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To Love and to Serve; Saint Lawrence and the Treasure of the Church


"From the rising of the sun unto its setting, whenever the glory of Levites beams forth in splendor, Rome is deemed no less illustrious because of Lawrence than Jerusalem because of Stephen." ~ Saint Leo the Great

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, there is on display a small glass medallion dating from the 4th century depicting the life of Saint Lawrence. The medallion bears a very simple inscription:

“Live with Christ and Lawrence.”

We are in fact all called to live with Christ, for to live with Christ is to live with the Society of the Saints. The faithful seek the constant intercession of the Saints, relying heavily upon them at every turn. We make our pilgrimage through this life enjoying the privilege of their company, having over our head, as Saint Paul eloquently put it, “So great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1).

Today we commemorate the Patron Saint of Deacons, for he was a Deacon himself, a man immortalized in Eucharistic Prayer #1 who was ultimately roasted alive in defense of Christianity.

A passage from Sunday's 2nd Reading from Hebrews (12:2) captures the essence of Saint Lawrence perfectly: “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross,” Lawrence’s cross taking the form of a fiery gridiron, a fate that was dealt to him after he was told to collect the entire treasure of the Church and hand it over to the government. He collected the treasure all right, but instead gave it away to the poor of the community, declaring in the process that these impoverished and downtrodden souls were in fact the true treasure of the Church.

Saint Lawrence (225-258) was among the seven deacons who assisted Pope Sixtus II in his administration of the Roman Church in the third century. Both Saint Lawrence and Pope Sixtus II were victims of the persecution of Valerian in the year 258. In fact we celebrated Saint Pope Sixtus II just four days ago , for he was martyred four days prior to Deacon Lawrence.

Abundantly generous to the poor and a lover of children, Saint Lawrence is the epitome of the cheerful giver that Saint Paul urges all of us to be in today’s 1st Reading (2 Corinthians 9:6-10). Our Psalmist today too pays homage to Saint Lawrence when he proclaims “Lavishly he gives to the poor, his generosity shall endure forever; his horn shall be exalted in glory.” (Psalm 112:9). Saint Augustine, who delivered several homilies on Saint Lawrence over the course of his storied life, once said “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. Lawrence understood this and, understanding, he acted on it. In his life he loved Christ; in his death he followed in his footsteps.”

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Saint Lawrence teaches us that we should not fear religious oppression. With great confidence and fortitude, we can overcome the challenges that stand before us. In many artists’ renditions, Saint Lawrence is clad in a rose colored dalmatic. Either he’s perpetually celebrating Gaudete Sunday or the artist is depicting the joy with which he went through life, truly amazing in light of the hatred, oppression and violence he and his contemporaries faced. Even in the midst of persecution, we too can maintain joy in Christ.

In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 12:49-53), Jesus tells his disciples “ I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!“ Saint Lawrence took those words to heart in such a profound way that fire would indeed be his fate, in a literal way, his flesh set ablaze for love of Jesus. He countered the fire of God’s love with the fire of martyrdom, doing so with undying confidence and even a dash of humor

So many of us relent and capitulate on matters pertaining to Christianity merely because we fear being unliked. Saint Lawrence and so many others were executed in defense of Christianity. “We are standing firm in faith. We are ready to endure suffering in the expectation of winning the crown of eternal life, with the help and mercy of the Lord.” These were Saint Lawrence’s words as taken from a letter that remains from the latter stages of his life. He concludes this letter with these words: “Let all the people fix their minds not on death but on immortality. Let them commit themselves to the Lord in complete faith and unflinching encourage and make their confession with joy ~ not fear ~ knowing that in this contest, the soldiers of Christ are not being slain, but rather winning their crowns.”

Jesus has taught us what it means to surrender. He descended from eternity to become a child. The life of this child who became a man would be a continual offering. Throughout his life and in his death, Jesus was a continual offering to God his Father. Saint Lawrence lived his life in imitation of Jesus’ life. He too was a pure sacrifice that was pleasing to God. As the Entrance Antiphon at Mass proclaimed this morning, “This is the Blessed Lawrence, who gave himself up for the treasure of the church: for this he earned the suffering of martyrdom to ascend with joy to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Men like Saint Paul, Saint Lawrence and of course Edith Stein, who we celebrated yesterday had legitimate reasons to be afraid, yet they were bold. It really kinda makes you wonder….What are we afraid of?

Live with Christ and Saint Lawrence.

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