Today, August 10, is the Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon of the Church in Rome.
Lawrence was born on December 31, 225, most likely in Valencia, Spain. He was one of the seven deacons of the Church in Rome ordained in 257 by Pope Sixtus II, and he was placed in charge of the deacons who served the cathedral church. As “archdeacon,” Lawrence was given care of the treasury of the Church and responsible for distributing alms to the needy.
In 258, the Roman Emperor Valerian initiated a persecution of the Church, decreeing that all bishops, priests, and deacons must be executed and their property confiscated by the empire. On August 6, Pope Sixtus II was arrested while celebrating Mass and executed. After the martyrdom of the pope, the prefect of the empire demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Lawrence brought in the poor, the blind, the crippled, and the widows and presented these as the riches of the Church. This act of defiance led to his own execution on August 10, 258. By tradition, Lawrence was martyred by being burned on a gridiron over charcoal flames. He is reported to have said to his executioners after suffering long, “I am well done on this side. Turn me over!” Naturally, St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians.
Nothing I could write could do better justice to the memory of this great and holy deacon than what St. Augustine of Hippo preached about him centuries ago:
The Roman Church commends to us today the anniversary of the triumph of Saint Lawrence. For on this day he trod the furious pagan world underfoot and flung aside its allurements, and so gained victory over Satan’s attack on his faith.
As you have often heard, Lawrence was a deacon of the Church at Rome. There he ministered the sacred blood of Christ; there for the sake of Christ’s name he poured out his own blood. Saint John the apostle was evidently teaching us about the mystery of the Lord’s supper when he wrote: Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. My brethren, Lawrence understood this and, understanding, he acted on it. Just as he had partaken of a gift of self at the table of the Lord, so he prepared to offer such a gift. In his life he loved Christ; in his death he followed in his footsteps.
Brethren, we too must imitate Christ if we truly love him. We shall not be able to render better return on that love than by modeling our lives on his. Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps. In saying this, the apostle Peter seems to have understood that Christ suffered only for those who follow in his steps, in the sense that Christ’s passion is of no avail to those who do not. The holy martyrs followed Christ even to shedding their life’s blood, even to reproducing the very likeness of his passion. They followed him, but not they alone. It is not true that the bridge was broken after the martyrs crossed; nor is it true that after they had drunk from it, the fountain of eternal life dried up.
I tell you again and again, my brethren, that in the Lord’s garden are to be found not only the roses of his martyrs. In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them. Christ suffered for all. What the Scriptures say of him is true: He desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
Let us understand, then, how a Christian must follow Christ even though he does not shed his blood for him, and his faith is not called upon to undergo the great test of the martyr’s sufferings. The apostle Paul says of Christ our Lord: Though he was in the form of God he did not consider equality with God a prize to be clung to. How unrivaled his majesty! But he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, made in the likeness of men, and presenting himself in human form. How deep his humility!
Christ humbled himself. Christian, that is what you must make your own. Christ became obedient. How is it that you are proud? When this humbling experience was completed and death itself lay conquered, Christ ascended into heaven. Let us follow him there, for we hear Paul saying: If you have been raised with Christ, you must lift your thoughts on high, where Christ now sits at the right hand of God.
The martyrdom of St. Lawrence brings to mind the sufferings of so many of our brothers and sisters in the faith who face persecution in countries like China, Cuba and Vietnam, and who face death in other countries, especially those areas of the Middle East and Africa dominated by radical Islam. The word martyr is from the Greek, meaning “witness.” Today, martyrs continue to witness with their lives to the good news of salvation won by our Lord Jesus Christ. Today is a good day to remember them in prayer, and to ask our good and gracious Lord for the fortitude to persevere in the faith when we are confronted by those who demand that we compromise our faith to a political, social or cultural agenda that demands nothing less than unqualified assent.
St. Lawrence, pray for us.
The Liturgy of the Hours, Feast of Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.