Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast
of St. Lawrence


In August of A.D. 258, the emperor Valerian ordered that all deacons, priests, and Bishops be put to death -- but they were to bring him all the treasure the Christians had. Tradition via the Golden Legend tells us that Pope Sixtus II met with Lawrence, saying to him:
"I shall not leave thee, my son, but greater strifes and battles be due to thee for the faith of Jesu Christ. We, as old men, have taken more lighter battle, and to thee as to a young man shall remain a more glorious battle of which thou shalt triumph and have victory of the tyrant, and shalt follow me within three days."

Then he delivered to him all the treasures, commanding him that he should give them to churches and poor people. And the blessed man sought the poor people night and day, and gave to each of them that as was needful, and came to the house of an old woman, which had hid in her house many Christian men and women, and long she had had the headache, and St. Laurence laid his hand opon her head, and anon she was healed of the ache and pain.

And he washed the feet of the poor people and gave to each of them alms. The same night he went to the house of a Christian man and found therein a blind man, and gave to him his sight by the sign of the cross.

And when the blessed Sixtus would not consent to Decius, ne offer to the idols, he commanded that he should be led forth and beheaded.

St. Lawrence gave all the material goods he could to the poor, and then, three days after Pope Sixtus was martyred, he was martyred as well -- the last of the deacons of Rome to be executed. He was put to death by being roasted on a gridiron over a fire. The Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, gives us this account:

And the ministers despoiled him, and laid him stretched out upon a gridiron of iron, and laid burning coals under, and held him with forks of iron. Then said Laurence to Valerianus: Learn, thou cursed wretch, that thy coals give to me refreshing of coldness, and make ready to thee torment perdurable, and our Lord knoweth that I, being accused, have not forsaken him, and when I was demanded I confessed him Christ, and I being roasted give thankings unto God.

And after this he said with a glad cheer unto Decius, Thou cursed wretch, thou hast roasted that one side, turn that other, and eat.

And then he, rendering thankings to our Lord, said: I thank thee, Lord Jesu Christ, for I have deserved to enter into thy gates.

How epically flippant! "Hey, pal, I'm cooked on the one side; time to flip me over!"

St. Lawrence was buried in the Catacomb of Cyriaca, on the Via Tiburtina. Constantine the Great built a chapel there in his honor, and this chapel was built up over the years, becoming known as St. Lawrence-Outside-The-Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura), one of the original seven patriarchal basilicas of Rome. Another church, San Lorenzo in Panisperna, was built at the place of his martyrdom. In this latter church, one can venerate the gridiron upon which St. Lawrence was put to death.

St. Lawrence is patron of librarians, archivists, cooks, and deacons. He is most often represented in art handing out the treasures of the Church, roasting on a gridiron, or with a gridiron, the Gospels, or a bag of money for the poor.


Customs and Traditions

Some might prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to St. Lawrence starting on August 1 and ending on August 9, the eve of his feast.

Tonight, or especially tomorrow night and up to the dawn of 12 August, 1 if you look up at a clear sky in the Northern hemisphere, you may be blessed to see the Perseid meteor shower, 2 debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle whose "radiant" (point of apparent origin) is in the constellation of Perseus. This meteor shower is known as "the tears of St. Lawrence" because it is most visible at this time of year, though these streaks of light can sometimes be seen as early as 17 July and as late as 24 August.

To see St. Lawrence's "fiery tears," go outside after midnight, to a place as far away as possible from city lights (leave the city, if possible, and drive toward the constellation so that the city lights' glow will be behind you). Lie down on the grass and look up and toward the North, about halfway between the constellation Perseus 3 -- which will be very, very low on the horizon to the northeast -- and the point directly overhead. Scan the sky elsewhere, too, but this area will be the most likely place to see the meteors. If the sky is too cloudy or the Moon is too full (see at right) for you to get a good view of the stars, you might not have any luck at all -- but there will always be next year to try again!

When you see a "shooting star," make a wish, as folklore says that wishes made when seeing such a star come true. Better yet, make the "wish" a prayer, and invoke St. Lawrence to pray it with you! (To learn more about God's beautiful stars, see this site's Zodiac sub-section.)

