Saint Lawrence, Deacon: Vocation Rooted in Love
The Charity of St. Lawrence by Bernardo Strozzi 1615-20
(Mass Homily on Feast of St. Lawrence, August 10, 2017, on the occasion of the perpetual profession of a Diocesan Hermitess).
Saint Lawrence is one of the greatest and most renowned deacons in the history of the Church. Since the 4th century, he has been one of the most renowned martyrs of the Church. He was one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome and was very spiritually close to his bishop, Pope Sixtus II, who had been his teacher in Spain.
The deacon Lawrence was responsible for the care of the poor in Rome. The early Christians, especially in Rome, were known for their charitable activity and their care of the needy. Saint Lawrence was devoted to this ministry of charity since Pope Sixtus placed him in charge of the administration of the Church’s goods and the care of the poor.
In the year 258 AD, the Roman Emperor Valerian decreed a fierce persecution of the Church and ordered the deaths of bishops, priests, and deacons. One of his first victims was the bishop of Rome himself, Pope Sixtus II, who was beheaded with some of his deacons, but not Lawrence, on August 6, 258. We celebrate their feast every year on August 7th.
Three days later, Lawrence was arrested, and he was told to hand over the treasures of the Church. Lawrence the deacon brought forward the poor, among whom he had divided the treasures. Lawrence was burned to death on the gridiron on this day, August 10, 258. On the Church calendar, today has the rank of a feast, not a memorial, so highly has the Church held Saint Lawrence in esteem. Saint Lawrence is a shining example for all of us of the ministry of charity. “God loves a cheerful giver”, Saint Paul taught. Lawrence was a cheerful giver who gave not only material help to others – he gave his very life. Like Jesus, he was a grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, thus producing much fruit.
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, lived by Saint Lawrence, are words for us to meditate and reflect on: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am,. There also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
At this Mass, Sister Jane will make her perpetual vows as a hermitess of the Church. How to connect the vocation of a hermit with today’s feast? I think we can connect the vocation of the deacon Lawrence and of the hermitess Sister Jane in that both vocations are rooted in love, the love of Jesus, self-giving love. Sister Jane’s life of prayer and solitude, of poverty, chastity, and obedience is all about love: love for Jesus and love for His church. I wish to thank you, Sister Jane, especially for your abundant prayers for me and our priests and seminarians, a gift of love.
Saint Lawrence’s ministry as a deacon was a service of charity. Sister Jane’s eremitical life is also a service of charity. Of course, Saint Lawrence’s service of charity reached its culmination in his martyrdom. Saint Ambrose wrote about Saint Lawrence’s life and martyrdom. He wrote of Lawrence’s “strength of soul.” All the martyrs were blessed with this gift – “strength of soul”, the strength of soul to die for Christ.
I think the eremitical life also requires a particular strength of soul. It’s in the Eucharist that Sister Jane receives the grace of this strength of soul every day. The Holy Eucharist strengthens the souls of each of us to live the vocations we received from the Lord. Sister Jane, your eremitical life is a vocation of service to the Lord. The vows you profess today are your “yes” to this service of charity, in a life of prayer and solitude. It is the way Jesus has called you to follow Him, to live your discipleship. With joy and hope, we hear anew the Lord’s promise: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
--Bishop Kevin Rhoades