SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 COR 9:6-10JN 12:24-26 ]

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Lawrence, deacon and martyr.  That today’s celebration is accorded a second class feast which is normally reserved for Mary and the apostles means that the Church wants to give due importance to St Lawrence.  It is therefore imperative for us to understand the mind of the Church if we want to reap the fruits from today’s commemoration.  Perhaps, the importance of St Lawrence lies in the fact that he has imitated Christ both in his life and in his death.  But more importantly, it is his living out the Eucharist that gives significance to this feast.

Indeed, we are told that when St Lawrence was the administrator of the Church of Rome under Pope Sixtus II, the Emperor Valerian was then persecuting the Church.  Soon after the Pope was martyred, Lawrence was called before the prefect of Rome.  He was ordered to hand over all the treasures of the Church to Rome.  Without any resistance, Lawrence asked leave from the Prefect for a few days to collect the treasures.  On that appointed day, he appeared before the Prefect bringing with him the “treasures” that he has gathered.  He told the Prefect, “Here are the treasures of the Church, the poor people of Rome.”  The prefect was incensed and had him grilled.  Legend says that when he was half-way through being grilled, he light-heartedly requested that he be turned over as one side was already well done.

Where did St Lawrence get the strength to love the poor in Christ in such a manner? The truth is that Lawrence truly understood the relationship between the Eucharist and the body of Christ. He did not simply celebrate the Eucharist but he lived it out in his commitment to the poor.  He knows that the body of Christ is not just the Eucharist that we receive but the Church.  He would have remembered the words of Jesus in the gospel “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Mt 25:45)   More than that, he was even willing to die for the poor.  Lawrence lived out today’s gospel passage totally.  Like the wheat grain, he died and yielded a rich harvest.  He knew that to serve Jesus is to follow Him even to the cross.

All of us too are called to serve the poor.  Of course, there are different kinds of poverty.  There is no one who is not poor.  We can be poor in wealth, in health, in virtues, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Most of all, we are poor in different degrees when it comes to forgiving, not just those who hurt us but ourselves as well.  Following the example of St Lawrence, we are called to serve the poor, in reaching out and caring for them, and the poorest people today are those who lack love in their lives.

So how can we be servants of the poor?   The apostles said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2-4) Lay people like the deacons, are appointed to help the priests attend to the administration of the Church and serve the physically and materially poor.  But whether as priests, deacons or lay, we share the same mission of serving the poor in Christ, each in his own particular way.  The Good News cannot be proclaimed merely in words but more importantly in deeds.

Unfortunately, very often, in serving the poor, we lack the generosity and commitment of St Lawrence.  This lack of capacity to give to the poor is due to our lack of personal relationship with the Lord.  If we do not produce the fruits of the Spirit as mentioned by St Paul (Gal 5:22), it is simply because we do not love nor understand the Eucharist sufficiently.  We have forgotten the link between the Eucharist and the poor. We do not produce the fruits of the Eucharist in our daily life.  We are grudging and calculative when it comes to serving the Church, our friends and even our loved ones.  If we cannot even love selflessly our loved ones, how we can expect to love others who are strangers.  We are not willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.  We fail to put others first before ourselves.  At most, we perform our duties perfunctorily and reluctantly.  Such kind of service is counter-witnessing.

Have you ever wondered why at every mass, practically the whole congregation receives communion and yet we do not see them living a life of charity and selfless service?  Some even spend time adoring the Lord in the Eucharist but yet produce no fruits with respect to a life of integrity, compassion and service.  If we do pray and receive the Eucharist daily and yet do not manifest the fruits, it could be because it has become a ritual and a routine.  We fail to enter deeply into the Eucharistic celebration.  Only those who contemplate deeply the life of our Lord in the Eucharist, which is a memorial of His passion, death and resurrection, will be able to love at all times, in good and bad.  That is why Church organizations and movements must always bear in mind not to measure its success in terms of the number of visitors it attracts to its programmes and services.  Whilst prayers and retreats are absolutely necessary and are the foundation of all our activities, it is only a means to cultivate love and compassion in our lives.  When there is no longer joy in service, it means love is lacking.  And when love is lacking, it is because Christ is not present in our hearts.  When love is lacking, we become bureaucratic in relating with each other.  The only organization that will last and attract more members is when love, compassion, selfless and humble service is lived out.

Furthermore, it is not sufficient to simply serve and help others, especially the poor.  St Paul reminds us that “each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  In other words, we must give from a right motive.  To give in order to receive is not true giving.  We give simply because we see Christ in the person.  In giving too, what counts is not the amount we give but the extent of the sacrifice.  If the gift we give is only that of the widow’s mite, it would be considered a great blessing.  For at the end of the day, it is the capacity to sacrifice, to give from our hearts that will transform us into the heart of God.

As we give ourselves to others, we find ourselves.  This is the paradox of dying to self.  As Jesus assured us, “I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.  Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.”   Indeed, when we give, not only does He give us more happiness, but He also gives us a greater capacity to love. This experience of the joy of giving is aptly summed up by St Paul. “And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten. The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one.”

In the plan of God, life is not a matter of receiving and acquiring.  It is one of giving.  The more we give of ourselves to others, the more we find ourselves in Him.  Any gift we have must be spent on others because we are only stewards of God’s gifts.  The fact that we cannot bring along our wealth and talents at death shows that whatever resources we have belong to the Father.  So whatever gifts one has received, one must give them away.  St Paul urges us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Rom 12:6-8)

So let us pray as we celebrate the Feast of St Lawrence that we come to a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist and the love of Christ so that we can live it out in our daily life.  Like St Lawrence, we will find the strength and love to die to self because this strength no longer comes from us but from Christ who dwells in our hearts in the Holy Spirit.   In this way, we reap eternal life for ourselves since we share in Christ’s divine life; and we bring life to others as well.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore