HOMILY FOR THE PATRONAL SOLEMNITY OF ST LAURENCE
10 AUGUST 2018
We celebrate today of course brethren and friends our patronal feast of St Laurence. In the early 17th century a small band of brothers found and formed themselves in Dieulouard in Lorraine, where they acquired the collegiate church which was dedicated to St Laurence. They were a community fragile, fluid, and at times it must be admitted fractious, but in St Laurence they acquired a steadfast and faithful patron and, dear brethren, he is with us still four hundred years later and so in great joy and thanksgiving we, the community of St Laurence in Ampleforth, celebrate his feast.
We have no monopoly on St Laurence. Indeed he is one of the most popular of saints judging by churches dedicated to him and causes (including of course cooks) of which he is the patron saint. Rome has no less than 9 churches dedicated to him, including foundations which trace his history and his fateful end, or at least his legend, and medieval England had over 200 dedications. I think I am right in hazarding that only Our Lady manages more, at least in Rome. We may seek the cause of his popularity and I think that the stational churches of his passion would suggest that it is the nature of that history, the story in the legend, which is the explanation of that popularity.
Much of the story is pooh poohed by tiresome historians – the method of execution at the time was always the sword apparently and obviously no prefect of Rome would ever have been sent into a paroxysm of anger by an impertinent quip about the poor being the riches of the church so as to light a great fire under a grid iron to cook a sentenced man to death. A brief homily is no place to enter into any evaluation of these matters. We can accept the stories as being in the near untranslateable Italian phrase ben trovato – not true but aptly invented being a rather clumsy unnuanced Anglo Saxon transliteralism.
I have heard, as have many of you, a goodly number of abbatial homilies, and like them I will unashamedly continue to draw reflections from the history as we have it. I think it is not just the sensationalism and gripping nature of the story which explains its popularity, though it is so, but somewhat deeper it is the congruence of, the conforming of Laurence to Christ which is in operation here.
Laurence as we hear in the antiphons did a good work in healing the blind as did the Lord who said tell John what you see and hear that the blind receive their sight. Jesus said to the young man, who he saw and loved, go and sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me, then you will have treasure in heaven. Laurence was conforming himself to Christ who though so rich in his divinity made himself poor for our sake, when he said in truth to the Prefect of Rome that the treasures of the Church have been given to, and so are found in, the poor. And when we are told that Laurence said under the torture of the gridiron ‘I am well done on this side, turn me over’, he was not I think saying –‘ha ha, it’s not sore at all’. Firstly this suggests that the love of the martyr is always stronger than the pain. Then secondly it may seem that he was making a very deep identification in some quite astonishing way with Christ who says, equally astonishingly, that in the torment and torture of the Cross he is making his flesh our food, his blood our drink, food given for the life of the world. As Fr Mark-Ephrem told us in retreat yesterday, our lives too are to become Eucharist, as did that of Christ, as did that of Laurence.
Metaphorical – or maybe better spiritual - fire burns no quicker and no less painfully than the literal and the physical. If we are to be the sons of St Laurence our patron, our father, that we ask him to be, then in this present persisting and painful torment we simply must find the way in great cheerfulness and joy, to continue to sing our praises and our thanksgivings to God. It is what we are for.
We pray on Fridays for all our benefactors. Let us to be sure pray for all those – many of them who have written in the last 24 hours – who assure us of their love and their support and their prayers. But let us in conformity with Christ pray among our benefactors, that they may teach us a lesson God needs us to learn, for those who hate us and hold us in contempt, and let us remember that among them are those who have been grievously hurt and harmed by us, by Ampleforth, by our brethren.
Lord in your mercy
Let us pray for all the oblates, associates and confraters with us in this community of St Laurence, for our absent brethren and for those lay staff who work with us and therefore are asked to carry with us the difficulties in the crisis of the present time that all together we may be true to our calling.
Lord in your mercy
Let us ask the prayers of Mary, mother of sorrows, comfort of the afflicted as we say
Here we stand before you Lord, seeking your mercy that we sorely need and asking that nonetheless this offering of ours may be caught up in the Eucharist of your Son. Through the same Christ our Lord.