Summer is synonymous with pool time, family vacations, and backyard barbeques. Many guys pride themselves on being “grill masters” (or, at least, having the reputation). From gas, to charcoal, to smokers, grilling has become an art form.
But a grill elicits happy thoughts only because of the context. A rope is just a rope, until it’s tied into a noose. An axe for chopping wood is viewed differently when in the hands of a medieval executioner.
And for St. Lawrence (whose feast we celebrate today), a grill was an instrument of torture and death.
But for him, it also became an instrument for evangelization.
St. Lawrence lived in Rome during the 200s. He served as a deacon, which means he was more of a servant than a boss. Emperor Valerian had begun persecuting Christians, resulting in Pope Sixtus II being arrested and killed. Not long thereafter, Lawrence was also arrested.
We tend to think of saints as somehow lacking in normal human traits.
But Lawrence has always kind of struck me as a smart-aleck (in the best possible sense of the term). As the story goes, the greedy emperor demanded that Lawrence bring him the “all the treasures of the Church.” In response, Lawrence brought a gathering of the most marginalized—the poor, the homeless, orphans, and widows—and told the emperor:
“Here are the Church’s treasures.”
Lawrence’s smart-alecky but poignant point so angered the emperor that Lawrence was sentenced to death. Rather than a quick end, Lawrence was sentenced to something more drawn-out. He was placed on a nearby charcoal grill and burned to death.
But, ever the smart-aleck (at least in my mind), Lawrence was not one to lose his sense of humor even while being tortured. As the story goes, after he had been tied to the grill for a period of time, he reportedly yelled out:
“I’m done on this side—flip me over!”
St. Lawrence literally embodied what it means to “turn the other cheek” in the face of persecution. Turning the other cheek doesn’t mean being passive. Rather, it means letting one’s persecutors know that they don’t have the final victory; that they have no real power over me.
Only Jesus Christ finally conquers all.
St. Lawrence’s example helps remind me (i) where my real treasures should be, and (ii) even instances of trial and persecution can be means of bringing others closer to Christ. If only I would love my enemy, turn the other cheek, and flip that persecution on its other side—rather than feeling victimized, entitled, or sorry for myself.
We likely won’t die a martyrdom like St. Lawrence. But today we ask his intercession to help us handle life’s minor persecutions with his same kind of grace, forgiveness, and even sense of humor.
St. Lawrence, pray for us!