16th August, 2019

Homily for St Laurence

St Laurence

Please see below Fr Gabriel's Homily for the Patronal Solemnity of St Laurence.

We celebrate today in great joy and thanksgiving, as we do every year, the feast of our patron St Laurence, deacon and martyr, asking his prayers that we enter with yet greater fidelity into our own vocation as individual monks and as a community who bear his name.

Jesus says, according to today’s gospel, that wherever he is, his servant will be there too. He says this at the point in John’s gospel, just after he has entered Jerusalem and in a section foretelling his death, which for the Fourth Gospel is also his glorification: now is the Son of Man glorified, now the seed falls into the earth and dies that it may yield a rich harvest, now he who hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life. Seeing his death as a glorification in no way diminishes the terror, the pain and agony of the ‘lifting up’ by which it will be accomplished.

Wherever I am, my servant – my deacon (diakonos) - will be there too and he too, like me, must lose his life to find it. St Laurence is a saint, who somewhat like St Francis, seems to have his power from the particular intensity, albeit shared by all the saints, of his likeness to Christ, by his powerful being where Christ is. Hence perhaps the nine churches dedicated to him in Rome, in some cases marking the stages of his condemnation, imprisonment, death and burial, and the two hundred dedications in medieval England and many more besides in other places. Laurence acquires his power, it may be, from his being conformed to Christ, through the way in which he shows us what it means to be with Christ where he is, to share in Christ, to become Christ.

This is a much deeper identification than a mere likeness or similarity, still less a want of imagination in legend tellers to find novelty, something new or different. It is ‘in Christ’ as Christ, that Laurence gives sight to a blind man. It is ‘in Christ’ as Christ that he told the prefect that the poor are the true treasures of the Church. It is ‘in Christ’ becoming the perfect Christ that his apparent jest about being well cooked, seems to point more deeply and truly to Christ who is the true food of the world. Laurence is where Christ is.

We claim Laurence as patron that we, like him, may be where Christ is, that we be his servants, his deacons, who become him and are offered with him, food for the world. It means taking a stand, being involved in a confrontation, a battle, in which we are not adored, praised and petted on all sides. Seeking such, should we do so, let us be warned, we have had our reward.

The three young men in the book of Daniel who refuse to bow down before the statue the king has made and are thrown into the burning fiery furnace say impudently, daringly and defiantly: ‘Your question hardly requires an answer; if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, O king, he will save us; and even if he does not then you must know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected’. They fall headlong into the fire, but they are unharmed down to the individual hairs on their head. They walk in the fire and they sing a psalm of praise. Sing a psalm. And there is a fourth who walks with them, who looks like a son of the gods.

We, sons of St Laurence, may not be short of analogues for the burning fiery furnace, albeit at times poor sons that we be, not for the same high principle or moral high ground. May he nonetheless, upon whom we call, look on us and aid us with his prayers that we may, according to our vocation, sing our due psalm of praise in the midst of the fire.