August 10, 2012 - Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 112:1-2, 5-9
John 12:24-26

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence of Rome, a deacon of the 3rd century. St. Lawrence is known primarily for two features, which are reflected in our readings today: his care for the poor and his martyrdom. Consistent throughout is the sense of humor that made him the patron saint of comedians.

One day, the Roman government demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. People are always talking about the riches of the Church, by which they usually mean all the gold and jewels. The Church does not really have riches in that sense. Yes, we do have beautiful works of art and chalices made from precious metals, but there is a vast difference between riches and objects intended for the glory of God. We always try to offer God the best we can, and the world sees that we have beautiful things and becomes envious because the world does not inspire anyone to produce beautiful things.

Lawrence knew that there was no purpose to hiding the Church’s treasures since we are not interested in possessing treasures but in using beautiful things. So he asked for three days to gather everything together. During those days he sold every chalice and artwork and other item that is valuable as the world sees things. He gave the proceeds to the poor of Rome. On the third day he went to the prefect and presented the true riches of the Church: the blind, the lame, the leprous, and many other people whom Jesus Christ died to save. He is reported to have said, “As you can see, we are richer than the emperor.” So they killed him. They grilled him to death. I suppose they had a giant barbeque, lit a fire, and threw him on it. As he was dying, he said to the guards, “You can flip me over now; I am done on this side.”

What can we learn from the comedy routines of St. Lawrence? In the face of the world, so deadly serious about its sins and its greed and its cruelty, we ought to laugh, recognizing how ridiculous the world is. People live and die for money, power, and lust. We live and die for Jesus Christ. The contrast is so enormous, we do not know whether to laugh or cry. St. Lawrence is very happy in heaven right now; where that prefect or those guards are depends on whether or not they eventually learned to laugh at this world too. Humility and humor come from the same root.