Cheerful and Bountiful Sowing of God’s Abundant Seeds of Grace, Feast of St. Lawrence, August 10, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
August 10, 2016
2 Cor 9:6-10, Ps 112, Jn 12:24-26

 

To listen to an audio of today’s homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Until two-and-a-half weeks ago, the Feast of St. Lawrence the Deacon was somewhat unique on the Church’s calendar. Other than the Blessed Mother, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, and the Evangelists — those who had a particular connection to the life of Jesus while he walked on earth as a flesh — he was the only saint or martyr whose annual celebration in the universal calendar of the Church was a feast. Everyone other great hero of the faith was celebrated either as a obligatory or optional memorial. That was changed when St. Mary Magdalene’s memorial was made a feast by Pope Francis on July 22, but we can almost put her in the first category of saints, of those who knew the Lord in his earthly life and were among his first missionaries, as she was dubbed apostolorum apostola. But having noted that tangent, we can and should ask why is St. Lawrence so distinguished among all the saints in the history of the Church after the apostolic age. The fundamental reason is because he is the third patron of the Church of Rome, together with Saints Peter and Paul, and insofar as we’re all Roman Catholics, his annual celebration takes on the character of the Church of Rome. We could also say its fitting because it clearly allows us to celebrate the diaconate, which is so important in the history and present of the Church, and with St. Stephen the Protomartyr and St. Francis of Assisi later, he is among the three most famous deacons in Church history.
  • It’s certainly fitting to celebrate St. Lawrence for those reasons, for what he “stands for,” but I think it’s far more important to celebrate who he is and how we might imitate him. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that whoever serves him must follow him and that the Father will honor whoever serves him. To follow Jesus means to go the path of the grain of wheat, to die to oneself so as to bear fruit, something that Pope Benedict once described as the “essence of Christianity.” St. Lawrence is someone who lived this essence of Christianity. He did so first by sowing himself bountifully, to use St. Paul’s image from today’s first reading, in the charitable service of the diaconate. He did so as well by the well he sowed himself so generously and cheerfully, falling to the ground as a grain of wheat in martyrdom. He received abundant seed from God the sower and he scattered it abroad, multiplying it and increasing an extraordinary harvest of righteousness without sadness or compulsion but with Christ-like self-giving love. Let’s look at each in turn.
  • First, he sowed himself in charity. Deacons by office were selected as men of the Holy Spirit whose lives were directed toward serving Christ by following him as the servant of all. In the early Church in Jerusalem, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles were no longer able to do the charitable service of tables and all the charity that was implied in that activity. So they ordained seven men to the service of charity. They did this not because such charity was less important than prayer and the ministry of the Word the apostles were doing but precisely because it was and the apostles wanted to ensure that it get done. Over the course of time in various ancient dioceses, the service of deacons expanded into diakoniai, the charitable centers of the Church (like Catholic Charities today). In Rome, these service centers were quite extensive and were run by a team of seven deacons. Even though there were many priests in Rome, there were just seven deacons, who were men of great charity and organizational ability, and it was from the deacons that popes were often elected (like Pope Saints Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, who would be ordained priests and then bishop of Rome). St. Lawrence was one of them, in charge of the diakoniai. He died in the persecution of Valerian in 258, four days after Pope St. Sixtus and the other deacons of Rome were arrested in the Catacomb of St. Praetextatus during the celebration of Mass. St. Lawrence was given a few days to round up all of the Church’s “treasures.” The Romans were trying to decapitate the Church of Rome by killing off its leaders and amassing and destroying all its good. So St. Lawrence assembled all of the Church’s true treasures, which were not books or vessels but those for whom Christ died: all of the poor, but Christian and non-Christian. They were the pearls of great price that the early Church had sacrificed so much to serve. In the words of the Psalm, Lawrence, like the God he was serving, “lavishly [gave] to the poor,” and now “his generosity shall endure forever.”
  • This charity led to his second sowing as a grain of wheat. The authorities were so incensed at Lawrence’s not turning over the supposed real treasures of the Church that they wanted to execute him in a particularly grueling way. He was roasted on a gridiron, a terribly painful manner to die. But just as St. Paul says that God likes a cheerful giver, he remained a cheerful giver as he was giving his life. As he was being burned alive, he turned to his executioners and said perhaps the most famous comic line in all of hagiography: “Assum est. Versa et manduca,” roughly translated, “This side is cooked. Turn me over and eat.”
  • It’s important for us to ask how St. Lawrence was able to sow himself as a grain of wheat so bountifully both in dying to himself in order to improve others’ lives in charity as well as in his famous martyrdom. It was because God had enriched him to do so. St. Paul tells us at the end of today’s first reading, “The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” God had supplied Lawrence with what he needed to sow and Lawrence cooperated, increasing the “harvest of righteousness for God.” In the Opening Prayer, we noted this same point and begged God for a similar bountiful supply: “O God, giver of that ardor of love for you by which St. Lawrence was outstandingly faithful in service and glorious in martyrdom” — in other words, God gave him the seed for the sowing — “grant that we may love what he loved and put into practice what he taught.” We continue to pray for that grace to have the love to sow as bountifully as Lawrence himself practiced. And the greatest seed that God gives is his Son, the grain of wheat, who fell to the ground and died in order that we might receive the seeds of the fruit of redemption and bear great fruit. Christ, that grain of wheat, has become our Living Bread, and he sowed himself into Lawrence and motivated his charity and courage in martyrdom and wishes to do the same for us in the Holy Communion we’re about to receive. To live this truth cheerfully is the true essence of our Christian life.

The readings for today’s feast were: 

Reading 1
2 COR 9:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.
As it is written:He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.
The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 112:1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9

R. (5) Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
Blessed the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commands.
His posterity shall be mighty upon the earth;
the upright generation shall be blessed.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
Well for the man who is gracious and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice;
He shall never be moved;
the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
An evil report he shall not fear;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear
till he looks down upon his foes.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.
Lavishly he gives to the poor,
his generosity shall endure forever;
his horn shall be exalted in glory.
R. Blessed the man who is gracious and lends to those in need.

Gospel
JN 12:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
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