I grew up Catholic.
When I was in 3rd or 4th grade my parents joined a Protestant church. As a kid, Catholic and Protestant church seemed was more similar than different. There were a few obvious differences that stood out to me: the worship service was longer than mass; priests dressed cooler than pastors; it was easier to sleep in the Protestant service (not so much standing, sitting, and kneeling); and the Catholic church building seemed sort of “holy” while the Protestant church building seemed sort of “flat”—like a warehouse or a strip mall or something that seemed to lack imagination, even to an elementary school kid.
As an adult I realize there are much more significant differences between Catholicism and the various worshipping traditions that have come out of the Protestant Reformation. Some of them still seem a bit trivial, and some of them are quite substantial.
One of the things I think the Protestants miss out on is the historical continuity of the church. Our shared history. Our shared saints.
I’m not gonna jump into the debate on whether we can or can’t (even, should or shouldn’t) pray to the saints, whether we’re actually praying to the saints or praying to become like them, or if we’re asking them to pray for us (and if that’s similar or different than asking any friend to pray for us).
I just think it’s generally sad that Protestants miss out on the stories, legacies, and potential impact of the historical heroes of our faith.Some of my favorite saints include:
- Christopher the patron saint of travelers
- Francis of Assisi the patron saint for the environment, peace, and those who struggle for justice
- Santiago (or Saint James) the patron saint of pilgrims
And thanks to our friend Mark, who recently introduced me to my newest favorite saint, Saint Lawrence has captured my attention.
Lawrence is considered the patron of comedians, librarians (sort of ironic since I can’t find any books about him), wine makers, and the poor. He’s also considered to be one of the “most honored martyrs of the Roman church.”Lawrence was born in Spain. In 257 Pope Sixtus (or Xystus) II ordained Lawrence Archdeacon, despite being a very young man, the head of the seven deacons of the church in Rome. Although Christianity had been outlawed in Rome a year earlier, Lawrence was given the responsibilities of distributing the church’s revenue among the poor, the authority and administration over the church’s treasury, and the archival responsibilities of maintaining the church’s documents.
On August 6, 258 the pope and the six other deacons were arrested and beheaded under Emperor Valerian. As the pope was being led to his death he prophesied that Lawrence would follow him in martyrdom in three days. After the executions, Lawrence was left the functional head of the church and the Roman prefect gave Lawrence three days to gather the wealth of the church and surrender it to the state.For those three days Lawrence distributed everything to the poor, even selling some precious and sacred vessels to raise more money to give away. Upon arrest, Lawrence was asked to turn over the church’s wealth. Tradition tells us that a multitude of people who were poor accompanied Lawrence, who boldly presented the poor as “the true treasures of the church.” Lawrence is even said to have stated before Valerian’s prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This of course solidified plans for his execution.
A fire was prepared, a large grill or gridiron was set above it, and Lawrence was fastened to it and slowly roasted to his death. We are told that while being cooked alive, Lawrence cried out, “You’ll need to turn me over now, this side is done.”
I am inspired by the creative courage of the young man who when forced to surrender the wealth of the church, didn’t present gold and valuable artifacts or holy relics, rather centered the most vulnerable, those on the margins, the suffering, and the poor.
I recently got me a silver St. Lawrence medal that I’ve been wearing. I love the story and I love message of his life.
Oh yeah, and Lawrence is my middle name. Good one, huh?