A Servant for All Seasons – Feast of St. Lawrence
Early Christians perished in a number of horrible ways at the hands of the empire. Being cooked alive, as Archdeacon St. Lawrence of Rome was in the 3rd century, is certainly high on the list.
From the Roman Martyrology for this day:
“After much suffering from imprisonment, from scourging with whips set with iron or lead,
from hot metal plates,
he at last completed his martyrdom
by being slowly consumed
on an iron instrument made in the
form of a gridiron.”
As many know, St. Lawrence, as an archdeacon, was an administrator of the Roman Church’s temporal goods. When Lawrence learned that his pope was to be put to death (and likely Lawrence as well), he sold the valuables of the Church and gave the proceeds to the poor, needy, vulnerable, widows, and orphans. When a prefect of Rome demanded that the treasures of the Church be surrendered, Lawrence gathered the destitute together, lined them up, and presented them as the treasures of the Church. His death soon followed for his insolence.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7)
While we can’t know of the man’s particular mirth, St. Lawrence’s comment whilst undergoing fiery torment seems to smack of cheer: “turn me over, I’m done on this side.”
Would that we could all face the world and its torments for such a reason and with such resolve.
As a “newly minted” deacon” (as many around me are fond of coining), I’ve thought of St. Lawrence often. It certainly doesn’t hurt that we share a name, a love of cooking, humor, and crafty ways of going about things. But more than any of this, the man’s desire to serve the Church as circumstances change has been very appealing to me.
Deacons were, far more than presently, in charge of administration in the burgeoning Church. Their ministrations allowed the temporal Church to carry on with consistency. But, as St. Lawrence saw the signs of the times, he didn’t try to hide the trinkets, vessels, and funds of the Church from Rome. Instead he followed his biblical call to ministry, serving the marginalized.
God willing in about 10 months, pandemic permitting, I’ll be ordained a priest for our diocese. But, I’ll always be a deacon first, who is configured not to Christ the Head, but Christ the Servant. The Holy Deacons of history serve as periodic reminders of men who have stepped forward to be of service first, even in peril and with great personal sacrifice. In today’s world, even standing up as a Christian, let alone spreading the gospel, has become caustic again.
For me, long before I understood what being a priest might entail, I wanted to be of service. Sometimes, following that instinct can take you to places and bestow unimagined graces without you fully realizing it. In today’s gospel, the Lord tells us: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” (Jn 12:26) Jesus Christ came to serve and not be served. In the service of the Lord, as Paul reminds us, “always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8)
The Lord provides us with the gift of fortitude to embark on a life of service, like St. Lawrence. It’s worth taking a look; for one, I’m very glad I did.
Deacon Tom Lawrence
4th Theology, Theological College