Feast of St. Lawrence
Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-10; Jn 1224-26
The martyrdom of St. Lawrence roasted to death of a fiery-hot gridiron strikes my heart with fear. Could I give witness to Christ by such a cruel death? Not everyone is given the gift of shedding blood in a red martyrdom to express love for Christ, but all of us are called to have the heart of a martyr, to be willing to die for Christ.
There are many ways to be a witness, to be a martyr for Christ. St. Augustine writes that in addition to the rose of a red martyrdom there is the lily of a white martyrdom expressed by a life of chastity, especially consecrated virginity. And there is the ivy of a green martyrdom expressed by renunciation of unruly passions in a disciplined penitential life with willing service of others.
Dionysius of Alexandria believed that anyone who gives his or her life tending the sick during a pestilence should be considered a martyr. Karl Rahner writes that the situation of Catholics in the world today is now such that they often live among unbelieving relatives. Such a family situation can be a form of martyrdom for the believing spouse or parent or child. And St. Therese of Lisieux describes yet another type of martyrdom when she writes, “To love Jesus without feeling the sweetness of that love, there you have a martyrdom.” “When I feel nothing, when I am incapable of praying or practicing virtue, that is the moment I look for small occasions, little nothings, that give Jesus more pleasure than a [bloody] martyrdom generously suffered. Like a smile and a friendly word when I would much prefer to say nothing at all or to look bored…”
All of us can be martyrs, not just once, but many, many times when we give witness to Christ with the heart of a martyr.
 Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations vol. 3, The Christian Among Unbelieving Relatives, Helicon, Baltimore, 360.
 Collected Letter of St. Therese of Lisieux, Sheed and Ward, 1949, Letter 73; 111.
 Collected Letter of St. Therese of Lisieux, Sheed and Ward, 1949, Letter 122; 192
Feast of St. Lawrence
Feast of St. Lawrence
[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-10; Jn 12:24-26]
Like many of the saints, we know very little about St. Lawrence. He was a deacon of the Church of Rome. The story of how he gathered the poor, the lame, the blind and other outcasts of society when he was asked to present the treasures of the Church to the Roman prefect is perhaps the most well-known episode we have about him. As a result he was sentenced to an exceptionally cruel death on a gridiron, which he accepted willingly and even with humor. Nevertheless what little we know about him is an example encouraging us how to act as stewards of the gifts and responsibilities with which Christ has entrusted us.
We may not hold an official position with responsibility over material goods in the Church or in our communities or in one of the local charitable organizations. Still we all have some responsibility over material goods however limited they may be. We all have personal gifts and talents. We all have time. All of these can be used in the service of the gospel, or they can be selfishly hoarded. As stewards we are accountable to Christ for how we use the gifts and opportunities with which we have been entrusted.
St. Paul points us along the path of faithful stewardship. First and foremost a faithful steward is both generous and prudent. Keeping these two qualifications in a balanced harmony is often a difficult challenge. I may want to be generous with material goods or my time in this particular situation, but does this compromise the other responsibilities with which I have been entrusted? Does my desire to be prudent result in my being stingy with God's gifts? With the guidance of the Holy Spirit each one of us needs to decide in our heart what the appropriate course of action in any given situation will be. Part of our dilemma may be due to our lack of trust that God will provide the resources that we need to put his will into practice. A fallacy we need to guard against is to think that Christ calls us to service, but then the rest is up to us. Christ calls us to service and he sends his Spirit to support and guide us along the way. As responsible stewards we are called to co-operate with the Holy Spirit. Co-operation with the Holy Spirit is neither presumption, nor passivity.
We may not be called to a literal martyrdom like St. Lawrence, nevertheless following Christ entails a number of ways in which we are called to die to our preferences and comfort and convenience. Providing for someone in need may mean giving up a legitimate satisfaction to which I am attracted. It may mean sacrificing time that I would prefer to spend on another activity that I find more satisfying. There are any number of ways that the seeds of our preferences can fall to the ground and die. If they die in the service of our brothers and sisters, God will make them fruitful, and provide for our needs. If we cling to them, they will eventually wither and die anyway and we will be left with empty shells. The rewards of self-sacrifice are not always open to our vision, and at times we will need to walk in faith trusting that God will provide for all our needs and that he will reward us in his way and in his time. Our God is a generous God. He loved us so much that he became one of us, accepting our limitations and even our sinfulness. Jesus Christ laid down his life so that we might have eternal life and he calls us to follow him and lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Feast of St. Lawrence
[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-10; Jn 12:24-26 ]
This news bulletin is just in from the Vatican: St. Lawrence has been declared the patron saint of smart-alecks. When he was asked by the Roman prefect to surrender the Church’s treasures, he brought a group of poor and disabled people. For this, he was sentenced to death. Modern-day Scholars think he was beheaded, but the story has come down through the centuries that he was roasted to death on a gridiron. While roasting he joked with those near-by and is reported to have said two things: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side,” and “Scholars are never gonna believe this.”
