Wednesday, November 3, 2010

St. Martin de Porres - Pope's Monthly Intentions: The Addicted & The Church in Latin America - The Story of Blessed Rupert Mayer

Today, the church permits the Optional Memorial of St. Martin de Porres.

“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.” -- Martin de Porres

As a mixed race man born in Peru, Saint Martin de Porres is a representative of three continents; his mother was of African descent, his father was from Spain and he himself was born in the New World. A highly esteemed healer and friend to all living creatures, Martin is one of the most popular saints in Latin America.

Born in Lima, Peru, Martin was the illegitimate child of a Spanish knight and a freed black woman from Panama, whose family had been African slaves. Dark complexioned like his mother, he was not legally recognized by his father until he was older. He and his sister shared a poor and neglectful childhood and at the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a barber so that he might have a trade. In those days, in addition to cutting hair, barbers performed surgery, mixed medicines and were much sought out for cures of every ailment.

Deeply religious, it was Martin’s habit to pray as he mixed his herbal healing potions and it was said that he healed as many with his prayers as with his herbs. He met with great success in his new profession but in his desire to serve God with childlike humility, he routinely gave all his money to the poor. By the age of 15 he wanted to become a foreign missionary and decided to enter the Dominican Rosary Convent as a Third Order Tertiary or Lay Brother. He chose to perform the lowliest house chores, all the while meditating on the Passion of Christ, a subject of much fascination for him. As a farm laborer and gardener, Martin developed a deep attunement to nature. Animals flocked to him and he in turn, showed them a respect and kindness which bewildered his European brothers.

Since the majority of the Dominican priests were from Spain, they had little experience with people from other cultures. Believing in the superiority of their own civilization, they were basically in the New World to administer to the newly arrived soldiers and merchants from their own country. During a plague Martin quietly taught them the true meaning of Christian charity when he volunteered to help out in the infirmary. He ceaselessly nursed African slaves, the native population and Spanish nobility with the same grace and ardor. Because of the spectacular success of his treatments, he was installed as head of the infirmary, a job he claimed to be unworthy of.

When the infirmary was overcrowded with the sick, Martin was told not to admit anyone else. He found an Indian bleeding to death from a knife wound, immediately took him in and treated him. Martin’s Superior chastised him for this open disobedience of his order and Martin replied, “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” Martin was then given the liberty to follow his own decisions on treating patients. Martin proved to add such a valuable contribution to his religious community that at the insistence of his prior, racial stipulations were abolished so that he could be made a fully professed brother in the Dominican Order.

Martin put his missionary instincts to work, traveling through the city to tend the sick of Lima. He was particularly devoted to improving the lot of the poor and the racially oppressed. Having great practical instincts, he opened hospitals and orphanages, raising money from the newly wealthy Spanish elite. Because of his ability to budget and allocate the charitable donations he was given, Martin was promoted to almoner of the monastery at a time when it was floundering for financial support. He amassed steady donations totaling $2000 per week, an astounding sum at that time, to cover its operating expenses as well as the daily tradition of feeding the hungry that Martin began. Every afternoon at 12 he had the gates of the monastery opened so that he could distribute food to anyone who needed it. Regardless of the number of people waiting, no one was ever turned away.

His charity extended to the animal kingdom and he inaugurated the first shelter for stray cats and dogs. It was his sincere belief that all creatures were equally loved by God so all were deserving of his compassion and servitude. When his prior ordered poison to be set out to end the innundation of rats and mice the monastery was suffering from, Martin went out to the garden and softly called the rodents out of their hiding places. He reprimanded them for invading the monastery and promised to feed them every day out in the garden if they would stay away from the building. Thus both sides kept to this agreement and Saint Martin is still invoked to prevent infestations of these pests.

If Martin’s great love for animals seemed inexplicable to his Spanish brethren, they grew to accept it as just another proof of his sanctity. He ceaselessly prayed and enjoyed menial tasks because they enabled him to keep his silent union with God. Martin’s wisdom which seemed to come from a source deep within him, was much sought after. Archbishops and students of religion came to him for spiritual guidance and direction. This was no doubt a difficult role for him, since he preferred a life of humility and anonymity. In the chapel, he would go so deeply into meditation that he would levitate off the ground. His intuitive abilities enabled him to read minds and slip through locked doors.

