St Lawrence and his Gridiron

The one thing everyone seems to remember about St Lawrence is his gridiron. (Those who use the Latin antiphoner may smile a little at the mention; if you want to know why, look at the antiphons for the feast.) Traditionally, for us, it is also the day we first pick tomatoes from the garden: their redness reminds us of Lawrence’s martyrdom. This year there are no tomatoes, and somehow I don’t think we shall manage a BBQ for supper. That means we can reflect on another aspect of St Lawrence’s story.

When Lawrence was asked to give up the Church’s treasure, he asked for a respite of three days. When he next appeared, he brought with him not the gold and silver that was confidently expected but the poor, the sick, the blind, the underclass of Roman society. Suddenly we are dealing not with a pious legend of the third century but with the reality of Church and society in the twenty-first century. The riches of the Church are, above all, people. Sometimes we forget that in our anxiety to ensure that buildings are looked after, outreach properly financed, educational programmes adequately staffed and liturgy reverently performed. For a Benedictine, it is very obvious. Throughout the Rule Benedict comes back again and again to the way in which we treat one another being a mark of our godliness, a measure of our transformation in Christ. We see Christ in the superior and in one another; in the old, the young, the guest; above all, in the poor.

Today would be a good day for thinking about how we treasure the poor. Poverty does not mean only hunger and thirst and degradation; it can be hidden; it can exist where we would suspect it least. Nor is it necessarily something ‘other’. We can be intellectually impoverished, spiritually poor; and the tragedy is we may not know the extent of our need.