Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10 - St. Laurence, Martyr, Deacon, Keeper of the Church's Wealth

Laurence was a deacon in Rome during the 3rd century. Like so many 3rd century Roman Christians, he faced innumerable pressures from the Roman Empire and the expectations of the imperial mindset. Also like many 3rd century Roman Christians, he faced down death because of refusal to cooperate with the imperial lies and deceptions. In the case of Laurence, it was the persecutions executed by Valerian that would result in his eventual death. Valerian, like other emperors, disenfranchised and exiled powerful Christians in the Senate and murdered priests, deacons, bishops, and powerless Christians. Laurence, indeed, was well accompanied in his death and died a faithful follower along with his other brothers and sisters in the faith.

As a deacon, he was a leader within the early Church and intensely connected with the lives of many other Christians. He helped officiate the services of the early Church and offered hospitality and compassion to countless needy individuals and families. As an officiant and leader in Rome, he was well-acquainted with Pope St. Sixtus II. Valerian had Sixtus seized and ordered his execution. This surely had a significant impact on Laurence. As Sixtus walked to his death and martyrdom, Laurence met him and asked him: " Father, where are you going without your son? Holy priest,where are you hurrying off to without your deacon? You never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, before, and you wish to do it now?" Sixtus looked at his dead friend and took a moment from his own walk to death and glory and remarked to Laurence, "Soon, you will follow me." Sixtus wasn't wrong.

Only a couple of days later, the Roman prefect demanded the wealth of Laurence's church. Since there was great persecution, the prefect was astute enough to know when he could take advantage of the disenfranchised to pad his own pocket. Laurence asked for three days to gather it together for the prefect and, perhaps thinking it wasgracious, the prefect granted the time. Laurence quickly distributed the wealth of his congregation to the poor, sick, needy, and crippled people in the community. He took the wealth intended to provide for the needy and gave it over into the hands of the needy. After three full days of pouring himself out, Laurence lead a group of needy people to the prefect. When the wealth of the Church was demanded, Laurence spread his arms wide and indicated the needy people around him. He stared into the eyes of the prefect and said, "You want the wealth of the Church? Here they are." Looking into the eyes of imperial Rome, Laurence insisted that these poor and oppressed people that Rome placed no value on were, in fact, valuable and worthy of love and devotion. Seeing the shock and rage upon the face of the prefect, and knowing that he had likely signed his own death warrant, Laurence continued: "Yes, prefect, the Church is rich, indeed. Far richer than the Empire."

His death was ordered. He was seized and beaten. Finally, he was chained to a metal gridiron. He was given a chance to deny his faith but he refused. He had been baptized into death of self and remained comfortable with his commitments even if it infuriated the Empire that didn't get it (it never does). They lowered the gridiron over the fire and began to grill Laurence. They hoped to prolong Laurence's pain and suffering. They hoped to demonstrate the power of the Empire over the death and destruction of the body.They reveled in the power of fear over the minds of people. Yet, Laurence had already demonstrated the failure of the Empire to ever change or heal even one person. It was, instead, the love that Laurence offered and the Church taught that was, truly, transformational. He died on the gridiron but not before calling out to his executioners: "This side is already done and if you want me cooked just right you better turn me over." In his death, as in his life, Laurence offered a mockery of the values and methods of the Empire and the world. For Laurence, as for the rest of us, the only hope for life and change dwelt in a God who was love, a Lord who was a lamb, a Spirit who dwelt in the hearts of people, and a death that brought life.

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