The witness of the Martins

Before becoming pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2002 gave a speech to the bishops of the southern Italian region of Campania (from which the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Lombardy are trying to escape from helping, as witnessed by their referenda last month trying to get more autonomy from Italy, in this year’s race away from the poor), in which he linked devotion to the Eucharist to devotion to the poor. He gave two examples, whom he said were “chosen entirely at random,” St. Martin de Porres (whose feast we celebrate today) and St. Teresa of Calcutta (she wasn’t canonized when he gave the talk).

“The great social saints were in reality always the great Eucharistic saints,” said the future pope. Regarding the Peruvian saint, he said, “Martin lived from the adoration of the Lord present in the Eucharist, passing entire nights in prayer before the crucified Lord in the Tabernacle, while during the day he tirelessly cared for the sick and assisted the socially outcast and despised. The encounter with the Lord, Who gives Himself to us from the cross, makes all of us members of the One Body by means of the One Bread, which when responded to fully moves us to serve the suffering, to care for the weak and the forgotten.”

The readings at last Sunday’s Mass reminded us that Jesus linked the love of God to the love of our neighbor. These are the two greatest Commandments.

Cardinal Ratzinger then recalled Teresa of Calcutta. “Wherever she opened the houses of her Sisters to the service of the dying and outcast, the first thing she asked for was a place for the Tabernacle, because she knew that only beginning from there, would come the strength for such service. Whoever recognizes the Lord in the Tabernacle, recognizes Him in the suffering and the needy; they are among those to whom the world’s Judge will say: ‘I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me’” (Mt 25:35).

Later this month, on November 11 (Veterans’ Day), we remember the other great Catholic Martin, St. Martin of Tours. Writing about him on his encyclical on love (Deus Caritas Est), Pope Benedict said, “Let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus Himself, that night, appeared to Him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: ‘I was naked and you clothed Me — as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ (Mt 25:36, 40).” Obviously, this Gospel parable is one which we need to put into practice before we die and Jesus asks us how we responded to Him in the various people we met in this life.

Pope Francis discussed this saint in a general audience in 2014: “I turn in thought to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the memory of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. May his great love be an example to you, dear young people, to live life as a donation; may his abandonment to Christ our Savior sustain you, dear sick people, in those dark moments of suffering; and may his Spiritual vigor remind you, dear newlyweds, of the centrality of the faith in married life.”

In the news over the last month we have heard a lot about famous people using their authority or power over others to touch them not in the kind and loving way of the two Martins, but in ways which left their victims feeling violated. 

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” at No. 1004, enunciates the respect that we should have for our own bodies and the bodies of other people. “In expectation of that day [of the resurrection of the dead on the last day], the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person.”

The Catholic Church is penitent over the abuse which happened at the hands of its own members, in which clergy violated the trust which the laity should be able to have in those ordained to be their shepherds. This was an extremely evil situation, one for which we continue to strengthen safeguards so that it will not happen again.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has on its website a page entitled, “Sexual Harassment or Abuse is a Sin Against the Dignity of the Human Person.” It begins at the very beginning: “One of the consequences of original sin is a breakdown in the relationship between man and woman. Man and woman are equal in dignity and called to communion. Each person is willed for his or her own sake and is to be loved, not used. But sin has brought in a tendency toward domination.”

The bishops then quote the “Catechism” regarding appropriate behavior. “‘Respect for the human person considers the other “another self.” It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person’ (CCC, No. 1964). A just society is one in which every human person is respected and not subject to harassment or unjust discrimination.”

They then quote Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (No. 54) regarding some “Unacceptable customs [that] still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice.”

In a later paragraph (No. 153) the Holy Father has words which speak to the crisis at hand. “The body of the other is often viewed as an object to be used as long as it offers satisfaction, and rejected once it is no longer appealing. Can we really ignore or overlook the continuing forms of domination, arrogance, abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are the product of a warped understanding of sexuality?”

Saints Martin de Porres and of Tours were true men, who saw Christ in the people with whom they interacted, not someone to be used and then discarded. They could do this due to the love which they accepted from Christ in their prayer. May our prayer help us to treat people as Christ would, too. 

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