Feast of St Lawrence – John 12:24-26

Not all grains that fall into the earth die. Most will remain that single grain that collectively will be consumed by someone as food and some might argue that they still ‘serve’ a cause by doing that. So to understand this text we need to place it in its context.

Chapter 12 of the Gospel of John sees Jesus enter triumphantly into Jerusalem. Jesus was no idealist, he knew that the “Hosannas” would in just a few days turn to “crucify him.” By this point in time, the Pharisees have had enough of Jesus. In frustration, they exclaim, “You see you can do nothing. Look the world has gone after him.” (12:19)

The scripture verse in 12:24, taken from our Gospel text, has been quoted rather glibly with little personal application. This verse, was said by Christ, in response to Andrew and Philip who appraoched Jesus on behalf of a group of Greeks who had come to worship at the festival (12:20). They wished to ‘see Jesus.’

This is where we need to pause and reflect. Has Christ become for us merely a ‘person of interest?’ Someone whose attention we vie for in moments of need or someone who we would like to ‘see’ from time to time. Jesus’ response to the Greeks who wished to see him gives us an inkling into the relationship that Jesus desires from us. Our desire for Christ must take us to a relationship of total commitment. Imagine a couple at the altar who says “I will love you in good times but will consider how committed I should be in bad times?”

Jesus wants all of us when he says, ‘unless (you), the grain of wheat, fall into the ground AND die.” It would be great to be a grain of wheat on a stalk, swaying in the breeze, grabbing the attention of all and sundry. But that may qualify you for public office; not the cross. The Christian MUST fall and MUST die to bear fruit.

The life of St Lawrence reflected this call of Jesus. A call to give all of onself. St. Lawrence was born in 225 AD and lived during the early years of the Church. He 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 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 towards the Christians especially to thoswe who owned property, he began to give it all away. He gathered the poor, the widows and the orphans and gave them all the money he had, selling even the sacred vessels of the altar believing the clear admonition of the Saviour that the poor 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 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. 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 schoolchildren, the poor, cooks and comedians to name but a few.

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