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Catholic Heroes… St. Lawrence

October 12, 2021 saints No Comments


This week’s column is particularly dedicated to all the cooks preparing for the Thanksgiving feast, less than two months away. In searching out recipes, one could do worse than remember the patron saint of cooks: St. Lawrence.
St. Lawrence, despite having died as long ago as 258 AD, is among the most remembered of the saints, for his sense of humor, as well as his sanctity. For those who might like to assert he didn’t exist, we have very early accounts of his existence, as well as churches and basilicas, which offer proof. Often, we also turn to a contemporary for the closest biography of the saint, but as we find none in existence, we turn next to ones based on surviving oral tradition, by St. Ambrose and Pope Leo the Great. These were roughly a century later.
At times with these ancient saints, we long for more information which is not forthcoming, because the time difference is simply too great. Yet 1,800 years later, it boggles one’s mind to realize that this saint is still so very present in our hearts and minds today; indeed, he is mentioned in the very Canon of the Mass.
A paper written by one Fr. Lawrence Porter asserts that scholars agree St. Lawrence was born in Huesca, Spain, of Christian parents. The region of Aragon was at the time under Roman control, the country otherwise known as Hispania Tarraconensis. Later, of course, he would go to Rome.
Many who watched his martyrdom there — including Roman senators — converted. During the last two years of his rule, when the Emperor Valerian was actively persecuting Christians, those in power had failed to realize that Christianity was already a winning force. This force would be the more cemented by the great sacrifice by Gregory of his life.
Whatever the reason Valerian ignored Christians earlier in his brief reign, but later all priests, deacons, and bishops he automatically condemned to death. Lay Christians were banished, sent into forced labor, or presumably, martyred. Valerian himself would die not long after, conquered in battle by the Persians, who flayed him alive or dead, then dyed his skin red and hung it for all to view in a Persian Temple.
In comparison, the life and death of St. Lawrence brought forth fruit. As one of the deacons of St. Sixtus II, Lawrence following Sixtus as he was moved to his execution. He wept as they went along and Sixtus presently asked him why he was weeping. Sixtus then comforted Lawrence, avowing that in three days he, too, would die for our Lord. Lawrence was so overjoyed he began giving everything away he possessed, including church resources with which he’d been entrusted.
These good deeds drew attention from the prefect of Valerian, who operated under the erroneous assumption that Christians had valuables socked away; after all, they used chalices of gold or silver in the Mass, and golden candlesticks. He sent for Lawrence, inquiring where were these precious items? And if they rendered unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s, they had no need of them obviously. Whereas the Romans needed capital for battle. Lawrence responded that the Church was rich indeed, asking for three days to gather the treasures together.
Three days later, he appeared before the prefect with an assembly of the blind, the crippled, the poor, and the lame. There were sick, orphans, and elderly. “These,” he said, “are the true wealth of the Church!” The prefect was enraged, and promptly ordered the death of Lawrence.
As many may know, St. Lawrence was burned to death, grilled over a fire. As he died, he offered his death for the conversion of Rome, and many were converted by witnessing his martyrdom. Reportedly, he said at one stage: “You may turn me over, for I am done on this side.” His sense of humor has won many friends and, also, he remains the patron saint of cooks. So, too, is he the patron saint of the poor.
He was buried in the Cemetery of St. Cyriaca, the supposed widow who buried him on her property along the Via Tiburtina. This site became the burial site for numerous Popes and others, and indeed, the first church dedicated to Lawrence was already located in situ by 432. Later the Emperor Constantine would build a basilica dedicated to St. Lawrence.
Very few in history have had basilicas built for them. Let’s count them. The Holy Ghost, Mary, Peter, Paul, St. John…and Lawrence. This, if one ponders the greatness of such an honor, is astounding. He was mentioned by Saints Ambrose and Augustine, and referenced in works of literature like Boccaccio’s Decameron and Dante’s Paradiso. Though a reference work listing many miracles attributed to the great saint (“The Acts of St. Lawrence”) has sadly long been lost, St. Gregory of Tours (538-594) is one who has attested to them:
A priest named Fr. Sanctulus was rebuilding a church of St. Lawrence, which had been attacked and burnt, and he hired many workmen to accomplish the job. At one point during the construction, he found himself with nothing to feed them. He prayed to St. Lawrence for help, and looking in his basket he found a fresh, white loaf of bread. It seemed to him too small to feed the workmen, but in faith he began to serve it to the men. While he broke the bread, it so multiplied that his workmen fed from it for ten days.
There is a lovely devotional page that has been put online that was written in 1876 by a Fr. Xavier Weninger, complete with mediation, prayer, hymn, and prayer devotion. When we smile at the joyful offering of his life by St. Lawrence, let us also remember these words of Fr. Weninger because St. Lawrence stands for the eternal promise and steadfastness of Holy Mother Church:
“The life of the great Christian hero, Lawrence, contains indisputable proof that the Holy Mass was said as early as the first centuries of the Christian era, and was considered the true sacrifice of the New Testament; for St. Lawrence said, that when St. Sixtus officiated as priest he served him as deacon….Catholic Christian, let nothing shake your faith. You are assured that in the holy Mass, He, who once offered Himself on the cross to His heavenly Father as a victim for all men, is offered again daily as an unbloody sacrifice.
“But as you truly believe this, manifest your faith by frequently and devoutly assisting at this holy sacrifice. If you have opportunity, let no day pass without it; for the words of St Justinian are true who says, ‘There is no sacrifice more excellent or more agreeable to the Majesty of God, none more beneficial to ourselves, than this’” (Source: catholicharboroffaith
St. Lawrence, pray for us.

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