Psalm 8 ("Dómine, Dóminus noster") is a part of the Second Nocturne of today's Divine Office, and is an especially appropriate psalm to think of, along with its associated antiphon, while watching the tears of St. Lawrence.

O Lord our Governour, how excellent is thy Name in all the world; Thou hast set Thy glory above the heavens! Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength, because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. For I will consider Thy heavens, even the works of Thy fingers; the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained.

What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him lower than the Angels, to crown him with glory and worship. Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of Thy hands; and Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet : All sheep and oxen; yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas.

O Lord our Governour, how excellent is Thy Name in all the world!

Blessed Lawrence said : The darkness is no darkness with me, but the night is as clear as the dawning, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

And then there is this prayerful poem by Joyce Kilmer, who converted from Episcopalinism to Catholicism and later died in France as a soldier during World War I:

St. Laurence

Within the broken Vatican
The murdered Pope is lying dead.
The soldiers of Valerian
Their evil hands are wet and red.

Unarmed, unmoved, St. Laurence waits,
His cassock is his only mail.
The troops of Hell have burst the gates,
But Christ is Lord, He shall prevail.

They have encompassed him with steel,
They spit upon his gentle face,
He smiles and bleeds, nor will reveal
The Church's hidden treasure-place.

Ah, faithful steward, worthy knight,
Well hast thou done.  Behold thy fee!
Since thou hast fought the goodly fight
A martyr's death is fixed for thee.

St. Laurence, pray for us to bear
The faith which glorifies thy name.
St. Laurence, pray for us to share
The wounds of Love's consuming flame.

As to foods, there is nothing in particular associated with this day that I am aware of -- but, given St. Lawrence's mode of death, a barbecue seems a very natural choice. Grill some meats, have a nice cooler of icy-cold beer, and prepare for a late night of star-gazing and recalling the glory of St. Lawrence! And while you're grilling meat, grill some sweet corn as well:

Grilled Corn

8 ears of sweet corn, still in their husks

Pull down the corn's husks, one leaf at a time, and remove the silk. With the husks still pulled down, tie them together with twine so the ear is exposed and so that you have a "handle" with with to eat the corn when it's done. Rub the ears with olive oil and grill directly over a medium high flame (about 400 degrees)  until charred on all sides (about 13 minutes). Coat with the following mixture and serve with lime wedges, and with fresh cilantro for those who want it:

1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (a crumbly Mexican cheese) or feta
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Since you're eating outside at night, you have to make S'Mores. That's just how it is; it's the law. In case you're from Mars and don't know what S'Mores are, you make them like this: Get a graham cracker, break it in half so you have two squares, place on top of one square a half of a plain Hershey's bar, and set aside. Now get a stick and put a large marshmallow or two on the end of it. Hold it over a fire until it's cooked the way you like it (I like mine charred and black after their having been literally on fire). Put the hot marshmallow(s) on top of the chocolate, top with the second graham cracker square, press together, and eat.

Finally, I present the priest composer Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in FMajor (RV 286), written just for the day, "Per la solennitŕ di S. Lorenzo":

As an aside: In Palazzolo Acreide, Siracusa, Italy, a great celebration in honor of St. Sebastian is held today.


Sermon LXXXV
On the Feast of S. Laurence the Martyr
By Pope St. Leo the Great

I. The Example of the Martyrs is Most Valuable

Whilst the height of all virtues, dearly-beloved, and the fulness of all righteousness is born of that love, wherewith God and one's neighbour is loved, surely in none is this love found more conspicuous and brighter than in the blessed martyrs; who are as near to our Lord Jesus, Who died for all men, in the imitation of His love, as in the likeness of their suffering. For, although that Love, wherewith the Lord has redeemed us, cannot be equalled by any man's kindness, because it is one thing that a man who is doomed to die one day should die for a righteous man, and another that One Who is free from the debt of sin should lay down His life for the wicked : yet the martyrs also have done great service to all men, in that the Lord Who gave them boldness, has used it to show that the penalty of death and the pain of the cross need not be terrible to any of His followers, but might be imitated by many of them. If therefore no good man is good for himself alone, and no wise man's wisdom befriends himself only, and the nature of true virtue is such that it leads many away from the dark error on which its light is shed, no model is more useful in teaching God's people than that of the martyrs. Eloquence may make intercession easy, reasoning may effectually persuade; but yet examples are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.

