of her prayer grew a strong desire to do works of mercy for the poorest of the poor, particularly for Indians, slaves, and others on the margins of society. She died on August 24, 1617, at the young age of 31. It is said that she prophesied the date of her death. Her funeral was held in the cathedral, attended by all the public authorities of Lima.

Unlike Martin and Rosa, Toribio de Mogrovejo was born in Spain in 1538 and became a brilliant student of law and theology. In 1580, the Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, needed a new leader and Toribio was chosen. He objected because he was a layman, but the objection was overruled. He was ordained priest and bishop, and arrived in Peru in 1581 as archbishop.

Confronted with the worst of colonialism, Toribio fought injustice in both the church and the civil order. He was seen as a champion of the rights and liberties of the natives against the Spanish masters, despite Peruvian governors voicing opposition to him since he challenged their power and control. He learnt the local dialects for better communication with the native people and his own flock. He traversed his entire archdiocese three times on foot and alone; exposed to tempests and torrents as well as wild beasts and tropical heat. He also had to deal with fevers and threats from hostile tribes. He countered these all the while baptizing and confirming almost one million people which included the future Saint Rosa and Saint Martin de Porres. He founded many churches, religious houses, and hospitals, and, in 1591, founded the seminary at Lima.

In the Gospel of Mark assigned to today, Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” However, Jesus promised, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” Compared to the rest of the world population, we are certainly in the top richest group. We should follow the examples of Martin, Rosa and Toribio to help the people in need, and as today’s collect says, to fearlessly bring the comfort of God’s grace to all downtrodden and outcast people.

We usually don’t have many chances to read the Book of Sirah in the Old Testament. The following verses from it direct us to what we should do and what we will receive from God:

Stretch out your hand to the poor,
so that your blessing may be complete.
Give graciously to all the living;
do not withhold kindness even from the dead.
Do not avoid those who weep,
but mourn with those who mourn.
Do not hesitate to visit the sick,
because for such deeds you will be loved.
In all you do, remember the end of your life,
and then you will never sin.

Amen.