Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Few Words on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres

Our parish north of Boston, St. Mary Star of the Sea in Beverly, is many times blessed. We have an Old World sanctuary built a century ago by parishioners who were mostly of Irish and Italian descent. When my sister entered our church for the first time, she said only, “Wow! . . . Beautiful!”

We have a young, vital pastor, Fr. David Barnes, who is always teaching. Our Catholic grade school has teetered on the edge of extinction, but today it is adequately enrolled. Through our pastor’s influence, the rectory beside the church, which once housed five or six priests, has become a sort of hostel for seminarians, adding zest to parish life and inspiration for other young men considering the priesthood.

In 2009, Kwang Lee began a two-year hitch with us, as endearing as he was inspiring. This May, many of us saw him ordained at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, and today Father Kwang serves a parish on the South Shore. During the current academic year, another seminarian, Tom Lyman, is staying with us, while two others, one at St. John Seminary, the other at college seminary in Rhode Island, may drop in on any given weekend or holiday. In the past two years, our parish itself has sent two young men to the seminary: Tom Gignac and Brian Cullen. Oh, and we all love it whenever Fr. Dan Hennessey, vocation director of the Archdiocese, drops in for a visit or to fill in at Mass. The Church and the priesthood are alive here in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Fr. Ixon Chateau had served two other parishes in greater Boston before coming to us as parochial vicar in May 2011. A native of Haiti who trained at St. John Seminary in Boston, Father Chateau lives in the rectory as well, of course, and this seems to have reinvigorated rectory life, if any further vigor was needed. Father Chateau has formed a fast friendship with Father Barnes’s insanely active dog, Finbar, and takes him walking at any hour of day or night. 

I entered the sacristy this morning as I do every Thursday at 6:45, to prepare the altar and then to serve with Father Chateau. The only indication I had of something different was the lectionary, which was open not to the 31st Thursday in Ordinary Time but to the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, November 3 (pictured above). Bill, the lector, placed the lectionary in the pulpit, and I began to wonder if Father Chateau would make special mention of St. Martin, a 17th-century Dominican brother serving in colonial Peru who is honored today as the patron saint of mixed-race people and all those seeking interracial harmony. St. Martin is remembered for his work with children, his austere lifestyle, and his special way with animals—all of which might be said of Father Chateau, although he does drive an awesome, all-business black Jeep.

The readings for the feast day are apt, of course: St. Paul’s injunction to the Philippians, “Your kindness should be known to all”; Psalm 131 (“My heart is not proud . . . ”); and the Gospel from St. Matthew on the two great commandments.

The homily, though, was pure Father Chateau, known for his brief, pointed remarks. 

“Today,” our priest began, “we celebrate the Feast of St. Martin de Porres.” Father Chateau did not add any qualifiers—Dominican brother, of African descent—but went straight to his conclusion:

“As Christians, the only failure is the failure to love.”

Father Chateau ended as he always does, with a quick, deferential head bob. What else needed saying?

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