St Laurence’s martyrdom earned him a place in the Roman canon and the ancient basilica built over his tomb in Rome is one of the seven major churches of the city. Laurence was one of Rome’s seven deacons, administering the Church’s goods and giving alms to the poor. He was a confidant of Pope St Sixtus II, who suffered martyrdom in the year 258 during the persecution by the Emperor Valerian. A few days after the pope, St Laurence was apprehended and executed.
When St Sixtus II was led off to die, he told Laurence that he would follow him in three days. Laurence then went all over the city distributing the Church’s money and goods to the poor. When the prefect of Rome demanded him to hand over the Church’s treasure, Laurence gathered together a crowd of the poor, the diseased, and the homeless, those whom he had served as deacon. The prefect was angry to see such an assembly of the destitute. Laurence said ‘What are you displeased at? These are the treasure of the Church’. The prefect had Laurence burnt slowly on a gridiron, contrary to the usual practice of beheading with the sword.
St Laurence sealed his works of charity by shedding his blood for the faith. He reminds us that giving alms to the poor is one of the best ways of showing fraternal charity. It is a work of justice greatly pleasing to God. Christ showed a special love for the poor, and in the gospels He tells us explicitly that He will recognise His chosen ones by what they have done for the poor. The Church emulates Christ’s love for the poor through the corporal works of mercy.
In addition to relieving material poverty, we should also strive to relieve the many forms of spiritual and religious poverty that afflict God’s people. This can be more difficult. It requires humility, fortitude, and plausibility, to show people who have not yet come to know the Truth that they have not done so. We evangelize better by example than by hectoring.
The current propensity for blurring and minimizing religious differences is not a spiritual work of mercy. We can but pray that one day the madness will pass, although no doubt it will then be replaced by another delusion equally incoherent. We humans excel at such pretences, and Christians are clearly not immune from the infection.
When the Son of God returns in glory, will the true faith still exist?