The Feast of St. Laurence, August 10, 2021
Fr. Chas Marks
We remember today the holy martyr St. Laurence of Rome who died this day in the year 258 during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. Laurence was born in what is today Spain. He was a holy young man who came under the tutelage of the future Bishop of the city of Rome, Sixtus II. When Sixtus was elected Pope, he ordained Laurence a deacon and though he was still quite young – in his early 20’s – Pope Sixtus put him in charge of the finances of the diocese and most importantly – he was charged with the care of the poor.
The persecution of Valerian began in August of 258. He ordered the death of all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons and the confiscation of the Church’s worldly goods. Pope Sixtus was martyred on the sixth of August along with some of the other clergy. Laurence, being the archdeacon of the diocese was told by the Roman prefect to gather up all the church’s treasures to be presented to the emperor. He was given three days to accomplish this task. Laurence – being the good deacon he was – distributed all of the church’s treasure to the poor of the city. When asked to turn over the treasures to the prefect – he instead presented to him the poor, the orphans, and the widows who were in his care and said – here – these are the treasures of the Church. He was executed the following day.
Pious legend says that because of his cheekiness, Laurence was not beheaded in the usual manner of executing a Roman citizen but rather experienced the slow death of being roasted alive on a gridiron. Legend also tells us that though it was a most painful death he continued to praise God. He is even said to have told the soldiers in charge of his execution – to turn him over for he was done on that side. As a result – he is among other things – the patron saint of comedians and chefs.
St. Laurence lived the Gospel that we have heard proclaimed today. He followed our Lord – as a servant to the Church – as a servant to the poor and those in need- all the way to his death. We are told that his holy death was an inspiration to many in the city and that many were converted to Christ by Laurence’s witness.
While each of us may not be called to a physical martyrdom – we too are called to die to ourselves daily – so that the life of our Risen Lord may shine through us. The 20th Century martyr Dietrich Bonhoffer said that when Christ calls a man – he bids him to come and die. Dying to self means giving ourselves over to following God’s will in our lives – truly loving God and our neighbors above all else. While this is not a painful martyr’s death – it is still not at all an easy task. It is in fact something that we must practice over and over again each day of our lives. Let us pray this day for God’s grace– so that we too may follow the way as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ with St. Laurence’s zeal.
In particular on this feast – let us give thanks for the order of Deacons in the Church and pray for all who are ordained to that ministry of service. Let us remember not only those who are ordained as vocational deacons – but all priests and bishops who also were first ordained to be icons of Christian service in this holy order. May God bless us and may the diaconal charism that is at the heart of all ordained ministry in the Church shine through all deacons, priests, and bishops in acts of care and concern for the poor and those in any sort of need.
Let us give thanks this day for the life and witness of St. Laurence. Amen.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!