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Thursday, November 3, 2011

St. Martin de Porres

"Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep." Lk 15:6

St. Martin de Porres never forgot who he was. The illegitimate child of a Spanish father and a black/native American slave, Martin's entire life was given to the care of the poor and slaves who he treated with great tenderness. Martin knew he was like one of the "lost sheep" in today's gospel and he was always yearning to care for the forgotten and to be found by the Lord.

Sheep are interesting animals. Naturally communal, if the lead sheep does not eat from feed put out for the flock, none of the sheep will eat it. More, if one wanders off too from the flock, after a while it will lie down and stop eating and drinking, waiting to be found. No wonder sheep are such a powerful image for Jesus in the gospel. While at first it might seem strange that a shepherd would leave the ninety nine in search of the one sheep that was lost, it makes perfect sense when one realizes that without a worried shepherd searching for the lost sheep, the sheep is likely to die.

Shepherds themselves, moreover, to whom the Christ is first announced in Luke's gospel, were the underclass of the society. Illiterate and often dismissed as mere functionaries in the society of their time, they had one task: to watch and protect the sheep. At night, they would often lie down in front of the opening of the sheep pen to ward off animals that might harm the sheep.

I have little doubt that Martin de Porres realized all of this. He wanted to lay his life down for the lost slaves like Christ, and he thought he was unworthy even of entering the Dominicans so at first he asked only to be lay helper in the priory. However, after many years, the other friars, recognizing Martin's dedication and care for the friars and the poor, invited him to make religious profession. Nevertheless, although a professed member of the Dominicans, Martin never forgot who he was. Once, when the priory was struggling financially, Martin begged the friars to sell him, a slave, a poor, lost sheep, so that the others might live.

Today, remember who you are: a child and disciple of the Lord. No one can strip your baptismal dignity from you.

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