Meet Brother Martin

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Norbert Georges, O.P.


When this little book was composed no one dreamed that it would be an  instrument of God to arouse devotion to Blessed Martin over the English speaking world and bring men to a realization of his right to be a patron of social and interracial justice. As a matter of fact, the interest it has created among English-speaking people has renewed the fervor of the Spanish-speaking people. Peru, in particular, had come to a greater realization of the treasure it possessed, and a governmental decree in November, 1939, declared Blessed Martin national patron of all works of social justice. Requests for literature in Spanish, French, Polish, Italian, German, Slovak and even Russian and Armenian, have come to the office of the Blessed Martin Guild. Everywhere, Blessed Martin is being recognized, not only as a friend in time of need, but also as a star of hope, a leader and a guide in the difficult process of spiritual growth of rehabilitation. This is undoubtedly a sign of God’s approval and  a proof that Blessed Martin is a modern saint with a particular mission at this time when men are so persistently tempted to turn from God and seek their ultimate happiness and destiny in the things of earth. Blessed Martin, by his life, shows conclusively that true peace and happiness can be found only in God, that it can be found in God even by those whom the world despises and who have not the advantages of temporal prosperity and education.

May this little book continue to bring joy to those in sorrow, inspiration to those in doubt, and courage to those who are depressed by suffering and the trials of this world.

April 10, 1940       
The Very Reverend T. S. McDermott, O.P., Provincial.


Chapter Six - Martin's Magic Carpet

 There is a chapter in the life of Saint Martin that reads like a fairy story. Almighty God was so pleased with the good deeds and merciful apostolate of this lovable Brother that He set aside the very laws of nature in order to extend the field of his ministrations to the poor and sick. God was pleased in a miraculous way to put aside the boundaries of space, to whisk Brother Martin to fields afar although he actually was never known to have crossed the seas. This phase of Martin’s charitable mission is intensely interesting. It strikes the imagination; it is something unique and dramatic. Truly, Martin’s zeal has escaped the barriers of space and time. His apostolate here in America three hundred years after his death, a mission of mercy so clearly evidenced and so gladly acknowledged by thousands of his grateful clients, could never be arrested by the flight of time!

Let us tear aside the veil of the past and visit the Convent of the Holy Rosary in Lima three hundred years ago. Brother Martin is the infirmarian. An epidemic is raging and sixty of the novices are stricken. Like an angel of mercy, Saint Martin supplies them with all the comfort and care at his command. We can easily imagine how much Saint Martin is in demand; he just has to multiply himself. He just has to do the miraculous. When the door to the novitiate was locked, Brother Martin was seen to enter and leave noiselessly. He would go from one bed to another, knowing what each one wanted, arriving just in time. He responded even to the secret and unexpressed needs of the sick. There was no need to call for Brother Martin: as quick as intuition he would anticipate a request. This phenomenon was observed quite often, even outside of times of epidemic. At night, for example, Martin would be needed by a religious in the novitiate when the doors to it would be locked. Martin would be at the bedside of the sick novice, and no one could ever tell by what means the appeal had reached him. Perhaps the Guardian Angel, to whom Brother Martin was so devoted, was the faithful ally and watchful aide in these unique and wonderful visits to the sick.

At two o’clock one night, Francis Varesco, a novice, took very sick, so sick that he thought he was going to die. He lay there helpless, desperate. Suddenly Brother Martin entered his room with all the necessities and comforts needed by the sick boy. Surprised, but full of confidence, the novice managed to ask, “Why, how did you know I was sick?” “Don’t ask useless questions,” replied this miraculous nurse; "take comfort, for you shall not die of this malady." On the instant Brother Francis knew that he was cured. Years later when he was a priest, he gladly affirmed on oath the details of Saint Martin’s visit.

Francis told the story of his cure to his novice master. In astonishment the Father said, “That’s very strange. The door to the novitiate was certainly locked and barred at the moment you received this visit from Brother Martin. I locked those doors myself, as usual, and I kept the keys with me.”

