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The Life and Death of Deacon Lawrence Call Us to Courage in a New Rome
By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 11th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
I ask our readers to pray for all Deacons of the Church in this critical hour. That we may have the courage and holiness of Deacon Lawrence. We face growing hostility from those who weary of our insistence upon a respect for all human life,our defense of true marriage and our insistence upon restoring the moral foundations of society. They seek to silence us in a soft persecution. They have begun to focus their growing animosity on the Catholic Church. That is because she will not compromise the truth. It is in just such times that we need many Deacons like Lawrence to stand strong in their uncompromising fidelity to the ancient yet ever new Catholic Christian faith.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - On August 10 in the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar we commemorated a great Deacon and Martyr of the early Church named Lawrence. I have served as a deacon for sixteen years and continue to draw great encouragement from the story of Deacon Lawrence as I seek to be faithful to my own vocation.
I am also a student of Church history. I regularly write about - and contend with - the challenges we currently face in this new missionary age. I find myself regularly reminding people that these times are not the most difficult the Church has faced. Nor is our situation all that new to the Church. We were born for times such as these. However, the hostility toward the faith is accelerating.
I offer this account of this Deacon/Martyr named Lawrence who helped to bring the entire pagan Roman Empire to Jesus Christ to demonstrate that fact. It seems particularly relevant because we do seem to be living in a modern Rome. Deacon Lawrences' heroic life and death commend him to all who see the Third Christian Millennium as a new missionary age and are willing to sacrifice all for the love of Jesus Christ and His Church.
The year was 258. It was a difficult beginning for what would become the First Christian Millennium. Hostility against these early followers of Jesus Christ was growing. The barbarism and severity of pagan Rome had begun to reach a fever pitch. It would soon lead to a blood lust. The newborn Christian Church, faithful to the One who had given Himself for the life of the world, continued the work of His redemption.
Roman authorities charged Christians of that era with "odium humani generis" [hatred of the human race]. The Romans claimed to be citizens of a great empire, yet they practiced primitive forms of abortion as well as "exposure", the killing of unwanted newborns. They also tried to institutionalize approval of homosexual relationships on a par with authentic marriage.
Emperor Nero in the first-century A.D. was not only overt in his homosexual relationships but sought to make them normative in the empire, to give an equal status between homosexual relationships and marriage. First and Second century Rome was a challenging mission field for these early Christians. Rome proclaimed itself the shining example to the world of its age while it violated the natural law and embraced debauchery.
The day that Deacon Lawrence experienced his birth from death to life was an ominous and frightful day in ancient Rome. Four days earlier, the great Bishop of Rome, Sixtus, was arrested by soldiers of the emperor Valerian, along with his beloved deacons, and beheaded.
Sentenced to death in the Emperor Valerian's sweeping condemnation of all Christian clergy, Lawrence offended the Emperor and endeared himself to all Christians since-by assembling before Valerian the "gold and silver" of the Church.
Valerian heard the news and wanted the treasure to satisfy his unbridled lust for worldly power. So, he offered Deacon Lawrence a way out of sure death. If he would show him where the Church's great gold and silver were located, he would issue an order of clemency, sparing his life so that he could continue his work. Valerian was delighted when the deacon asked for three days to gather all the gold and silver of the Church together in one central place!
For three days, Deacon Lawrence went throughout the city and invited all the beloved poor, handicapped, and misfortunate, who were all being supported by a thriving early Christian community who understood the Gospel imperative, to come together.
The tradition records massive conversions to the Christian faith as a result of the holy life and death of one Deacon who understood the true heart of his vocation. He was poured out, like his Master, Jesus Christ the Servant, in redemptive love, on behalf of others. It is still said to this day that all of Rome became Christian as a result of the faithful life, and the death, of this one humble deacon. He was buried in a cemetery on the Via Tiburtina. On that spot, Constantine would later build a Basilica.
A special devotion to Lawrence, deacon and martyr, spread throughout the entire Christian community. Early Christians had no doubt that those who had gone to be with the Lord continued to pray for those who still struggled in this earthly life. They saw in Lawrence a great example of how to live, and how to die, faithful to the Gospel. Years later, St Augustine would reflect on the heroism of this great deacon in a sermon preached on his feast day, emphasizing that his life and death were an example for all Christians to emulate:
"I tell you again and again my brethren, that in the Lord's garden are to be found not only the roses of His martyrs. In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them."
The life and death of Deacon Lawrence still speaks the timeless message of the Gospel to all who will listen. As we live our lives faithfully-no matter what our vocation-we are to make the message our own. Whether we are ever called to shed our blood in what has traditionally been called "red martyrdom" or simply called to offer our sacrifices daily in a continuous life of poured-out love (traditionally called "white martyrdom"), we continue the redemptive work of the One to whom Lawrence offered himself fully, Jesus Christ.
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