The blood of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, testifies to the supreme worth of possessing God.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
10 August 2017
Today Catholics around the world celebrate the Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, who fell victim to the Christian persecution of A.D. 258 under the Roman emperor Valerian. At the beginning of the month of August, the emperor issued a decree commanding that all members of the Catholic clergy be put to death. On August 6, the Saint’s Vicar of Christ, Pope Sixtus II, was found in one of the catacombs and apprehended for immediate execution. St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, wrote about how St. Lawrence, wishing to share in his pope’s supreme sacrifice, was told by Sixtus that he would indeed follow such a path in three days.
The way to the crown of martyrdom soon presented itself when the emperor demanded that Saint Lawrence bring to him the treasures of the Church, at which time the Saint promptly set about gathering up the poor, bringing them before the emperor to be presented as the Church’s true riches. These people, they were the members of Christ’s body; it is in them that the Savior lives! It is these poor who possess infinite dignity and worth as children of God! Although it cannot be verified by other written records, an oral tradition began with perhaps the narration of St. Ambrose which tells us the result of this encounter ended in St. Lawrence being burned alive on a red-hot gridiron.
The attitude of Saint Lawrence was that true discipleship is found in joining totally to Christ, becoming one with the incarnate Son of God, fully realized in giving up one’s life for the sake of the Savior and Redeemer of humankind. This same attitude characterized the hearts of men such as St. Ignatius of Antioch who suffered martyrdom as food for the beasts in the Roman Amphitheater around the year A.D. 110. Joining in union with Christ, experiencing an intimate relationship with the Son of God, meant an ardent willingness—desire in fact—to die for the sake of truth and to offer up one’s life intentionally for the love of God the Father. The true victor is the one who sheds his blood out of love as did Jesus of Nazareth. It is in this that the crown of glory in martyrdom is won.
In today’s age of relativism, religious indifference and militant secularism, it is difficult for many people to imagine why a man such as Deacon Lawrence would so unhesitatingly provoke Valerian. Of course he knew he would be executed. Would it not have been more prudent to silently slip away unnoticed? Why was the truth of Christ so important to him? Why was the Church and the poor worth dying for? For St. Lawrence, however, what many would consider a terrifying circumstance to be avoided at any cost, was in fact his path to completion, fulfillment and glory. It was his way to unity with the suffering Christ. St. Lawrence had grasped this fact: when one has a relationship of intimate communion with Christ, he has everything. And that relationship must include the cross.
While we are not all called to blood martyrdom, the blood of St. Lawrence powerfully testifies to the supreme worth of possessing God. Such a Divine Treasure cannot be acquired unless one is indeed willing to lose his life for the sake of Christ (cf. Mt 10:39). It is in this very attitude and way of living that we discover the true riches of life everlasting.
Photo Credit: Palma il Giovane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.