Like other mystical saints, he was gifted with bi-location, the ability to be in two places at once, transcending all laws of time and space. Spanish traders who knew him from Lima reported meeting him in the Philippines and Japan. An African slave who Martin treated in Peru, told Martin that he was extremely happy to see him again and asked how his voyage was. When he was told by another brother that Martin never left Lima in his life, the slave vehemently disagreed. He insisted that Martin had come to the slaves in the hull of the boats as they were transported in irons, offering consolation and comfort.

By the time of his death of a high fever, Martin de Porres was a great celebrity in Lima. The poor considered him a folk hero and called him “The Father of Charity” and he was honored by the upper classes for his good works and ability as a healer. His funeral was open to the entire city and was attended by the noblemen, ex-slaves and religious authorities who he had served and advised with equal respect in life. After his death, Martin maintained the love of the Peruvian people and his cult is particularly strong in South America.

In art, Saint Martin de Porres is depicted in a Dominican habit with a broom, little animals at his feet as a reminder of the life of humility he led, doing menial work and his love for all of God’s creatures. The dove of the Holy Spirit is also present stressing the divine wisdom Martin had. He carries a cross because of his devotion to Christ’s Passion. Since Martin was of mixed race, he is the patron of racial harmony. Because he began his life as a barber, barbers and hairdressers claim him. He is the patron of jurists because so many important people came to him (

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O God, who led Saint Martin de Porres by the path of humility to heavenly glory, grant that we may so follow his radiant example in this life as to merit to be exalted with him in heaven. Through our Lord.

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The Pope's Prayer Intentions for November

General Intention: Victims of Addiction. That through the support of the Christian community, all victims of addiction may find in the power of our saving God strength for a radical life change.

We all know people who are suffering from addiction. Addictions can be more or less severe, but they all do damage both to those who are addicted and to their families, friends, and our whole community. Sometimes this damage is very great, including accidents, abuse, sickness, financial hardship, and even death.

An addiction is doing something you can't quit. We think first of alcohol and other drugs, but people are also addicted to things such as gambling, video games, pornography, smoking, eating, shopping, and even working. These activities can be more persistent than bad habits because they release powerful chemicals in the brain. Our bodies begin to crave those chemicals as much as the body of a heroin or nicotine addict craves those drugs. An addiction robs you of your freedom.

To overcome addiction, people must learn positive ways to cope with stress and pain. We need to substitute healthy behaviors for addictive behaviors. This takes planning, self-control, and support from others. Sometimes it takes medical treatment or counseling.

What can we do when all else fails? We can do what we should have done in the first place: turn to God in prayer.

Many people successfully overcome their addictions by turning to God. God gives power to the powerless. With Advent approaching, let this be a season of prayer and spiritual enrichment. Drawing close to God is the best way to overcome and prevent addictions. Closeness to God gives us strength and joy, love and peace. When God is with us, we have greater riches within than this world could ever give us. God gives us the freedom to say no and stick to it.

Pope Benedict asks us as a community to support victims of addiction. We begin by praying, but we must also find practical ways to help, not those who are addicted, but also the many among us who suffer because of others' addictions.

Mission Intention: Mission in Latin America. That the Latin American Churches may move forward with the continent-wide mission proposed by their bishops, assuming their share of the universal missionary task of God's people.

The mission intention this month is a follow-up to a meeting the Pope attended in Brazil in 2007, the Fifth General Conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Pope was there to affirm the plan of the Latin American Bishops to re-evangelize their peoples. Our prayer of the month was adapted from the Pope's long and moving prayer at the end of his message.

In his message Pope Benedict celebrated the rich spirituality of Latin Americans. He commends their "love for the suffering Christ, love for the Eucharist, love for the God who is close to the poor, and love for the holy Virgin of Guadalupe."

Speaking at length about the Eucharist, the Pope said this: "The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist calls forth a commitment to evangelization and an impulse toward solidarity; it awakens in the Christian a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear witness to it in the world so as to build a more just and humane society. Only from the Eucharist will the civilization of love spring forth which will transform Latin America."

The Holy Father and the bishops recognize that many Latin countries need the wisdom and compassion of authentic Christian conversion as they strive against terrible social problems, including injustice, poverty, violence, and drugs.

The Latin American mission affects all of us because the grave problems in those countries often lead to illegal immigration to the U.S. Most Latino immigrants came to the U.S. as a desperate effort to survive.

As the Church in the U.S. becomes increasingly Latino, we recognize the many gifts that Latinos bring to our community, including their love of family and their great devotion to God.

