Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, was not martyred with his bishop, Pope Sixtus. The prefect of Rome knew that he was in charge of the treasures of the church and demanded that he present them to the Roman authorities.
According of one version of the legend, Lawrence, distributed all the goods of the Church to the poor, the ill, and the widows, even selling the sacred vessels. Then he gathered the poor and presented them to the Roman prefect, announcing, “Here are the treasures of the church.”
Needless to say, the prefect was not impressed and proceeded to have Lawrence martyred on a gridiron. The saint seems to have had a sense of humor. After some time over the flames he told his executioners to turn him over since he was done on that side. (Does this qualify St. Lawrence as the patron saint of barbecues?)
All kidding aside, Lawrence knew what was important – the glory of God and the poor.
The glory of God is shown when we gather around the table of the Lord, rich and poor, sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.
The glory of God is also shown when we gather around the table of the poor where all have a part, where all share the goodness of creation, where, in the words of the Salvadoran martyred Jesuit Rutilio Grande, everyone has a place, a stool, around a long shared table.
The servant of God serves God at the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor – both are part of our mission, our identity.
Recalling the absolute equality around the Lord’s table, where there are no divisions, we gather around a table where those who have more share so that all may experience the abundance of God’s creation.
This may call for sacrifices, for selling what we have, even what we think we need. It might even mean, as it meant for St. Lawrence, selling the goods of the church to feed the poor.
This is not all that radical. It was mentioned by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [On Social Concern], # 31:
Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.
That is the witness of St. Lawrence, as it is the witness of many saints, recall the example of St. Dominic who sold his books to feed the poor in time of famine.
The question then is how can we truly serve God and the poor, recognizing the real treasures of the Church.
The image is from a holy card designed by Ade Bethune. A collection of her works is at St. Catherine University.