Some of us—most of the readers of this blog, the Rad Trad suspects—are observing the octave of St. Lawrence, the martyred deacon of Rome. As with many of the ancient Roman saints, what little we know about St. Lawrence inspires reflection in the contemporary reader's life.
We have all the heard the familiar tale about Lawrence's death. He was told to bring forth the "treasures of the Church." Instead, the Saint dispersed the Roman Church's holdings and brought before his impious opponent paupers and widows who held the faith, the truest treasures of the Church. In anger, the Romans flayed him on a hot iron. The Saint told his chef during the searing process that he was done on this side and could be flipped. This last element is often told in the manner that I have just recounted it, humorously. Deeper reflection on the story of St. Lawrence reveals more about the Saint and about the Christian's life than meets the eye.
The only people I find who do not laugh at St. Lawrence's wry comment at the moment of his execution are soldiers and veterans. St. Lawrence's commitment and cynical resolution at the moment of his greatest pains and assured death resonate with those whose lives are dedicated to sacrifice. But let us look deeper still. The Saint's words at death and his decision to substitute dour widows for drachmas guaranteed not only death for him, but a very brutal and violent death indeed. Mere avoidance would likely have yielded a "normal" execution. St. Lawrence decided twice to toy with his malefactors rather than forthrightly dying as many other Christians undoubtedly were. Why?
St. Lawrence in these two deeds of making fools of Roman officials and poking fun at his executioner synchronized irony and humor in what closely reflects true Christian happiness. Happiness, we are told, is being satisfied in doing what God wants us to do or what we think He wants us to do. Lawrence is the antipode to Jonah and follows Christ in rebutting those who cannot understand suffering, who ask "How can a good God afflict us?" Christ on the Cross sanctified suffering and made it the means, the vehicle of our redemption. To be a disciple one must pick up the cross daily and follow Him. Upon being discovered as a Christian St. Lawrence knew he was bound to death. Rather than follow morosely to the execution fields, he let his happiness in following Christ be known so that others might take notice. This kind of joy that derives from following Christ even unto suffering was prefigured before His coming and is preserved in the beginning of the Roman rite of Mass:
"For thou art God my strength: why hast thou cast me off? and why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me? Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles. And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth."
St. Philip Neri, an eccentric Roman priest with a penchant for laughter and didactic jokes if ever there was one, may only have differed from St. Lawrence in that he never had the opportunity to be martyred. Like St. Lawrence he was certainly given sufficient time to find joy in doing what God willed of him, even in his tribulations. The good Lord daily gives us the same chances.