Sunday, January 10, 2010

On St. Martin de Porres, Obedience, and Charity

Yesterday, I finished Giuliana Cavallini's excellent biography of St. Martin de Porres of 16th/17th century Lima, Peru. Rather than focus on many of Martin's apparent spiritual gifts, for which there exists much testimony, I want to focus in on a couple aspects of Martin's virtue and sanctity. Often when we discuss things like obedience and service today, the understanding of these things is usually distorted. Obedience, for example, is shunned in our society. On Martin's obedience, Cavallini writes:
Obedience is not a "passive virtue," as many seem to think who look at it in the grayish perspective of such expressions as "blind obedience," "obedient as a corpse" and the like. These expressions are often used and abused in contemporary spiritual literature. Obedience is certainly the renunciation of one's own will, but a renunciation effected by a free act of the will...
In other words, true obedience is a willful act, something we choose to do that still involves the active engagement of our intellect. Nevertheless, it recognizes a humility to put a desire for our best interest over our own personal satisfaction and indulgence.

Martin often described himself as a "poor mulatto". For those who don't know what "mulatto" means, I refer to wikipedia. He actively sought to serve those around him, be they poor or rich. Yet he stands in stark contrast to our present culture. Martin did not see himself as an instrument of shame for the rich or special empowerment of the poor. His aim was not social warfare but spiritual awakening. Cavallini notes:
Martin's whole apostolate of charity had only one purpose: to awaken the love of God in souls; in all souls, without exception, in the souls of the rich as well as those of the poor. Some people do not know how to love the poor without hating the rich. They really love only themselves, and are the hypocrites who sound the trumpets when they give alms so that they may be honored by men... In Martin's eyes, the rich and the poor were not two irreconcilable opposites, two extremes of opposition. They were simply two different ways of life in the infinite variety of the universe, two states willed by uncreated Goodness so that men might exercise the divine work of charity among themselves.
And it so was the case that Martin inspired many of the rich to freely give of themselves to the causes of the poor and sick without desiring to call attention to themselves. Yes, the rich can succumb to greed, but in the cultivation of good virtue, they may also become wise stewards of their wealth, seeing it as something to be shared rather than to be hoarded.

1 comment:

Fr. Dismas said...

Thank you so much for this great post! The problem I see many times when we incorporate saints into our modern life is that we lose their identity and give them ours. We can only learn from them if we know who they really were. And then we can apply it. Not the other way around.


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