St. Lawrence of Rome, Deacon and Martyr
Homily for the Feast of St. Lawrence
The deacon martyr St. Lawrence was born in Spain. He and his cousin, St. Vincent, encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, a renowned Greek teacher in Zaragoza, Spain. He and his cousin were both ordained deacons. St. Vincent remained in Spain and was later martyred there. St. Lawrence traveled to Rome where he became one of the seven deacons to serve and Pope Sixtus. He was appointed the chief deacon and given the responsibility of the administration of the Church’s wealth. A man named Valerian became the prefect of Rome and ordered the execution of all bishops, priests, and deacons. The Pope sent Lawrence to distribute alms to the poor while he and the other six deacons celebrated the Eucharist at in the at Cemetery of St. Callistus. The seven of them were arrested and taken to a public place of execution. As it happened, Lawrence witnessed their martyrdom and cried out to the Pope asking to be taken with them. The Pope told him that he should take three days to go and distribute all of the wealth of the church to the poor. He also told Lawrence that he would follow them after those three days. Thus, we celebrate the memorial of Pope Sixtus and his companions on August 7 and the feast of St. Lawrence on August 10.
Each of the readings for this feast day focus our attention not only on the martyrdom of St. Lawrence but also upon his responsibilities for the poor and indigent of Rome. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul states that God loves a cheerful giver. St. Paul’s insistence that generosity should not be compulsive but rather cheerful comes from the conviction that God has given us all enough and that we will not suffer if we share it with others. St. Lawrence’s popularity in Rome stems from the fact that he diligently took care of the poor of that city. He is one of the patrons of Rome to this day, and many Roman churches will feature frescoes and statues of this saint. If one climbs the Scala Sancta, the holy steps which can be found on the Plaza near the Lateran Basilica, you will find a richly adorned chapel dedicated to the memory of Lawrence at the top of the staircase.
The responsorial psalm states that the one who is gracious and lends to those in need will be held in everlasting remembrance. Indeed, who still remembers Valerian, the prefect of Rome, while St. Lawrence is celebrated in both Italy and Spain for three days every August.
Finally, the Gospel for this day reminds us that if we aspire to greatness, we must embrace the service of others. In the Gospel of St. John, three comments are grouped together and appear immediately after Philip tells Jesus that some Greeks wish to see him. Jesus indirectly answers this request by pointing to his death on the cross and reminding us that in God’s kingdom, the last shall be first and the least shall be the greatest. In other words, one can only see Jesus by including the cross in the picture.
May the generosity lived out by St. Lawrence and celebrated in the Eucharist become second nature to us all.