Wednesday, August 10, 2011

St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

St. Lawrence, deacon of Rome and martyr, distributing alms to the poor

In this age of short attention spans and even shorter memory, it is difficult for us to communally maintain the remembrance of someone over a long period of time. This is just where the Church comes to our aid. Over the course of each liturgical year we remember holy women and men from all the ages of the Church. Some saints were venerated very early on, their cult (not used in the contemporary sociological sense, but in the sense of those who venerated saints, fervently seeking their heavenly intercession) being very large. The cult of a given saint was typically most deeply rooted in the local community to which s/he belonged. So, it is in Rome to this day with the holy deacon, St. Lawrence of Rome.

Today we remember St. Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, who was a martyr. Deacon Lawrence lived in the third century, his life spanning the years roughly from 225-258. In those early centuries, during which the Church was persecuted, Rome had only seven deacons who served the Roman Church and who worked side-by-side with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. After Pope Sixtus himself was made a martyr for the faith, the prefect of Rome arrested Lawrence, who, along with the other deacons administered the temporal affairs of the Church. The prefect demanded that Lawrence hand over to him the Church's wealth. St Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, is the earliest source we have about these events and tells us that Lawrence was given three days by the civil authorities to round up the Church's wealth so that he could turn it over.

Over the course of the three days, Lawrence worked feverishly to give all that belonged to the the Church to the poor so that there would be nothing left to hand over to the Roman prefect. On the third and final day, Lawrence, heading up a small Christian delegation, went before the prefect and when told one final to time to hand the Church's treasures over, Lawrence did so by presenting the prefect with the Church's poor, crippled, blind, and suffering, saying that these were the Church's true treasures. He is reported to have said, "The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor."

For this act of defiance he was martyred by being grilled on a gridiron.

St. Lawrence truly demonstrated diakonia, which is nothing other than self-sacrificing service for others, self-emptying service, in imitation of the Deacon par excellence, our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Lawrence, holy martyr, you set an example for deacons throughout the ages, pray for us. As a deacon, I feel quite comfortable asking on my own behalf and that of my brother deacons for your prayers this day, that we, too, might render faithful service to and for God's People, like St. Lawrence.

I also draw your attention, dear reader, to Dr. Ditewig's post this morning in which he helps us to grasp the contemporary significance of what we learn from the story of the martyrdom of the holy deacon Lawrence: Happy Feast Day to My Hero!

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