Although the diversity of cultures and languages within the Church and society is not without tension, we Catholics remember that each person is loved by God and deserving of our welcome.

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Optional Memorial of Blessed Rupert Mayer

In Germany and in Jesuit communities, another possible optional memorial permitted is that of Blessed Rupert Mayer.

During my first visit to Europe for German-language study in Munich in 1973, I came to know the story of Father Rupert Mayer, a heroic priest almost all of whose ministry was in the Bavarian Capital. Since then, a friend gave me an icon of Mayer after Pope John Paul II beatified him in Munich in 1987 (on the same trip during which he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne).

Having been a member of the Marian Sodality (now known under the title of Christian Life Community) during high school, I was struck by the use he made of the Business Men's Society to communicate his convictions about the implications of our faith for public life: hence the reason for the Nazi concerns about his influence, for helping Catholic Christians to live their faith has powerful consequences:

 Rupert Mayer (1876-1945) was a man who held firmly to his convictions. After the Stuttgart, Germany, native finished secondary school, he told his father that he wanted to be a Jesuit. His father asked him to be ordained first, so Mayer studied philosophy and theology, was ordained and then served for a year as an assistant pastor before finally entering the Jesuit novitiate at Feldkirch, Austria, on Oct. 1, 1900. Later he would show the same resolve in opposing Adolph Hitler's National Socialist movement.

Mayer settled in Munich in 1912 and devoted the rest of his life to its citizens. He responded to the needs of people moving into the city looking for employment. He began collecting food and clothing and searching out jobs and housing. His arena of action changed as Germany entered World War I.

Mayer volunteered as an army chaplain, serving first in a camp hospital and later accompanying soldiers in France, Poland and Romania. He was legendary for his courage in staying with the soldiers in the front line of battle and was awarded the Iron Cross in December 1915 for his bravery. His army career ended suddenly when his left leg was shattered on Dec. 30, 1916 and had to be amputated.

He returned to Munich where people still suffered the war's aftermath. Once again the indefatigable Jesuit moved among people aiding them in any way he could. His leadership of the men's sodality led to increased membership and required Mayer to travel all over the city, giving as many as 70 talks a month. He introduced Sunday Masses at the main railroad terminal for the convenience of travelers. If Munich were a single parish, then he would have been its pastor.

As the communist and socialist movements grew strong, Mayer attended meetings and even shared the platform with their speakers so that he could engage the speakers by raising Catholic principles that contradicted what he saw as the evils to which these movements were leading people.

Unlike many who witnessed Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Mayer saw the falsehoods that he was propagating. Since the Jesuit thought a Catholic could not be a National Socialist, conflict inevitably arose between him and the Nazis. More than a political stance, his opposition was a religious response to evil.

After Hitler became chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933, he made a move to close church-related schools and started a campaign to defame religious orders in Germany. Mayer used the pulpit of St. Michael's church in downtown Munich to speak out against this persecution.

On May 16, 1937 the Gestapo ordered him to stop speaking in public because they could not tolerate his powerful influence in the city. He obeyed the order, except for inside the church where he continued to preach. He was arrested on June 5 and was imprisoned for the first of three times. He remained in Stadelheim Prison until his trial six weeks later when he was given a suspended sentence.

His Jesuit superiors initially asked him to remain silent, but then allowed him to return to the pulpit to defend himself against defamatory attacks that the Nazis made during his silence. He was re-arrested and served his sentence for five months until a general amnesty freed him to return to Munich and work in small discussion groups.

The Nazis arrested him again on Nov. 3, 1939 although Mayer was already then 63 years-old; they sent him to the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. After seven months there his health deteriorated so badly that camp officials feared he would die.

They did not want to turn the popular priest into a martyr so they placed him in solitary confinement in the Benedictine abbey at Ettal, in the Bavarian Alps, where he remained until American soldiers freed him in May 1945.

Mayer returned to Munich and immediately resumed his apostolic work in St. Michael's church. The years in prison had weakened him greatly. On November 1, 1945, the feast of All Saints, Mayer suffered a heart attack while celebrating Mass in St. Michael's; he collapsed and died shortly afterwards.

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O God, You made your Priest Blessed Rupert a steadfast confessor of the faith and a servant of the poor. Through his intercession, raise up in your Church fearless heralds of the Gospel and give us all a heart open to the needs of others. Through our Lord.

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