Laurence, whom we celebrate today, is considered by some to be “the most famous of all early Christian martyrs,” and his story is indeed worth telling.
Valerian was the Roman Emperor from 253 to 260 AD, and in 257, he began his persecution of Christians in Rome. At first, the Christians were only to be banished, but later they were executed. At that time, Sixtus II was Pope and the Bishop of Rome. Rome itself was broken into seven districts, each cared for by a deacon, and the archdeacon was Laurence; therefore, he was very close to Sixtus in the care of the funds and welfare of the Church but also personally.
In 258, the Romans came for Sixtus to execute him because he would not forsake his faith. Laurence is reported to have said to him, “Father, where are you going without your son? Where are you hastening, O priest, without your deacon? Never before did you offer the holy Sacrifice without assistants. In what way have I displeased you? In what way have you found me unfaithful in my office? Oh, try me again and prove to yourself whether you have chosen an unworthy minister for the service of the Church. So far, you have been trusting me with distributing the Blood of the Lord.”
Sixtus answered, “I am not forsaking you, my son; a severer trial is awaiting you for your faith in Christ. The Lord is considerate toward me because I am a weak old man. But for you, a most glorious triumph is in store. Cease to weep, for already, after three days, you will follow me.”
Hearing this, Laurence went and sold all the sacred vessels of the church and then took the money and gave it all to the poor of Rome. When the Roman magistrate received word of this, he arrested Laurence and said to him, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”
Laurence acknowledged that the Church was of great wealth and said, “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” The magistrate agreed. Laurence then went and gathered all the poor, the lepers, and the lame brought them to one location, and invited the magistrate to come. When he did, Laurence showed him all those he had gathered and said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”
This did not go over well with the magistrate, who had Laurence arrested and promised that Laurence’s death would be long and painful. Laurence’s reply, “I do not fear your torments; this night shall become as brightest day and as light without any darkness.”
The magistrate had a griddle formed, tied Laurence to it, and placed it over the fire. Laurence, by the grace of God, is reported to have been spared the pain and, in jest, at one point, said to his executioners, “Now you may turn me over; my body is roasted enough on this side.”
Jesus said, “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” Laurence served the Lord in marvelous and miraculous ways, but to be honored by the Father only requires that we serve Him faithfully.
How is it your life can honor the Father? Look to Laurence, and you will have a model for what it means to serve God and to be honored for your good works.