Tag Archives: Saint Lawrence

The treasures of the church

DSC07607Saint 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.

 

 

The poor are the riches of the Church.

He distributed;
he gave to the poor;
his justice remains forever
Psalm 112 (111):9

The most famous story of St. Lawrence, deacon of Rome, is his quip while being roasted on a gridiron: “Turn me over; I’m done already on this side.” He had not only courage, but a sense of humor.

But there is another story that perhaps we should pay more attention to.

Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome appointed to give alms to the poor. In early August 258 Pope Sixtus and six of the deacons were martyred.

Lawrence was spared so that he could gather up the riches of the church to hand over to the Roman prefect.

Lawrence gathered the poor of the city, gave them whatever money the church had, and brought them before the prefect.

“Here is the treasury of the Church,” he proclaimed.

The poor are the riches of the church.

We, as the people of God, ought to share what we have with them – so that there is no poor among us (Acts 4: 34).

We ought to treat them all with respect, associating with them (Romans 12:16).

In an address to his fellow Argentinians earlier this week, Pope Francis reminded us that it is not enough to give alms.

Speaking to pilgrims to a shrine of St. Cajetan, he recalled the theme of the pilgrimage: “With Jesus and St Cajetan, let us reach out to those most in need.”

This speaks of the people most in need, of those who need us to give them a hand, who need us to look them with love, to share their pain or their anxieties, their problems. What’s important is that we don’t just look at them from afar or help from afar. No, no! We must reach out to them. This is being Christian! This is what Jesus taught us: to reach out to the needy. Like Jesus who always reached out to the people. He went to meet them. Reaching out to those most in need.

Sometimes, I ask people, “Do you give alms.” They say, “Yes, father.” “And when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to?” “Ah, I do not know, I don’t really think about it”. “Then you have not reached out to those people. You just tossed them some charity and went away. When you give alms, do you touch their hands or just toss them the coins?” “No, I toss them the coins”. “Then you have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not reached out to them.” What Jesus teaches us, first of all, is to reach out to each other, and in reaching out, helping one another.

We must be able to reach out to each other. We must build, create, construct a culture of encounter.

And when we reach out to the poor we find that they are real people – with hopes and dreams like us, with pains and sorrows like ours, or worse.

They are people with capabilities, real people, who dream of a future for their children, who are frustrated by lack of opportunities or by discrimination.

What can we offer them?

Most of all we need to offer them our friendship. accompanying them in their joys and struggles.

That’s what Jesus did. Can we do less?