Blessed Assistance by Anthony Esolen


Blessed Assistance

Anthony Esolen on the Un-humanitarian Charity of Martin de Porres

Brother Martin," writes the biographer of St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian mulatto who lived during the seventeenth century, shortly after the conquistadores had done their ruthless and efficient work, "was no philanthropist, no humanitarian."

That sentence is, I think, a shibboleth: no one but a Christian would understand it. For the biographer, J. C. Kearns, O.P., has just spent many pages describing Martin's vigor in assisting the sick and the poor of Lima. Early in life, he had learned all he could about medicine, so that he could tend to the sick, applying balm and poultices to their sores with his own hands. He became the infirmarian at his Dominican priory. His days, says Kearns, "were literally crowded with action—even the nights were devoted to vigils by the bedsides of the sick." Martin learned to subsist on as little sleep as possible, so that he could be up and doing corporal or spiritual works of mercy, including many hours of intense prayer for the healing of souls.