Commentary on the Gospel of

George Butterfield - Creighton University - retired


Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr


Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. It is hard to imagine how one deacon could have such an impact upon the Church. St. Pope Leo the Great said of him, “The Lord has desired to exalt his glorious name in the world so much that from the East to the West, in the lively flaring of the light radiated by the greatest deacons, the same glory that came to Jerusalem from Stephen has also touched Rome thanks to Lawrence.” Other than our Lady and the apostles, only these two deacons have a “feast” on the Roman calendar. Why did Lawrence, the patron saint of deacons, chefs, and firefighters, make such a lasting mark on the Church?

The first reading from St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians gives us a clue. He says that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Most have likely heard of how St. Lawrence was killed by being cooked on a griddle and eventually remarked, “Turn me over; I’m done on this side” (probably the reason why he is the patron saint of chefs and firefighters)! He had a wicked sense of humor which the Emperor Valerian did not appreciate. After Sixtus II was elected pope, he put Deacon Lawrence in charge of the care of the diocese. Saint Lawrence administered goods and catered to the needs of orphans, widows, and the poor generally. After the emperor decreed that all bishops, priest, and deacons would be executed, he killed the pope but spared Lawrence because he thought that Lawrence could bring him the treasures of the diocese. Lawrence brought him the treasures: the sick, the needy, the marginalized. I can envision Lawrence doing this with a grin on his face. “God loves a cheerful giver.”

The psalm response gives us another clue: “Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.” The psalmist says that “[h]is posterity shall be mighty upon the earth….” Why? “Lavishly he gives to the poor, his generosity shall endure forever, his horn shall be exalted in glory.” Deacon Lawrence gave his life taking care of those in need. He was a nobody. Yet, we celebrate his feast today. Is there anyone alive today who really cares at all about Emperor Valerian? Of Almighty God, our Lady said it well: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives us another clue to St. Lawrence’s fame. Lawrence was a simple, lowly grain of wheat but when he died the way he did, his death produced much fruit. Lawrence hated his life in this world and, thus, preserved it for eternal life. Jesus said, “The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

Many of us Catholics would do well to develop St. Lawrence’s sense of humor. It also wouldn’t hurt us to take the long view of history. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Sometimes it is hard to see it bending. Days like today, when we celebrate a lowly deacon who died in 258, help us to see it. Perhaps you have heard the story of Cardinal George at Pope Benedict’s introduction to the world. As he stood out on the balcony with the other cardinals and the new pope, he was looking away from him. Someone asked him what he was doing. He said that he was looking down toward the hill where all of the Roman emperors had lived and was thinking, They are all gone and the successor of St. Peter, the lowly nobody fisherman, is right here in front of me.

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”


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