Feast of St Lawrence – John 12:24-26
St. Lawrence was born in 225 AD and lived during the early years of the Church and experienced the harsh persecution of Christians under Roman Emperor Valerian. To this day, little is known about the details of St. Lawrence’s life. However, we do know the Church holds him in high esteem and that his holy example was formative in the early years of the Church. Stories of St. Lawrence include his direct opposition to Emperor Valerian and his love for the true treasures of Christ’s Church and His people; the poor.
Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word, “diakonos,” which means “servant” or “helper.” Sacred Scripture recounts how deacons served the needs of widows in the early Church (see Acts 6:1-6). Thus, as a deacon, St. Lawrence’s life was dedicated to serving the poor and needy.
When a persecution broke out, Pope St. Sixtus was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?” he said. “I am not leaving you, my son,” answered the Pope. “in three days you will follow me.”
Lawrence was the custodian of the material goods of the Church, and was responsible for the distribution of alms to the poor. Lawrence knew he would be arrested just like the Pope and knowing the hatred of the Emperor was extending to all Christians who owned property, began to give it all away. He gathered the poor, the widows and the orphans and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels of the altar believing the clear admonition of the Saviour that they were blessed and especially loved by Him.
Emperor Valerian heard the news. He imagined that the Christians must be having a considerable treasure. Valerian wanted the treasure to satisfy his unbridled lust for worldly power. He offered Lawrence a way out of sure death. If he would show him where the Church’s great gold and silver were located, he would issue an order of clemency, sparing his life so that he could continue his work.
Lawrence asked for three days to collect the ‘wealth’ of the Church. Valerian thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church’s treasure to him. For three days, Lawrence went throughout the city and invited all the beloved poor, handicapped, and misfortunate to come together.
When Valerian arrived, Lawrence presented him with the true gold and silver of the Church, the poor! The emperor was filled with rage! Beheading was not enough for this Christian Deacon. He condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. He ordered that Lawrence to be burned alive, in public, on a griddle. Witnesses recorded the public martyrdom.
The Saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. “Turn me over,” he said “I’m done on this side!” And just before he died, he said, “It’s cooked enough now.” Even at the brink of death, his peaceful joy shone through. In Scripture, “joy” is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23), and St. Lawrence certainly possessed this joy! The comedians of today can take a page out of the creator of the ‘roast’. Before his death he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr’s reward.
Lawrence died on August 10, 258. His feast spread throughout Italy and northern Africa. Emperor Constantine built a beautiful basilica in Lawrence’s honour. St. Lawrence is among the saints mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. He is the patron saint of school children, poor people, cooks and comedians to name but a few.
Prayer to St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
O Generous patron of the Church’s poor, St. Lawrence, pray to the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit that all the poor of the Church in need in every corner of the world may feel the effect of the love of their brothers and sisters who seek to help them.
Deliver the Church from the greed and envy of the powerful and protect her rights and property so that she may serve the needy in freedom, giving them good things for soul and body.
May we come some day with all those whom we helped on earth to the bright mansions of heaven where we will enjoy the riches of God’s house and the company of the Saviour who lives and reigns forever and ever.