“These poor people are the treasure of the church! To these I can add pearls and precious stones – the widows and celibates – the church’s crown by which it pleases Christ. The church has no other riches.”
Lawrence, third century church deacon, speaking to a Roman high official who demanded the church’s riches for the Emperor.
Lawrence was born in Spain and, as a young Christian, shone so much in his devotion to Jesus that he was chosen by the future pope, Xystus, to be his disciple.
When Xystus became Pope he appointed Lawrence to serve as Archdeacon of the Roman church. In this position he had to look after the church’s treasury and make sure that poor people in the city were fed. At this time the church in Rome looked after 1500 poor people as well as widows and celibates.
The Emperor Valerian determined at this time to stamp out Christianity and in the year 257AD ordered all the leaders of the church to be killed – including Pope Xystus. Lawrence was heart-broken and, seeing his spiritual father being led away, he, too, longed for martyrdom. As he wept saying, “Father, where are you going without your son?” the Pope replied “I do not leave you, my son. You shall follow me in three days – but a greater trial and more glorious victory are waiting for you!”
Xystus told Lawrence to quickly get rid of all the church’s wealth for the Emperor was sure to want it. Searching the highways and streets of Rome, Lawrence found the poor, the widows and the orphans with whom he was so familiar and gave them the church’s money. He even sold the sacred vessels to increase the sum given to them.
Shortly after he had done this, the city prefect came to him, asking him to hand over all the church’s money and treasures, just as he had been warned.
“The church is indeed rich; the emperor has no treasure equal to it! Just allow me to set things in order and make an inventory!” Lawrence said, knowing what he must do.
Lawrence hurriedly went to the highways and streets of Rome and, on the third day after his encounter with the prefect, came back bringing the poor, the lame, the blind and the lepers and sat them in rows before the church. Then he went to the prefect and invited him to come and see the treasure of the church.
Seeing the city prefect’s great displeasure he said, “What is the matter? These poor people are the treasure of the church! To these I can add pearls and precious stones – the widows and celibates – the church’s crown by which it pleases Christ. The church has no other riches. Make use then of these for the benefit of Rome, the Emperor and yourself!”
Lawrence then proceeded to tell the horrified prefect that he must turn from his sin and give money to the poor!
The city prefect was furious and ordered Lawrence’s immediate death, a terrible one by slow burning, to match his defiance. As he died, His face radiated extraordinary light and he prayed for Rome’s inhabitants to turn to Jesus. Seeing all this, several high-ranking officials were converted on the spot.
The pope had been right. Within three days Lawrence had endured a greater trial and had died as a martyr. In life, in death, he had showed the people of Rome who are the real treasures of the church.