Aug. 10, 2016
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
Today’s collect noted St. Lawrence’s “faithful service” and “glorious martyrdom,” and it asked God that we might “love what he loved” and “practice what he taught”—in other words, that we might imitate him.
Church of St. Lawrence, Shelton, Conn.
We also know that devotion to Lawrence became immensely popular after his martyrdom. His name is included with the apostles and a few of the other early martyrs in the Roman Canon; liturgically, he has a feast, not a memorial like most saints; and the Emperor Constantine built a beautiful church over his tomb, which still today is considered one of the 7 major churches of Rome and is worth a pilgrimage if you go to Rome.
Then there is the legend about Lawrence that underlies his enduring popularity. He is reported to have had special charge of the Church’s almsgiving, and thus access to the Church’s funds. The Roman prefect carrying out the imperial orders of the persecution told Lawrence—so the story goes—that Christ instructed his followers to render to Caesar what was his and to God what was his. So Lawrence should bring in the Church’s wealth for the emperor, and the Church could give God the worship he wanted.
Lawrence agreed to produce the Church’s treasures; he just needed a few days to collect them. That may be why he was martyred 3 days later than the Pope and the other deacons. After 3 days he showed up in court with all the Roman poor whom the Church was assisting with alms. He informed the prefect, “Here are the Church’s treasures!”
The prefect, needless to say, was not amused. He ordered Lawrence barbecued to death.
Lawrence made a link between what the Church does inside its places of worship and what it does outside; or, in the ideas contained in the collect, between “love” and “practice”; his “faithful service” led to his “glorious martyrdom.”
My brothers and sisters, we’re aware of how the Church is being persecuted in our time—Christians taxed, robbed, exiled, beaten, burned, beheaded —in the Middle East. The new leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria announced his intention of killing all the Christians he can. Priests who denounced drug lords in Mexico or the Mafia in Sicily get killed. North Korean Christians risk death or labor camps. This kind of list could go on a lot.
And here our bishops are reminding us that we face a regular barrage of harassment and constant legal threats, which is why Bp. Jenky has us praying at every Mass for the freedom of the Church. Our practice outside these walls is under a relentless secular, atheistic assault: our universities, hospitals, nursing homes, places of business, and personal consciences. Popular entertainment, the mass media, and academia jump to label us as homophobes, women-haters, and opponents of science—because we uphold natural law against the depravities of the sexual revolution and uphold the dignity of the tiniest human beings: no experimenting on people, no treating human beings as lab experiments nor as marketplace commodities.
One of the issues in this fall’s elections is religious freedom. One party’s official platform has a whole paragraph on that, including a sturdy defense of the rights of conscience. The other party says it will defend the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East, but here at home, “We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuses of religion to discriminate.” That’s in the paragraph on LBGT rights, which outweigh our religious beliefs or our freedom to act on our beliefs or, at times, even to voice our beliefs. That position has also prevented the passage of legislation that would guarantee the rights of doctors, nurses, and hospitals to refuse to be involved with abortion or sterilization.
As St. Lawrence gave his life because his faith required a public stand, we have to do more than believe; we have to practice what we believe. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I follow him in both public and private. As a free man, Lawrence would not be coerced into worshipping the emperor, into letting the emperor rob the Church, into leaving the poor without protection, or into doing what he was personally opposed to but it was more convenient to do anyway.