Since this phenomenon took place in favor of novices, the novice master wished to find out more about these strange visits of Martin. The opportunity for making this investigation came to him one night at ten o’clock just after he had closed the two doors of the novitiate, one at each end of the corridor. “Look, there’s Brother Martin in the cell of one of my novices who is sick! How did he get in? Well, at least I’m going to discover how he gets out.” Quietly the novice master hid himself in a dark corner in order to watch the movements of Brother Martin. He kept his eyes fixed on the door of the cell and waited. But in vain! No one appeared; the novice master ran to the doors to reassure himself that they were safely locked. They were locked as usual, and the keys hung from his girdle. He touched them to be sure. Then full of wonder he gave praise to God. According to the chronicles Martin was so solicitous for his sick novices that he would get them any fruit for which the heat of the fever made them long, even when it was not in season, even though it did not grow in Peru.

One night Rodrigo Melendez was suffering more than usual from painful erysipelas. “Ah, who will give me a little hot water to bathe my leg?” It was a daring moan, for the whole convent was asleep and this poor layman, who was then lodged by exception at the Convent of the Holy Rosary, where he fell ill, had with his own hands locked the door to his room from the inside. He had cried out not in hopes of being heard, but only because the pain had wrung from him sighs which could not be controlled. Hardly had he uttered his complaint when Brother Martin was beside his bed, carrying the warm water. Overcome with wonder, the sick man plied the Brother with questions, who merely answered that he knew how to get to a sick man’s cot whenever it was necessary. The story of this event was told by Rodrigo’s son at the process of the beatification.

Rodrigo saw another miracle of the same kind. He was visiting his sick neighbor in the infirmary, Father Juan de Salinas, who, weakened by a hemorrhage of the stomach, was just saying to him, “What would I not give for a bit of sugar and a glass of water for my thirst!”  He did not finish speaking before Brother Martin stood beside him with a glass of sweetened water, and the door had not been opened!

Ever since his entry into the order Martin had been profoundly attracted by far-off countries. In his youth he would have loved to have gone to evangelize the yellow races in the Far East. It had been Martin’s dream to preach the good news of man’s redemption in distant lands. But it was not his vocation in the ordinary sense. God, however, who is never outdone in generosity and who knew the unselfish zeal of Brother Martin, deigned on several occasions to permit this miraculous missionary to make unseen voyages in the twinkling of an eye to Mexico, Algiers, France, the Philippines and, perhaps, to China. Martin de Porres spent all his religious life in Peru, at the Convent of the Holy Rosary in Lima, and yet here we can relate numerous instances well worthy of belief of Saint Martin’s presence among the poor, the captives and the afflicted all over the face of the earth.

A Creole who had long dwelt in China had, after his return to Peru, a very interesting conversation with Martin de Porres on the customs of China, which Brother Martin knew as well as he did.
Francis de Montoya knew Saint Martin in Africa, where the good Brother had nursed and consoled so many Christian slaves. He admitted that neither he nor his companions in chains were acquainted with the true name and origin of this mysterious religious, but he stoutly asserted that it was Martin whose alms and exhortation had so abundantly consoled them in the depths of their misery. We can imagine the great joy that Francis felt when, freed from slavery and back in Peru, he suddenly met in the Church of the Holy Rosary this great benefactor whom he had never expected to find in Lima. He threw himself into the arms of Martin, eagerly questioning him about his voyage from Algiers, asking him a thousand questions. Martin answered very evasively. Francis wondered at all this and wished to know the reason for all this mystery. He soon found out, for he learned from the prior that Brother Martin had never been sent to Africa and, to their knowledge, had never bodily left Peru. No wonder Francis became enthusiastic over such a miraculous apostolate. No wonder he wished to make this wonder echo all over the world.

Martin de Porres must have gone to France in his supernatural way. Once when giving to a sick person a medicine unknown in Peru, he spontaneously made the following remark: “This remedy is quite good. I have seen it used in France, in the hospital of Bayonne.”

