Basilicas of the Patron of Comedians

Titian Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
Titian’s Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence died for the faith 1,758 years ago today.

Rome has at least two grand basilicas of St. Lawrence. But we have one, too—a basilica of St. Lawrence, here in the Appalachian mountains.

Why did they erect a basilica in honor of St. Lawrence in Asheville, North Carolina? Is it because Lawrence exercises a special patronage over brewers? But the basilica came before the craft-beer movement…

St. Lawrence loved the faith, and the Mass, and the poor. He went to his martyrdom so fearlessly that he made his famous joke, as they burned him alive: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” At that moment, he became the patron of both cooks and comedians. The Perseid meteor shower occurs on or around St. Lawrence’s feast day to remind us of the sparks from the fire that burned him into heaven.

Anyone visited the basilica in Asheville? It’s no St. Andrew’s—just like Asheville is no Roanoke. But you don’t visit a church with a soaring elliptical-dome roof every day. It’s like the peaceful and prayerful Oval Office of God.

Good St. Lawrence, pray for us.

He Ranks with Apostles and Archangels

So why does St. Lawrence get a feast day? Not just an optional Memorial, not just an obligatory Memorial, but a feast day—like the Apostles, like the Archangels? I mean, we all know a lot of great guys named Larry, but…

Basilica of St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence served as Pope St. Sixtus II’s deacon. Both of them were martyred by order of the Emperor Valerian in the middle of the third century.

Everyone loved Lawrence. He concerned himself solely with sacred worship and the well-being of the poor. He had a great sense of humor. He went to his martyrdom with such courageous faith that some of the pagan Roman senators who witnessed it became Christians.

In other words, St. Lawrence had such strength and charisma that he bolstered the faith of countless people. We could say he was a Pope-John-Paul-II-like figure, seventeen centuries earlier. Lawrence’s tomb was erected near the site of his martyrdom, and people flocked to it in droves. The Emperor Constantine built a basilica to house the tomb. The relics of St. Justin Martyr and St. Stephen are housed with St. Lawrence’s relics. Pope St. Leo the Great said that St. Lawrence gave to the city of Rome the same luster that the first Christian martyr—St. Stephen, like Lawrence a deacon—gave to Jerusalem.

So today’s feast unites us with the long and inspiring history of our Mother Church, the Church of Rome. May St. Lawrence pray for us, that we will heroically keep the faith with love and good humor.

[Click HERE to read about Pope Benedict’s visit to St. Lawrence’s tomb.]

The Russell Files, Episode 2

delpo2Today is the 1,751st anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence the Deacon. Last fall, we highlighted the Holy Father’s visit to St. Lawrence’s tomb

…Delpo managed an over-heated victory yesterday, dealing poor Andy a sweltering defeat…

bertrand russell…We will discuss the court case that led America magazine to call New York Supreme Court Justice John E. McGeehan “an American, a virile and staunch American.” But first, let’s consider one of Bertrand Russell’s reasons for not being a Christian.

Russell regarded the Catholic doctrine of natural law to be irreconcilable with human freedom. He confused natural law with scientific “laws of nature.”

All just law proceeds from the Eternal Law of God for the good of everything that is subject to it. Law liberates its subject to attain fulfillment and goodness.

Creatures that do not possess intelligence are governed by the intelligence of the Creator Himself. Flowers bloom because they follow the law that the Creator inscribed in their flower-ness.

New York Supreme Court
New York Supreme Court

Natural laws of this kind are laws of sublime intelligence, inscribed in unintelligent nature for the good of the governed.

Intelligent creatures, on the other hand, possess the capacity for self-government. This is the natural law for man: that we govern ourselves according to reason.

This does not give us unlimited freedom. We are not, after all, unlimited beings–only God is. Our scope of freedom is determined by our human nature: we are rational animals, destined for the glory of God.

In other words, we possess the degree of freedom which is good for us. We have the freedom to do good and avoid evil. By doing good and avoiding evil, we…

capt ryder1. Obey the natural law.

2. Act freely.

3. Advance toward our ultimate good.

There is no contradiction between the doctrine of natural law and the freedom of man…

…”Then, at the age of 39, I began to be old.” –Captain Charles Ryder, at the beginning of the BBC version of Brideshead Revisited (based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh).

Uh-oh.

Your unworthy servant was born on a hot summer morning in 1970.

Inspiration from Rome

VATICAN WARTIME POPE

I think we can say that the Obama administration will not recognize the right of unborn babies to be protected from violence.

holderI think we can say that the Obama-Holder Justice Department will try to limit—if not eliminate–the right of medical personnel (and medical institutions) to refuse to participate in acts of violence against unborn babies.

On Sunday, the Holy Father went to the minor Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, the burial place of St. Lawrence the Deacon Martyr. The church also houses the relics of St. Stephen and Blessed Pope Pius IX.

The occasion was the 1,750th anniversary of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom and 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII.

lawrence-fuori1Pope Benedict said:

This monumental basilica…speaks above all of the glorious martyrdom of St. Lawrence, archdeacon of Pope Sixtus II and his right hand in the administration of the goods of the community. I came today to celebrate the Holy Eucharist to be united to you in honoring him in an altogether singular circumstance, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of St. Lawrence, convoked to commemorate the 1,750 years since the birth to heaven of the holy deacon. History confirms how glorious is the name of this saint, around whose sepulcher we have gathered. His solicitude for the poor, his generous service to the Church in the area of social welfare and charity, his fidelity to the Pope, which led him to want to follow him to the supreme test of martyrdom and the heroic testimony of his blood, spilt a few days later [i.e., a few days after Pope Sixtus was himself martyred], are universally known events.

san-lorenzo-interiorIn a beautiful homily, St. Leo the Great thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of this “illustrious hero.” “The flames could not conquer the charity of Christ; and the fire that was burning him on the outside was weaker than that burning within.” [St. Lawrence was burned alive.] And he adds: “The Lord willed to exalt his glorious name to such a point throughout the world that from East to West, in the very vivid brilliance of the radiant light of the greatest deacons, the same glory that came to Jerusalem by Stephen also touched Rome by Lawrence’s merit.” [St. Stephen, one of the Church’s first deacons, was the first Christian martyr.]

pius-xii
Statue of Pope Piux XII outside the Basilica of St. Lawrence, commemorating the WWII Pope's visit to the bombed-out neighborhood
Coinciding this year is the 50th anniversary of the death of the servant of God, Pope Pius XII, and this brings to mind a particularly dramatic event in the centuries-old history of your basilica, which took place during World War II, when, precisely on July 19, 1943, a violent bombardment inflicted very serious damages to the building and the whole neighborhood, spreading death and destruction. Never will the memory be erased from history of the generous gesture carried out on that occasion by my venerated predecessor, who ran to help and console the harshly affected people, among the still smoking ruins.