Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Treasures of the Church"

If you and I had been living in Rome when Valerian was Emperor in the 3rd century, especially if we'd been in the upper tax bracket, life could've been rather tough. Can you imagine a Pope (Sixtus II) being arrested and dragged off, along with seven of his deacons, then summarily executed, except for one: the Archdeacon Laurence.

Tradition has it that the prefect ordered Laurence to provide information on all the Church's treasures, which, of course, was really the bottom-line of Valerian's persecution. So Laurence goes out and gathers together the sick and the poor of the city, well-known to him, since, as a deacon, he'd ministered to them by assisting them in their needs. He presents them to the prefect and says: "Here are the treasures of the Church"! To say the least, the prefect wasn't amused. Laurence, according to tradition, paid for his heroism with his life, being grilled on a gridiron. Like Jesus, "he went not up to joy but first he suffered pain..."

Because of the great devotion to Laurence's heroic martyrdom/witness, Constantine, a future emperor, later built a shrine and basilica over Laurence's tomb which was in one of the catacombs. The current Church of St. Laurence Outside the Walls, a double basilica, was built between the 6th and 13th centuries.

Laurence is one of that "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding us, who inspire us in our following of Jesus to bring God's reign to bear on our own society. His witness poignantly reminds us that the sick in body and mind, the poor, the needy, the homeless, the disadvantaged among us are "treasures" to whose needs you and I are called to tend. That would be a great expression of devotion to the memory of one of our great Church heroes.

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