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Saint Lawrence of Brindisi

Capuchin, Priest & Doctor of the Church - from Italy
Born on 22 July 1559 in Brindisi, Kingdom of Naples
Died on 22 July 1619 in Lisbon, Portugal
Beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI
Canonized on 8 December 1881 by Pope Leo XIII
Feast Day - 21st July
Major shrine - Villafranca del Bierzo

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday 23 March 2011 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
I still remember with joy the festive welcome I was given in Brindisi in 2008. It was in this city that in 1559 was born a distinguished Doctor of the Church, San Lorenzo da Brindisi, the name that Julius Caesar Russo took upon entering the Capuchin Order. He had been attracted since childhood by the family of St Francis of Assisi. In fact, orphaned of his father at seven years old, he was entrusted by his mother to the care of the Friars Minor Conventual in his hometown. A few years later, however, Lawrence and his mother moved to Venice and it was precisely there that he became acquainted with the Capuchins who in that period were generously dedicated to serving the whole Church in order to further the important spiritual reform promoted by the Council of Trent. With his religious profession in 1575, Lawrence became a Capuchin friar and in 1582 he was ordained a priest. During his ecclesiastical studies for the priesthood he already showed the eminent intellectual qualities with which he had been endowed. He learned with ease the ancient languages, such as Greek, Hebrew and Syriac, as well as modern languages, such as French and German. He added these to his knowledge of Italian and of Latin that was once spoken fluently by all clerics and by all cultured people.

Thanks to his mastery of so many languages, Lawrence was able to carry out a busy apostolate among diverse categories of people. As an effective preacher, his knowledge, not only of the Bible but also of the rabbinic literature was so profound that even the Rabbis, impressed and full of admiration, treated him with esteem and respect. As a theologian steeped in Sacred Scripture and in the Fathers of the Church, he was also able to illustrate Catholic doctrine in an exemplary manner to Christians who, especially in Germany, had adhered to the Reformation. With his calm, clear exposition he demonstrated the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of faith disputed by Martin Luther. These included the primacy of St Peter and of his Successors, the divine origin of the Episcopate, justification as an inner transformation of man, and the need to do good works for salvation. Lawrence’s success helps us to realize that today too, in pursuing ecumenical dialogue with such great hope, the reference to Sacred Scripture, interpreted in accordance with the Tradition of the Church, is an indispensable element of fundamental importance. I wished to recall this in my Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (n 46).

Even the simplest members of the faithful, those not endowed with great culture, benefited from the convincing words of Lawrence, who addressed humble people to remind them all to make their lives consistent with the faith they professed. This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of other religious Orders which, in the 16th and 17th centuries, contributed to the renewal of Christian life, penetrating the depths of society with their witness of life and their teaching. Today too, the new evangelization stands in need of well-trained apostles, zealous and courageous, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel may prevail over the cultural tendencies of ethical relativism and religious indifference and transform the various ways of thinking and acting into genuine Christian humanism. It is surprising that St Lawrence of Brindisi was able to continue without interruption his work as an appreciated and unflagging preacher in many cities of Italy and in different countries, in spite of holding other burdensome offices of great responsibility. Indeed, within the Order of Capuchins he was professor of theology, novice master, for several mandates minister provincial and definitor general, and finally, from 1602 to 1605, minister general.

In the midst of so much work, Lawrence cultivated an exceptionally fervent spiritual life, devoting much time to prayer and in a special way to the celebration of Holy Mass, often protracted for hours, caught up in and moved by the memorial of the Passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord. At the school of the saints, every priest, as was emphasized frequently during the recent Year for Priests, may only avoid the danger of activism, acting, that is, without remembering the profound motives of his ministry, if he attends to his own inner life. In speaking to priests and seminarians in the Cathedral of Brindisi, St Lawrence’s birthplace, I recalled that “the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest's life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And, therefore, time for prayer must be given true priority in our life... if we are not interiorly in communion with God we cannot even give anything to others. Therefore, God is the first priority. We must always reserve the time necessary to be in communion of prayer with Our Lord” (15 June 2008). Moreover, with the unmistakable ardour of his style, Lawrence urged everyone, and not only priests, to cultivate a life of prayer, for it is through prayer that we speak to God and that God speaks to us: “Oh, if we were to consider this reality!”, he exclaimed. “In other words that God is truly present to us when we speak to him in prayer; that he truly listens to our prayers, even if we pray only with our hearts and minds. And that not only is he present and hears us, indeed he willingly and with the greatest of pleasure wishes to grant our requests”.

Another trait that characterizes the work of this son of St Francis is his action for peace. Time and again both Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic Princes entrusted him with important diplomatic missions, to settle controversies and to encourage harmony among the European States, threatened in those days by the Ottoman Empire. The moral authority he enjoyed made him a counsellor both sought after and listened to. Today, as in the times of St Lawrence, the world is in great need of peace, it needs peaceful and peacemaking men and women. All who believe in God must always be sources and artisans of peace. It was precisely on the occasion of one of these diplomatic missions that Lawrence's earthly life ended, in 1619 in Lisbon, where he had gone to see the King of Spain, Philip III, to plead the cause of the Neapolitan subjects oppressed by the local authorities.

He was canonized in 1881, and his vigorous and intense activity, his vast and harmonious knowledge, earned him the title of Doctor Apostolicus, “Apostolic Doctor”. The title was conferred on him by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1959, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of his birth. This recognition was also granted to Lawrence of Brindisi because he was the author of numerous works of biblical exegesis, theology and sermons. In them he offers an organic presentation of the history of salvation, centred on the mystery of the Incarnation, the greatest expression of divine love for humankind. Furthermore, since he was a highly qualified Mariologist, the author of a collection of sermons on Our Lady entitled “Mariale”, he highlighted the unique role of the Virgin Mary, of whom he affirms with clarity her Immaculate Conception and her cooperation in the work of the redemption accomplished by Christ.

With fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also pointed out the action of the Holy Spirit in the existence of the believer. He reminds us that
with his gifts the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illuminates and helps in our commitment to live joyously the Gospel message. “The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure.”

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St Lawrence of Brindisi by underlining that the whole of his activity was inspired by great love for Sacred Scripture, which he knew thoroughly and by heart, and by the conviction that the listening to and welcoming of the word of God produces an inner transformation that leads us to holiness. “The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk ... It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin.” St Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to grow in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily the rapport of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, may have its beginning and its fulfilment in Him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness may be luminous and capable of leading men and women of our time to God."

St Laurence's Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

“Therefore give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” We are to give back to each their due. Now this is a saying that is truly full of wisdom and heavenly understanding because it teaches us that there are two sorts of power, one earthly and human, the other heavenly and divine... It teaches us that we are bound in this way to a twofold form of obedience, one to human laws and the other to divine... We are to pay Caesar with the coin bearing the image and inscription of Caesar and God with what has received the seal and image of the divine likeness: “The light of your countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us” (Ps 4,7 Vg).

We have been created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1,26). You are a man, O Christian. So you are the money in the divine treasure-chest, a coin bearing the image and inscription of the divine emperor. From now on if I ask with Christ: “Whose image and inscription are these?”, you reply: “God's”. And I answer: “So why do you not give back to God what is his?”

If we truly want to be God's image then we must resemble Christ, since he is the image of God's goodness and “the very imprint of his being” (Heb 1,3). And God “predestined those he foreknew to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rm 8,29). Christ truly gave back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. He observed in the most perfect way possible the precepts contained in the two tablets of the divine law “becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2,8). Thus he was adorned in the highest degree with all virtues, both manifest and concealed.
(2-5 ; Opera omnia 8, 335)