Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Today’s readings

St. Lawrence was a deacon of the early Church, who was charged with the care of the goods of the Church.  Legend has it that he was called in by the Prefect of Rome, who had just killed Pope Sixtus II, whose memorial was last week.  The Prefect told Lawrence that he wanted the treasures of the Church.  His warped explanation for this unreasonable demand was that, since Christ didn’t bring any money or material goods into the world with him, then such things should not be important to the Church.  Let’s be clear: the Prefect didn’t care what was or was not important to the Church, or for that matter, Christ, but that was what he said. 

Lawrence told him to give him a few days to inventory the goods of the Church.  Three days later, Lawrence assembled a large group of the widows, orphans, blind, lame and leprous.  He presented them to the Prefect saying, “Behold, these are the treasures of the Church.”  Which was the real truth, but not what the Prefect was going for.  He was so angry, he ordered Deacon Lawrence to be killed, but, in his words, “by inches,” meaning a slow and tortuous death.  Lawrence was bound to a gridiron and was roasted over coals.  At one point in the torture, Lawrence is said to have called out cheerfully, “I am done on this side, I think; you can turn me over now.”

Several years ago, on vacation, I visited a classmate who is a priest down in Belleville, and we visited the Saint Louis Art Museum.  They have a very famous painting of Saint Lawrence distributing the wealth of the Church to the poor so that the Prefect couldn’t have it.  It was painted by Bernardo Strozzi around the year 1625.  That was one of my favorite paintings there in the museum.  You can Google St. Lawrence Strozzi and see it; it’s worth doing.

Now, this whole story is saintly legend, certainly.  We don’t know if it is true or not.  But it is a beautiful story that makes us reflect on Jesus’ call in the Gospel today: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  We who would be followers of Christ are called to know what the real treasures of life are, and to be willing to sacrifice, give everything, to protect them.

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