I suspect that the reading from St. Paul’s Second Latter to the Corinthians was chosen for this feast day because of the reference to a “cheerful” giver in verse seven of the ninth chapter. St. Lawrence is supposed to have made a joke about the way in which he was being put to death, asking his tormentors to “turn him over” because he was done on that side.
St. Paul’s original intent in making this statement was to emphasize that followers of Jesus were expected to be generous out of a sense of gratitude for what God had given them. Nothing was held back by God in saving us from our sins. In making a plea for generosity to the Church of Macedonia, St. Paul asks the Corinthians to do so gratefully. St. Paul goes on to say that God will multiply our blessings if we are generous in using God’s gifts.
St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome. His particular responsibility was to care for the poor of that city from the treasury of the church which means that he was the archdeacon and first among the seven. The Pope at that time was Pope St. Sixtus II. He and the other six deacons of Rome were martyred three days before St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence had been away taking care of the needs of the poor while Sixtus and the other six deacons were celebrating the Eucharist. He returned just as Sixtus and his deacons were arrested and led to their execution. According to the legend written by St. Ambrose, when he too was arrested, St. Lawrence asked for three days to gather up the wealth of the church. Rather than gathering it up, he distributed it to the poor. Infuriated by St. Lawrence’s actions, the prefect of Rome under the orders of Emperor Valerian, executed him. Even today, St. Lawrence is highly esteemed by the Roman people as well as by Latinos as he was actually born in Spain.
The fact that St. Lawrence was taking care of the needs of the poor while the others were celebrating the Eucharist may seem strange, especially to those who put more emphasis on worship than upon the more active part of our faith. It just emphasizes for me the fact that the Eucharist carries with it the moral imperative to act as the Body of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator