Saint Lawrence, Martyr
By Eduardo Borges
During one of the worst times of persecution of the Church, St. Lawrence appears as a beacon of courage, faith and ultimate trust in God’s promise of the rewards of eternal life for those who love him and persevere until the end.
St. Lawrence was one of seven deacons of the Roman Church and was a faithful servant of Pope St. Sixtus II, who lived during the time of the Roman emperor Valerian (254-260). Valerian was at first friendly to the Christians but toward the end of his reign, his counselors, driven by jealousy and greed, made him believe that the Church was a powerful organization that had accumulated great wealth.
In 258 AD the emperor issued an edict, ordering bishops, priests and deacons to sacrifice to the gods. Under the same edict all Christians were forbidden to assemble in public or in private and to visit the cemeteries. One day while celebrating the Mass in secret in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, Pope Sixtus II was surprised by the Roman soldiers and was beheaded on the spot along with six of his deacons. St. Lawrence’s life was spared for the moment.
They had been informed that he was in charge of the treasures of the Church. According to St. Ambrose’s details of his martyrdom, Lawrence was called by the Roman judge to assemble and produce the treasures of the Church. He departed at their command. When he came back, he brought with him a group of poor people replying, “Here is the treasury of the Church.”
He was immediately sentenced to be roasted alive on a gridiron. Tradition attests that while he was being burned he said to the judge, “I am roasted enough on this side; turn me over.”
His popularity grew so strong that he was venerated as martyr and saint right after his death.
Constantine was the first to build a little oratory over his burial place. Over time it was beautified and in the fifth century Pope Sixtus III (432-40) built on top of his grave a large basilica that stands to this day. St. Lawrence’s feast day is on August 10.
I admire the courage of St. Lawrence. When Pope St. Sixtus II was slaughtered right before his eyes he did not run away from the scene, but rather he ran toward him and crying, exclaimed, “Father! Where are you going without your son? Holy priest, where are you going without your deacon?” This expression reflects with a doubt how much they loved each other, like the love of a true son for his father. He completely forgot about himself and his total self was concerned about the well-being of his spiritual father, St Sixtus.
This is an example of the love that Jesus expects from us, when he said “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have loved one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
St. Lawrence’s heroic courage compels us to reflect about our fidelity to Christ. Would we have the courage to die for our faith? To make the ultimate sacrifice for the love of Jesus and everything that he stands for? How many times do we trade Jesus for a little comfort or pleasure, which fades away shortly and leaves us empty as we started? Do we look at death as something so terrible and frightening that any reflections on it shall be avoided as if everything ends there? Or do we anticipate it as St. Lawrence and many other martyrs did as the portal to a life of eternal joy in heaven in communion with Jesus and the saints for all eternity? These are questions that one must ask in order to make sense about the great mystery of suffering and of life and death.
Without the hope of eternal life it is impossible to understand the meaning of suffering and the purpose of life. St. Lawrence knew exactly what this meant and even experienced joy in it. In his short encounter with St. Sixtus before he died, Sixtus prophesied that Lawrence would follow him after three days. During that period he had plenty of time to think. The devil must have tempted him greatly as he did with Jesus at the Mount of Olives before he was to suffer, but like Jesus he endured until the end. This is truly an example to us that those who trust in Jesus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit “the Counselor” to guide our passion just as he did to his Son.