In our first reading today St. Paul tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” He loves un-cheerful ones, too, but obviously cheerful ones know it! That St. Lawrence was slow-roasted and took it good-naturedly is important for us to know. It is the measure of his witness to what matters most; to what is most worth loving.
In a recent letter to our community, Dom Armand Veilleux indicated that one could be a martyri.e. a witness to the faithmore by the way one lives than by the way one dies. He noted that modern-day martyrs are not killed out of hatred for the faith, but because they minister the truth to those who most need it, those who are defenseless and those who are deluded. In short, Christians are martyredphysically or socially and psychologicallyfor bothering consciences. In this age of political correctness, continuing to live and teach the gospel way of life will draw social ostracism. It is surprising to see Christians who bow to political correctness not out of fear of being roasted like St. Lawrence or of being thrown to the lions, but out of fear of being called names; names like “rigid,” or “phobic” or “legalistic.”
As today’s gospel tells us, martyrdom is the supreme way of following Christ. Regardless of the form of martyrdom, one’s experience of it islike Christ’sthat of being defeated, ridiculed, abandoned, and above all, silenced. To endure this, one must have made a firm, final, and continuing decision about what matters most. In doing this, we are following Christ inlike the grain of wheatgiving ourselves totally to the love of the Father.
Today’s gospel calls us to two virtues in particular; one theological, the other cardinal or moral. The moral virtue is fortitude/courage, the willingness to endure injury for the sake of the good. It means to oppose injustice in the face of overwhelming secular powers and to accept willingly any resulting public ridicule, behind-the-back character assassination, or social isolation. To do this we must confront fear. Fortitude does not eliminate fear; it orders it. In the Order of Fear, only one thing is most fearsome: the possibility of being voluntarily separated from the ultimate source of ones being. St. Benedict’s first step of humility calls us to fortitude by calling us always to be mindful of God and to fear Him alone. This fear or reverence is that of a child for his Father. It is shown out of love.
Thus, the second virtue is the theological virtue of love. Love both occasions and guides fortitude by making an evaluation. What we must evaluate is whether or not union with the belovedwith Godmeans enough to us to pay for it and if so, how much. Thomas Merton wrote that monastic life is like a lamp burning before the tabernacle. Its wick is faith; its flame is love, and the oil that fuels it is self-sacrifice.
In our monastic life, as in the vocation of marriage, we make an irrevocable decision regarding what we will pay to the object of our love. The church demands such a final decision. The decision is based not on our forecast of the future, but on what we know about ourselves: we are creatures and as such we are totally dependent. If, with the church we know this, then we will have a solid foundation for a decision that will hold sway over the rest of our lives. Any future decision cannot be a good one if it is in conflict with this basic truth of our lives. No matter what curves are thrown at us we need only remain faithful to this truth about ourselves. We learned this truth when God first introduced himself to us:
And when, with Lawrence, he drew us to his son, Jesus Christ, we determined that we would pay the price that He paid:
Feast of St. Lawrence
[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-10, Jn 12:24-26 ]
In remakable collections of short stories a Southern Catholic novelist, Flannery O’Connor, challenges the complacency of those she calls “the near-blind” whom she portrays in brilliant, true to life, fictional characters. In a story called Greenleaf1, she writes about an unlovable woman and her tenant farmer named Greenleaf with his two sons. For twenty pages Flannery O’Connor paints a damning portrait of this intelligent, self-centered person who goes about controlling her little world as she has been doing all her life. When a massive black bull owned by Greenleaf’s sons repeatedly breaks out of its pen to munch on the hedges under her bedroom window, and then meanders into the pasture to breed her cows, she resolves to make Greenleaf shoot the intruder. Together they enter the pasture and Greenleaf reluctantly goes over a hillside in search of the bull. She waits and waits, until unexpectedly the black heavy shadow of the bull emerges from a nearby tree line. The huge animal tosses its head several times into the air and then bounds forward racing toward the woman. She stands frozen in disbelief as the violent black streak hurls itself into her lap impaling the woman on its horns. With one swift jerk of his massive head her whole universe is flung into disarray. For a brief moment as ground and sky rotate around her, she wonders how anything so totally unthinkable could be happening to her. Suddenly she has the shocked look of a person whose sight has been restored but who finds the light unbearable. Too late she realizes how near-blind she has been about what really matters.
It is the genius of Flannery O’Connor to write with large letters exactly how blinding self-serving love can be until death puts everything into a new perspective. Jesus teaches that “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. For those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. The martyrs are witnesses about what really matters, about how to live and die as children of light in love with Christ.
St. Lawrence gave witness by an exceptionally cruel and painful death. Stripped and bound to an iron grating beneath which a fire was burning, he was slowly charred and cooked to death. Yet he could joke, “Turn me over for I am done on this side.” St. Augustine writes, “It is the cause, not the painful event, that constitutes a martyr.“2 It is love of Christ that makes the Christian a grain of wheat capable of bearing much fruit. The heavenly light that shown in the face of St. Lawrence would have graced his countenance no matter how he died, even if he had been pierced by the horns of a massive black bull.
