Today is the feast of St. Lawrence, one of the great martyrs of the Church. The story of his martyrdom has become legendary over the centuries:
As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”
Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”
The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well done. Turn me over!” (Source)
Lawrence is not the only martyr to be celebrated this week; we also celebrate two martyrs from the Nazi era as well: St. Maximilian Kolbe (August 14) and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (August 9, superseded by the Sunday liturgy this year). The close chronological proximity of these two saints reminds us that the early church is not the only era of many martyrs; in fact, the 20th century saw more Christians killed for their faith than the rest of Church history combined. And this bloodshed has not abated; even today many Christians throughout the world face persecution, including martyrdom, just for following Christ. Two examples:
We who live in complete comfort and enjoy religious freedom need to pray for these courageous brother and sisters in Christ. Let us invoke the powerful intercession of the martyr-saints:
St. Lawrence, pray for us!
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us!
*Note: the title of this post derives from Tertullian’s famous quote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.