A merchant of Lima never tired of repeating something that happened to him in Mexico. It is a very beautiful story. Before leaving Lima for Mexico this merchant put himself to some inconvenience in order that he might recommend himself to the prayers of Brother Martin, in whom he had great confidence. On arriving in Mexico he fell desperately ill. In the bitterness of his agony he cried out: “Oh, God! Why is not Brother Martin here to care for me?” At that very instant the good Brother entered the room, with a smile illuminating his face. Full of joy the merchant asked, “Why, when did you get here, my dear Brother?” “I just arrived,” replied the visitor. Then he walked about the room, setting things in order, rearranging everything gaily, familiarly. Then he said to the sick man, “O man of little faith, why did you think you were going to die?” Then giving him some medicine, he added, “Now be assured you won’t die of this fever.” Martin then quietly and graciously left the room.

Soon the merchant found himself again in good health and, in order to thank his friend for his kindness, he hurried over to the Dominican Convent in Mexico City, where he thought Brother Martin would be staying. However, he found that Martin had never been there. Where, then, could he be lodging? The merchant inquired for Martin in all the hotels of the city in hopes of finding him. But in vain—no one had ever heard of him! The merchant had to wait until he returned to Lima for news of Saint Martin. There, at the Rosary Convent, the Fathers assured him that the good Negro had never left the con-vent. This was like a thunderbolt to the astounded merchant, who never related the incident without tears of joyful gratitude.
It is difficult, indeed, to know just how much may be accepted of the many assertions concerning the spiritual voyages of Martin to Asia and Africa. They were spiritual voyages in a sense, but evidently all the physical appearances and powers of Saint Martin were present for the good of souls. In any case, witnesses quite worthy of credence, one from China, one from Japan, one from Algeria, testified that they had met and known Martin de Porres, him and no other, just as they had seen him again in Lima even though, in reality, Martin’s superiors vouched for the fact that he had never resided anywhere except in the Convent of the Holy Rosary.

Saint Martin was also endowed with the gift of invisibility. He acted at times without being seen. During certain ecstasies he would disappear from the sight of man. What is more remarkable is the fact that he could communicate this gift to others. At least they cite an example of this power. This is what happened. The police had tracked down two accused persons to the convent and were about to arrest them when Martin, evidently for some good reason in accordance with the plans of God, rendered them invisible, enabling them to slip through the hands of the officers.
On occasion, Martin unwittingly left open to view some of the invisible life that surrounded him. We have a declaration of the Fathers and the Brothers that they saw two angels assisting him one night when, according to custom, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin was being recited in the dormitory before Matins. At another time Brother Martin was seen walking in the cloisters of the convent in the visible company of four angels who looked like handsome young men and carried lighted torches in their hands.

Saint Martin sometimes was seen in the shape of a ball of fire. Thus, one night when Father Barragan was very sick, the religious whose duty it was to ring the bell for Martin saw, while waiting for the hour appointed, Brother Martin traversing space that night in the form of a ball of lightning. He was hurled, as it were, to the bedside of the sick Father. On another occasion the whole community witnessed a similar prodigy.

Again, as a sphere of light, Brother Martin was transported in a flash from the chapter hall to the choir.

Just as he shared his gift of invisibility with others, so also did this “flying Brother”, as he was called, bestow his gift of speed to thirty novices whom he had taken for a walk in the country outside of Lima. The novice master had requested Brother Martin to take the boys for an afternoon’s excursion to a woods some three miles from the convent. They were all enjoying themselves so much that both he and the boys failed to notice how the time had sped by. Evening probably surprised them in the woods; certainly, they had no way of getting back on time to the convent. What should they do? Brother Martin was baffled for a moment. The bell of Office was about to ring, and they were far from home. The novices were afraid of being punished. Martin began to pray with all his might, as was his custom. Then his countenance brightened, and he said to the youths he had in charge, “Come, follow after me!”

Perhaps they formed in line, Indian file, with Martin in the lead. No one seems to know. Perhaps Martin told them to lock hands and close their eyes. We certainly would like to know . . . One, two, three! . . Open your eyes! A few steps, and all saw themselves together at the threshold of the convent. The great distance had been covered in less time than it takes to relate the marvel. But that was not all—they passed through doors already locked without disturbing anyone and, at the appointed time, the novices took their places in choir, ready to commence the recitation of the rosary!

Norbert Georges O.P.

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