Thought for the Day – Monday 10th August 2020
When I was in the sixth form at school one of our teachers, who was keen on politics, organised a trip to the Houses of Parliament. It was a fascinating day involving a tour around the building and meeting our MP. During the tour I well remember the guide showing us some of the very elaborate murals there which included symbols for various saints. He drew our attention to a grid iron saying: “That is my favourite - a red hot grid iron was how St. Laurence was martyred.” This has stayed with me, but I did not know much about Laurence until l realised that today, 10th August, is his feast day.
Laurence was born in Spain in AD 225 but travelled to Rome and was ordained Deacon by Pope Sixtus II becoming treasurer of the church, a very responsible position. Christianity was illegal in the Roman empire at the time and Christians were frequently persecuted. In 258 the emperor Valerian had Sixtus executed and demanded that Laurence hand over all the church’s valuables. Laurence asked for, and was granted, a few days to sort them out, but he used that opportunity to give them all away to the poor of the city. When Valerian asked for them, Laurence brought him a number of poor beggars from the street. “Here are the treasures of the church” he is reputed to have said. Valerian was not pleased and Laurence’s end was, as we have seen, not a pleasant one.
It makes for a great story, and, because of his wise crack Laurence is unsurprisingly the patron saint of comedians, amongst others. However, there is a serious side to this and Laurence is venerated as one of the most important of the saints in the Roman calendar, especially in the city of Rome itself. The seriousness comes from his depiction of ordinary people, the lowliest of the low in fact, being the treasures of the church. The man who was charged with the care and supervision of the ornaments and valuables of the church did not see them as important as the members of the church. He did not allow himself to get carried away with the grandeur and ceremony, or indeed with power and influence, but he appreciated what was really important – what is really important to God. We too can get obsessed with church things – buildings, decorations, property. They are necessary and significant of course, and they can be an immense aid to our worship and our understanding of God. I am definitely not advocating disposing of them. They can, however, become ends in themselves sometimes, and we must be careful to guard against that. The life and untimely death of Laurence reminds us of the need for that perspective.
Who made Laurence a loving servant of your people and a wise steward of the treasures of your Church:
Fire us with his example to love as he loved and to walk in the way that leads to eternal life;
Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
Who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen