St. Martin’s Miraculous Lemon Trees
It was also at this time that the beginning of his special gifts became apparent. One of the first and most lasting was a fruit tree, a lemon tree which Martin planted in the courtyard of his house. No sooner was it planted than it bloomed immediately, and its blossoms gave forth fruit abundantly. The tree continued to yield fruit so bountifully, the branches, weighed down by its yield, often appeared as if they would break. This tree would provide lush lemons until well after Martin had died. It came to be called Martin’s Miraculous Lemon Tree.
Martin loved Jesus so much, he could not spend enough time with his Lord. He went to the church as often as he could. He would just stay by Our Lord Jesus, adoring Him in the Tabernacle. He spent all his evenings alone in his room, arms outstretched in the form of a cross “en croce”3 praying, concentrating, in ecstasy. He focused his attention on the Crucifix in front of him. He blocked out every other image in the world but Our Lord Jesus on the Cross. There was a fervent expression of love on his face. This was witnessed by a close associate of his, who peeked in on him through the keyhole of his room as he prayed there on many occasions. Martin and Jesus were becoming so close that anyone or anything else was a distraction. The few hours, he was able to spend before the Blessed Sacrament, were not enough. Martin wanted to spend all his time with Jesus, adoring Him as he did in his cherished hours away from the barber shop.
During the four-year period of his apprenticeship as a barber/surgeon, he became so proficient in his healing profession, his name became very famous; most especially among the Indians and blacks in the town, both slave and free. He was their symbol of respectability. He gave them self-worth! In an era when the question, often asked among Catholics, was whether blacks had souls and could warrant being baptized, this beautiful young black child of Jesus was proof positive that Jesus was the God of all creatures, large and small, and the blacks in Lima were no exception. This is one of the reasons that his decision to leave his profession and turn his entire life over to God as a Dominican brother threw them into a panic. His people needed him to be highly visible. They needed him as a representative of the poor and often unwanted people in the city. They needed him to remain an important figure in the town.
Martin had his own needs, however, and he believed his greatest need was for total consecration to the Lord. He had always felt that he served the Lord best through his work with the poor of Lima. He found himself being pulled apart. [We’re reminded of one of his role models, St. Catherine of Siena. She wanted more than anything to lock herself up in her small cell, and spend the rest of eternity with Jesus. But she also knew, He wanted her to be for the people. If she would have become a nun,4 she would have disappeared behind the cloister, and never would have been able to touch the people in the way that she did.] St. Martin de Porres had the same dilemma. We believe the reason, he chose to be the lowest of the low in the Dominican order, a donado,5 was so that he could have the best of both worlds. He could serve his Lord, concentrate His life on Jesus, and still serve the poor, the brothers and sisters who looked to him to give them respect in the Community. He was sixteen when he joined the Dominican order as a donado.
Most likely Martin had made his decision without asking the advice of his father, and definitely not his consent. Although John de Porres had never been a real part of his son’s life, he felt that Martin was his son, a possession, and was dragging the good name of the family down. He had no problem with Martin entering the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. His problem was where Martin was entering the order. John felt he should at least be a lay brother of the First Order (the priests), but definitely not a lay brother of the Third Order. This was the lowest of the low. He appealed to the Father Provincial, Fr. Lorenzana, who was more than willing to allow Martin to enter on the higher level. But Martin refused. He insisted on being the lowest of the low. Perhaps Martin wanted the world to know that he was nothing; Jesus was everything. To quote St. Paul,
“Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”
We know that John de Porres was not very happy with the type of work for which his son had volunteered. But Martin dove into his new career of sweeping the cloisters, scrubbing the corridors, and cleaning the toilets, with the same enthusiasm and dedication he had shown for barbering and tending the sick. He never stopped doing these loving tasks. No matter how important he became in the eyes of the world, and a time was to come when he would be sought out by the most important people in the known world, he never forgot who he was, and Who It was Who was working through him. And lest he ever get a swelled head, the filth of the mud and dust being trampled in from the outside, the foul stench of the toilets would bring him out of his reverie very quickly.