II. The Saint's Martyrdom Described.

And how gloriously strong in this most excellent manner of doctrine the blessed martyr Laurentius is, by whose sufferings to-day is marked, even his persecutors were able to feel, when they found that his wondrous courage, born principally of love for Christ, not only did not yield itself, but also strengthened others by the example of his endurance. For when the fury of the gentile potentates was raging against Christ's most chosen members, and attacked those especially who were of priestly rank, the wicked persecutor's wrath was vented on Laurentius the deacon, who was pre-eminent not only in the performance of the sacred rites, but also in the management of the church's property , promising himself double spoil from one man's capture: for if he forced him to surrender the sacred treasures, he would also drive him out of the pale of true religion. And so this man, so greedy of money and such a foe to the truth, arms himself with double weapon: with avarice to plunder the gold; with impiety to carry off Christ. He demands of the guileless guardian of the sanctuary that the church wealth on which his greedy mind was set should be brought to him. But the holy deacon showed him where he had them stored, by pointing to the many troops of poor saints, in the feeding and clothing of whom he had a store of riches which he could hot lose, and which were the more entirely safe that the money had been spent on so holy a cause.

III.the Description of His Sufferings Continued.

The baffled plunderer, therefore, frets, and blazing out into hatred of a religion, which had put riches to such a use, determines to pillage a still greater treasure by carrying off that sacred deposit, wherewith he was enriched, as he could find no solid hoard of money in his possession. He orders Laurentius to renounce Christ, and prepares to ply the deacon's stout courage with frightful tortures: and, when the first elicit nothing, fiercer follow. His limbs, torn and mangled by many cutting blows, are commanded to be broiled upon the fire in an iron framework, which was of itself already hot enough to burn him, and on which his limbs were turned from time to time, to make the torment fiercer, and the death more lingering.

IV. Laurentius Has Conquered His Persecutor.

Thou gainest nothing, thou prevailest nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from thy devices, and, when Laurentius departs to heaven, thou art vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by thy flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. Thou didst but serve the martyr in thy rage, O persecutor: thou didst but swell the reward in adding to the pain. For what did thy cunning devise, which did not redound to the conqueror's glory, when even the instruments of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then, dearly-beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is "wonderful in His saints," in whom He has given us a support and an example, and has so spread abroad his glory throughout the world, that, from the rising of the sun to its going down, the brightness of his deacon's light doth shine, and Rome is become as famous in Laurentius as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen. By his prayer and intercession we trust at all times to be assisted; that, because all, as the Apostle says, "who wish to live holily in Christ, suffer persecution," we may be strengthened with the spirit of love, and be fortified to overcome all temptations by the perseverance of steadfast faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ...



1 You will probably have better luck seeing the meteors around 10 PM tomorrow night (11 August), the last of the "Dog Days" (see footnote 1 on the page for Twelfth Night). The pre-dawn hours (early morning of 12 August) are usually the best time for viewing.

2 A meteor (sometimes called "shooting stars" or "falling stars" even though they are not stars) is a meteoroid that has entered our atmosphere and, so, is burned up by friction, often with little bursts of color (white, blue, red, yellow, green) and, sometimes, even noise (buzzing, popping, whistling, crackling, even the occasional, relatively loud boom!).

A meteroid is a usually small particle -- often no bigger than a grain of sand -- that is produced by comets.

Comets are typically balls of dust and ice that "circle" our sun in predictable orbits. As they near the sun, the sun's heat melts the comet's ice, releasing some of the dust particles which then produce the comet's "tail."

If a meteor hits the earth, it is then called a meteorite.

3 Photograph of the constellation Perseus, with lines drawn in. You will see Perseus very low on the horizon to the Northeast. To the Northwest, about a third of the way up from the horizon and overhead point, will be Ursa Major -- the "Great Bear," with its "Big Dipper" or "Plough":


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