Although today is the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is also the feast day for a saint that probably many people do not know – Saint Lawrence of Brindisi. He is an important saint and one that Catholics should make themselves aware of because he is a Doctor of the Church. The Doctors are important for us because their writings have impacted the theology of the Church throughout the centuries. With this “stamp”, the Church declares them important to study and read.
Cesare De Rossi was born in Brindisi, Italy, the kingdom of Naples in 1559. He received his first education from the Conventual Franciscans and then at St. Mark College in Venice, by his uncle. At the age of the sixteen, he entered at Verona, the Capuchin Franciscans. He took the name Lawrence.
As a Capuchin, he studied philosophy and theology in a rigorous academic setting at the University of Padua. He was an excellent student and excelled especially in languages. He quickly learned Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Bohemian. St. Lawrence also had an extensive understanding of the Holy Scriptures. He was a gifted preacher even before his ordination and was well known for his sermons as a deacon.
After his ordination to the Priesthood, he struggled as a domestic missionary. He was eventually called to Rome by Pope Clement VIII and given the work for the conversion of the Jews. His extensive knowledge of the Hebrew language came in handy for this important task. He was extremely successful in this endeavor.
In 1598, along with eleven other Capuchin Franciscans, St. Lawrence established Capuchin friaries in Prague, Vienna, and Gorizea. This led to other communities being established in Bohemia, Austria, and Styria. The whole point of developing these communities was to resist the Lutheran assault (Reformation) that had dug itself deeply into these regions.
In 1602, St. Lawrence was elected the Minister General of the Capuchin Order. As an administrator, he was quite stellar and served with strength and charity. Once elected, he set out quickly to visit his friaries. He came up for re-election three years later, however, he refused to take the post again.
St. Lawrence was declared a Doctor of the Church because he was a great scholar and preacher, gifted in languages, and was a humble and holy administrator with great wisdom, but one of the greatest accomplishments attributed to this saint was the repulsion of the Turks during the Battle of Stuhlweissenburg. At the request of Emperor Rudolf II, he was asked to assist the German princes since they were being threatened. To say he was successful in this project would be the understatement of the year!
He gathered an army of 18,000 soldiers that was to fight against an army of 80,000 Turks. When he was appointed Chaplain General, the spirits of the Christians were low because they knew the task at hand seemed desperate (similar to the Battle at Minas Tirith in the LOTR). When asked his advice by the German princes, he said that they should go on the assault immediately. After giving an inspiring speech to the soldiers, they took the offensive to the Turks. St. Lawrence rode on a horse into battle – armed only with a crucifix. Hungary and the rest of Europe were saved by the actions of St. Lawrence and the Christian soldiers.
After years of service to the Church and his Capuchin Order throughout most of Europe, his service to the Catholic League, his preaching and reconciliation of the heretics in Germany, his position as papal nuncio, and his diplomatic duties for the people of Naples to King Philip III of Spain, St. Lawrence died on July 22, 1619, in Lisbon, Portugal. It was his 60th birthday.
In the year 1783, he was a beatified and in 1881 was canonized to Sainthood. Blessed John XXIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1960 because of his great prayer life, his exceptional sermons, and his ability to teach the faithful the truths of Jesus Christ. He is known as the “Apostolic Doctor.” Below is an excerpt from one of his sermons –
“There is a spiritual life that we share with the angels of heaven and with the divine spirits, for like them we have been formed in the image and likeness of God. The bread that is necessary for living this life is the grace of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. But grace and love are nothing without faith, since without faith it is impossible to please God. And faith is not conceived unless the word of God is preached. Faith comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ. The preaching of the word of God, then, is necessary for the spiritual life, just as the planting of seed is necessary for bodily life…Preaching therefore, is a duty that is apostolic, angelic, Christian, divine. The word of God is replete with manifold blessings, since it is, so to speak, a treasure of all goods. It is the source of faith, hope, charity, all virtues, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the beatitudes of the Gospel, all good works, all the rewards of life, all the glory of paradise: Welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. For the word of God is a light to the mind and a fire to the will.”
Dear God, you gave your priest, St. Lawrence, the ability to preach the Word of God with fervor and zeal. You gave him the grace and the strength to stand against those who sought to destroy your beloved. We ask, through the intercession of St. Lawrence, to preach the Gospel message to all people we encounter and to be strong in the face of persecution. We especially pray for our fellow Christians throughout the world that need our prayers and face dangers on a daily basis. Amen.