Saint Lawrence was Chief of the seven deacons of Rome. In the year 258 Pope Sixtus was led out to die, and Saint Lawrence followed beside him, weeping because unable to share his fate. Where are you going, my father, without your son? Where are you going, holy pontiff, without your deacon? Never did you offer a sacrifice without my serving you at the altar. In what way have I displeased you? The holy Pope comforted him with the words, I am not abandoning you, my son; a more difficult trial and a more glorious victory are reserved for you; in three days you will follow me.
This prophecy was fulfilled. After the Pope’s martyrdom the prefect of the city, knowing the rich offerings which the Christians put into the hands of the clergy, demanded the treasures of the Roman Church from Lawrence, their guardian. The Saint promised to show him, at the end of three days, riches exceeding all the wealth of the empire. He was granted the time of delay. The Archdeacon of Rome went about assembling the poor, the infirm, and the religious who lived by the alms of the faithful, and he brought them to the prefect on the appointed day. Behold the treasures I promised you; I add pearls and precious stones — these virgins and widows consecrated to God; the Church has no other riches. The prefect replied: How dare you play games with me, miserable one? Is this how you show your contempt for the imperial power?
Christ, whom Lawrence had served in His poor, gave him strength in the conflict which ensued. After being placed on the rack, he was stretched on a grill over a slow fire. He joked about his pains. I am roasted enough on this side, he said, perhaps you should turn me over. Soon, his gaze towards heaven, he gave up his soul to God. He was buried in the catacomb near the Tiburtine Way, called the Verano Field, a little over a mile from the city walls. The faithful watched there for three days to mourn their holy Archdeacon who had been so good to them. God, by the glory of this holy martyr, demonstrates the value He sets upon love for the poor. Innumerable prayers were offered at his tomb. Saint Lawrence continued from his throne in heaven his charity to those in need, granting them, as Saint Augustine says, the smaller graces which they sought, and leading them to the desire of better gifts.
Reflection: Our Lord appears before us in the persons of the poor. Charity to them is a great sign of predestination. It is almost impossible, the holy Fathers assure us, for any one who is charitable to the poor, above all for Christ’s sake, to perish.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 9; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).