The Church's Treasure (St. Lawrence)

Eighteen centuries ago, St Lawrence was the deacon in Rome responsible for the church’s treasury. When a hostile Emperor sought to confiscate the church’s assets, Lawrence distributed everything to the poor. When an official demanded to see the church’s wealth, Lawrence gathered the poor before him and said “Behold, here is the Church’s treasure.” For that, he was cruelly executed.

Lawrence’s witness, however, asks us the question: How do we see the poor? Do we see them as the church’s treasure? Or do we seem them otherwise?

For instance, do we look down on them as inferior, lower class, a public nuisance, or a tax drain?

Perhaps we think they’ve gotten what they deserve. Polls reveal that the prevailing view in America is that “people are poor because of a character flaw like laziness, promiscuity, addiction, or moral failing.”

It could be that we don’t see the poor at all. Either because we intentionally ignore them or, because of where we live and work, they’re “out of sight and out of mind.”

Or maybe, because of our faith, we idealize the poor in some pious, romantic, unrealistic sort of way. 

St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr, challenges us to see the poor as brothers and sisters in the human family, to be treated, not with contempt or even pity, but with compassion, respect, generosity, and humility. As befits people with God-given dignity. As befits the treasure of the Church.

4 Replies to “The Church's Treasure (St. Lawrence)”

  1. In the West Coast community where I live we have some special awareness months. There’s a Breast Cancer awareness Month, a Black History Month, a this month and a that month. This year, for the first time, there was an anti stigma week for the homeless, for addicts (homeless or otherwise) who tended to spend the night on boulevards and in alleys suffering in the manifestation of their sickness, for all the poor who frequented the soup kitchens, etcetera.
    I was left wondering if the stigmatized in the capitol city of British Columbia, Canada were regarded as being, at best, one quarter human. After all, a week is one quarter, or less, than the duration of a month.
    As an aside, during Black History Month a few years ago I tried to interest several groups interested (mainly the public library who were most involved) in the life of the Stark family, former slaves from the Southern United States who had settled about 100 kilometres (about 60 miles) north of the capitol city in the 1800’s. I never got far after before being given the brush off. Their focus seemed mainly on high profile people born after the Civil War in Eastern Canada and the United States.
    The family is well acknowledged in the community where they lived but the provincial government seems aggressively uninterested in publicizing them as 19th Century pioneers.

  2. I recall Mother Theresa was depicted in one scene of the movie of her life where she is accused of receiving money from a thief and asked about that money, she displays the poor children in her home and tells the press, “There is his money.” Simply beautiful and true. There is our treasure, the body of Christ is us. Not only the poor but the wealthy and the middle class and all of the rest. We are us. A foot is not more than a hand or an eye or even the smallest hair. All are necessary and equally valued.

    It is easy to attack people, poor and wealthy alike, when they are seen as corrupt and corruption is not a new problem. But Jesus Christ is a new solution to this old problem, If we do not show mercy even to those who are corrupt, why should we expect it mercy for ourselves (as if we had never seen corruption , however relatively large or small, in our own lives). It is mercy that transforms the sinner and saves the world, not scorn.

    On another note, I believe St. Lawrence was the saint that was roasted to death on a gridiron and was claimed to have told his executioners that they should turn him over because he was mostly dead on the side they were burning. I think our parish priest was kidding about this but I have read that St. Lawrence prayed for his executioners right up to the time of his death and that many people who witnessed his execution were converted that day because of his witness. One of the greatest martyrs and to me, a wonderful example of charity and love, even in the face of unjust punishment.

  3. Dear Peter- Thanks for the post. At least the homeless and their plight were being given some attention. Hopefully that’s a foundation that can be built upon.

    Jesus- Thanks for sharing the story about Mother Teresa. I hadn’t heard that. I’ll have to rent that movie! And yes, there is an ancient tradition about St. Lawrence being roasted on a gridiron and his asking to be turned over on the other side.

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