Turn Me Over, I’m Done On This Side!

Turn Me Over, I’m Done On This Side! August 8, 2013

“St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor”, an oil on canvas painted in the 1580s by Palma Giovane

Those of you who, like me, spent your aimless youth slathered in Coppertone and languishing on a hot beach in a vain attempt to get a suntan will appreciate this story.

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St. Lawrence, one of seven deacons who served under Pope Sixtus II, died on August 10, in 258 A.D.  According to legend, he was “roasted” alive on a grill—but maintaining his good humor to the end, he is reputed to have said during his ordeal, “Turn me over.  I’m done on this side.” 

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And why was the Emperor Valerian so outraged as to require that the deacon’s life be snuffed out?

Deacon Lawrence’s two-fold responsibility was to manage the material goods of the Church and the distribution of alms to the poor.  When Lawrence realized that his arrest was imminent, he distributed all the money he had to the poor, the widows and orphans of Rome, even selling the sacred vessels to increase the amount of money he could bestow on the needy.

When the prefect of Rome heard of Lawrence’s generosity,  he assumed that the Christians must have accumulated great wealth; and he ordered Lawrence to bring the treasures of the Church to him, so that it could enrich the emperor.   The prefect is reported to have said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind.   I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services.   Now your doctrine says that you must render to Caesar what is his.  Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces.   God does not cause money to be counted; he brought none of it into the world with him—only words.   Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

But Lawrence went out and gathered together the widows, the orphans, the blind, the lame, and the poor, and brought them before the Prefect.  “These,” he said, “are the true treasures of the Church.”

The Prefect was so angry that he decreed Lawrence should die, not quickly by the sword, but “by inches”—and so a great fire was prepared, and a grill set upon it.   Lawrence was  laid on the grill to be slowly roasted.  After Lawrence had suffered from the flames for a long time, he uttered his cheerful request:  “Turn me over.”

Lawrence’s bravery and his unwavering faith in the face of suffering and martyrdom had a great influence on the faithful.   The day of his death is celebrated today as a Feast in the Roman Catholic Church.

Prayer on the Feast of St. Lawrence

 O God,

Saint Lawrence showed forth the fire of his love for you, both by faithful service and glorious martyrdom.

Make us to love the things which he loved,

and to do the works that he taught.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.   Amen.

One more little thing:  Here (below) is a relic, a leg bone from St. Lawrence.  Years ago, if memory serves me, I actually saw this relic.  I think it was among significant relics which were briefly exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In the months after a destructive earthquake in Assisi, a collection of priceless reliquaries were exhibited on tour, so that they could be well cared for while the chapel at Assisi was repaired.

Reliquary containing a bone from St. Lawrence
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