Be Persecuted Like St. Lawrence

If being faithful in 2023 means that you are at odds with the world, then how should one proceed? 

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Jesus said to His disciples: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (John 15:18). 

Persecution and hostility toward the disciples of Jesus is not a novel reality. When a culture such as ours condemns the very nature of objective truth and the need for God, there is no wonder why faithful Americans can feel as if their way of life is being attacked. If being faithful in 2023 means that you are at odds with the world, then how should one proceed? 

In 1905, G.K. Chesterton wrote that the future would look like this: 

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Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed…Fires will be kindled to testify that two plus two equals four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed. 

Chesterton was prophetic with these words. Our world today denies truth and champions the unhindered liberty to do whatever you like rather than doing what you ought. Yes, these times are filled with evils and with relativism and materialism. However, these times are also filled with Christians who are standing up for the true, good, and beautiful. 

Remaining true to the words of Jesus Christ concerning Heaven, Hell, discipleship, marriage, divorce, and worship can leave one to sound like a bigot rather than a spiritual guru. America continues to travel through an age where the child in the womb is denied life, marriage is redefined, and biological sex is determined by feelings rather than facts. Amid all of these realities, Catholics who cling to Church teachings have been persecuted; and they will continue to be persecuted. 

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence, who was born around A.D. 225 and later became a deacon serving under Pope St. Sixtus II. His main role as a deacon was to give aid to the poor and the needy in Rome. He was in charge of the charitable efforts to widows, orphans, and the poor for the pope. 

In A.D. 258, Emperor Valerian published an edict that stated that all deacons, priests, and bishops must be put to death. When the pope was arrested and was on the way to his beheading, Lawrence followed after him and asked him, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?” Pope Sixtus responded to Lawrence that in three days he would follow in the same footsteps. 

The Latin roots of the word persecution (persequi) literally mean “to follow through.” In this true sense, Lawrence would be persecuted. He was going to be given the chance to follow through with his belief in Christ and to follow his pope and spiritual father through to martyrdom. Perhaps this is why Jesus says that the persecuted are the blessed ones (Matthew 5:11-12). They follow Jesus most closely. 

Over the course of the next three days, Lawrence gave away all of his money and possessions to the poor. He also began to sell expensive church vessels to give more money to those in need. News of Lawrence’s move to sell everything quickly spread, and the emperor was willing to allow Lawrence to live if he would hand over the treasures of the Church. 

He agreed, at first, and spent time gathering all the poor and outcasts that he could find. He brought them to the emperor and explained that these are the treasures of Christ’s Church. The emperor condemned Lawrence to death in a gruesome manner: he was to be placed on a gridiron and burned to death. 

The Greek word diogmos is used in the Bible and can be translated as “chase, pursuit, or persecution.” Valerian had his cohort chase and pursue all Catholic clergy so that he could put them to death for believing in Christ. Our society does something similar, albeit more discreet and less obvious: Western culture chases away truth and morality while it goes in pursuit of a world devoid of God and sin. The Church is hunted down because she is often made to appear as a monster—a bigoted and intolerant institution that must be made extinct for holding onto traditional values.

When we are chased down, we must follow through. We must become like Lawrence. As he was over the fire, he famously turned toward his executioner with joy and exclaimed: “You can flip me over, I am done on this side.” He knew that in the face of suffering and death, Christ was real, and He was with him. St. Lawrence knew that following through until the end, and even allowing others to chase him down, was how he was made into another Christ. This was how he was becoming even more alive.  When we are chased down, we must follow through. We must become like Lawrence. Tweet This

So, in the face of the challenges of our times, let us joyfully exclaim: “Turn us over.” We are following through on the Truth who is a person: Jesus Christ. And we will never abandon Him. They hated Him first. If the world persecutes us, we are in good company. 

St. Lawrence, pray for us. 

Author

  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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