Not all are given the gift of shedding their blood in a red martyrdom to express their love for Christ, but all are called to have the heart of a martyr, to be willing to die for Christ. There are many ways to be a witness, to be a martyr for Christ. St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church write that in addition to the rose of a red martyrdom there is the lily of a white martyrdom expressed by a life of chastity, especially consecrated virginity. And there is the ivy of a green martyrdom expressed by renunciation of unruly passions in a disciplined, penitential life with willing service of others, especially in marriage.
Dionysius of Alexandria believed that anyone who gives his or her life tending the sick during a pestilence should be considered a martyr. Karl Rahner writes that the situation of Catholics in the world today is now such that they often live among unbelieving relatives. He notes that such a family situation can be a form of martyrdom for the believing spouse or parent or child.3 St. Therese of Lisieux describes yet another type of martyrdom when she writes, “To love Jesus without feeling the sweetness of that love, there you have a martyrdom.“4 “When I feel nothing, when I am incapable of praying or practicing virtue, that is the moment I look for small occasions, little nothings, that give Jesus more pleasure than a [bloody] martyrdom generously suffered. Like a smile and a friendly word when I would much prefer to say nothing at all or to look bored…“5
Flannery O’Connor herself lived a form of martyrdom. As an only child who never married, she was diagnosed with lupus disease at the age of 26. Four years later her bones began to deteriorate and she had to use crutches the rest of her short life. Slowly, painfully, she died of the disease at the age of 39. But more than her physical sufferings patiently endured, she was a witness to her love of Christ by her fictional short stories. They embody the principle of sacramentality, of seeing the presence and activity of the divine in the strangeness of ordinary life, and they penetrate through the material world to reveal the reality of salvation or damnation
Commenting on her work, she writes, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it.” She herself supported it very well. She shared St. Lawrence’s sense of humor in the midst of her own sufferings. She writes, “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.” Toward the end of her life, Flannery asked a friend to try to find a picture she had seen of the Madonna and Child laughing — not merely smiling, but laughing heartily. Flannery O’Connor’s humor is a witness of her happy love of God. Her attraction to the laughing Child who was also to be the suffering Christ is quite fitting. For her, as it should be for all Christians and as it was for St. Lawrence, the sorrow of a martyr’s sufferings and the triumph of a martyr’s joyful witness belong together.
Feast of St. Lawrence
[Scripture Readings: 2 Cor 9:6-10; Jn 12:24-26]
I’m not sure it’s true but, I heard a story concerning the dying words of the English humorist and playwright Oscar Wilde. According to the story, the famous author as he lay dying on his bed, had been gazing for some time with a pained expression at some really ugly curtains recently installed in his bedroom window when, at last, very near the point of death, he turned and asked his nurse: “Who’s responsible for the curtains?” The nurse informed him they had been hung by a certain member of his household staff, to which Oscar Wilde is said to have replied — with his dying words: “Either she goes—or I go.”
Most of us enjoy hearing a story that allow us to view the moment of death with a sense of humor. We are somehow elated to hear an account in which death’s terrible dominion over us is belittled—or maybe just not noticed as in the account of our Fr. Timothy passing by Bro. Raymond’s room and, seeing him seated in a chair, engaged him in a friendly chat without realizing the man had passed away.
Concerning St. Lawrence, whose feast we celebrate today, a legend has it that, having been condemned to the horrible death of being bound to a grid iron and cooked alive over a fire, he said to his torturer, midway through the ordeal, “You can turn me over now—I think I’m finished on this side.”
Central to our enjoyment of these stories is our surprise that death, the moment we all fear with an instinctual dread, might be made the butt of a joke—mocked as it were. In these stories, death is subject to a sudden reversal. It is as if a wrestler pinned to the floor were suddenly to throw off his opponent, turn him over and pin him to the floor. It is the sudden reversal that delights us and makes us laugh, and most especially when the adversary being wrestled with is death.
But this laughter at death’s expense is as ancient as the church of Christ whose members began laughing on Easter Morning with cries of “Alleluia—alleluia! He is risen. The Lord is truly risen!” And maybe, at the very heart of our Christian laughter at death’s overthrow, is the insight given to the disciples on the road to Emmaus a few days after Jesus’ death; an insight provided by the risen Lord himself in person as he walked with them along the road: “Did you not know“, Jesus told them, “that the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory?”
Brothers and sisters, I wonder if, in the person of Lawrence, teasing his executioner from the midst of the flames, we cannot hear Jesus addressing all of us; addressing our slowness to believe the goodness and power of God; Jesus speaking of the happiness that is in store for all of us. Is not the Lord himself walking alongside us this morning, as we make our way toward Emmaus; addressing to us here this morning the greatest punch line of any story ever told, saying to you and I: “It is by death that the Messiah entered into glory and everlasting life. It is by death that you will follow him to glory,” and then, with a touch of divine humor: ” . . .did you not know that?”