LAURENCE, DEACON AND MARTYR
Today is the feast of St. Laurence, who was martyred in Rome on August 10, AD 258. He was one of the seven deacons of the Church there, assisting the Bishop, Pope Sixtus II. As the senior deacon (“archdeacon”) Lawrence had responsibility for maintenance of the Church’s possessions and for supervision of the distribution of alms.
During the persecution of the Emperor Valerian, immediately after Bishop Sixtus had been killed, the prefect of Rome summoned Laurence to municipal court. By this time Christian congregations were growing, although they were still illegal. They were attracting wealthy converts. There were rumors that the Church in Rome secretly possessed “treasures”—perhaps chalices and patens made with precious metals and jewels. The prefect gave Laurence three days to collect the Church’s treasured goods and surrender them to the court.
After three days Laurence returned to the court with a group of the most vulnerable people who were being cared for by the Church-- the impoverished, those who were crippled or blind, widows and orphans. He said to the prefect, “These are the treasures of our Church.” The prefect most likely replied with the Latin equivalent of “Oh, a smart ass, eh?” We’ll show you!” Having disrespected the court Lawrence was summarily put to death.
Still today we celebrate Laurence’s courage and his witness to true value over false value. He affirmed the preciousness of human life even at its most vulnerable. He showed that his Church’s chief treasure consisted in the mutual love and care that was shared among all Her members.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington