carrying the suffering

Such a beautiful saint that we celebrated today, St. Martin de Porres. He was born in Lima, Peru, of mixed race (Spanish father, African-Peruvian mother), which probably gave him a unique outlook on life during the colonial era. He must have been a bright young man since he studied medicine at first, but he decided to join the Dominicans instead of being a doctor. He had a great love for the Eucharist and devotion to the Passion of Christ and that resolved itself in a great love for the poor, putting his medical knowledge to use, going to, as Pope John XXIII wrote, the dregs of society.

If there is a thread that runs through the two readings we heard proclaimed today and the life of St. Martin de Porres, it’s suffering––not necessarily our own suffering, but the virtue, the ability, the spontaneous tendency the we find in spiritually enlightened and holy people to share the suffering of others.

Let’s start with Jesus and the gospel today. Both the Songs of the Servant from Deutero-Isaiah which we hear in Holy Week each year and the Letter to the Hebrews paint a picture of Jesus as the one who carries others sufferings. Isaiah 53, which we hear on Good Friday, says that he was a man of suffering and acquainted with iniquityhe has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases … he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The Letter to the Hebrews instead says that Jesus was heard because of his reverent submission … he learned obedience through what he suffered, and so is the high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. And so when he sees this man with dropsy (Lk 14:1-6), a painful disfiguring disease, his first instinct is to forget everything, even Sabbath observance, and heal him. How often do we hear of Jesus having compassion on the crowds, for example, Mt 9.36––for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And then here in the middle of our journey through the Letter to the Romans (Rom 9:1-5) we hear of Paul’s great sorrow and constant anguish (I do not think he is exaggerating) about his own Jewish brothers and sisters, almost ready to be cut off himself if only they could find Christ, like a parent offering their life so that the child could live. It reminds me of his sentiment too in the Letter to the Colossians, that mysterious line about completing in his own being what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body.

And then here are some quotes from John XXIII’s homily at Martin de Porres canonization:

He loved [people] because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more religious than he was. He did not blame others for their shortcomings. … he would overlook their worst offenses. He was tireless in his efforts to reform the criminal, and he would sit up with the sick to bring them comfort. For the poor he would provide food, clothing and medicine. He did all he could to care for poor farmhands, [and all those] who were looked down upon as slaves, the dregs of society in their time. Common people responded by calling him “Martin the charitable.”

That’s what it’s like to be like Jesus, to be Christ-like: to be compassionate, to share the sufferings of others.

It’s interesting all the different ways we respond to the gospel, to conversion. Some people convert and then spend the rest of their lives yelling at people, scolding them and telling them what to do. I suppose that’s one approach, but it was certainly not Martin’s approach. He overlooks others’ offenses and served them instead. People were drawn to him because of his humility and charity. Some people convert and then run off to the desert or a cave, in solitude! I realize that working with the poor and doing active ministry is not the hallmark of contemplative monks, and yet I cannot escape the fact that this seems to be the most distinguishing hallmark of a follower of Jesus, proof that we have understood the gospel of Jesus, this kind of compassion, to be able to look at others and see them as one’s own siblings, to look at others and care more about their good than about your own; to look at another and see their suffering, and carry their suffering, and want to relieve their suffering, be willing to suffer in their stead even, that line that Ronald Rolheiser told us was the third feature of what it meant to bless someone: “I would die so that you can live.” Let’s say a simple prayer for this grace today, that our hearts would break open, like our eucharistic bread is broken, in compassion, like the heart of Jesus.

cyprian / 3 nov 17


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