Today is the feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr. He is one of the saints nearest and dearest to my heart. The story of my relationship with St. Lawrence is a good illustration of how one's faith can grow and mature over time.
First, his story. St. Lawrence was a deacon in the church of Rome in the early 3rd century. At this time in the church, deacons served as assistants to the bishop (which they still are theologically, but this was manifested in a much more practical, day-to-day way back then), and Lawrence was very close with his bishop, Pope Sixtus II; in fact, at that time there were only seven deacons in the church of Rome, and Sixtus made Lawrence their chief (the archdeacon), responsible for distribution of alms to the poor.
During a period of persecution, Pope Sixtus was captured by Roman authorities and executed. Lawrence was then ordered by the imperial prefect to turn over all of the church's wealth. Lawrence asked for three days to gather it up, then distributed the remainder of the church's goods to the poor of the city. On the third day, Lawrence reported to the prefect and brought with him "the treasures of the Church": the sick, the poor, the blind, etc., saying, "These are the true treasures of the Church."
The Romans were not amused, and executed Lawrence by roasting him alive on a gridiron. According to the tradition, after having suffered a long time, Lawrence responded, "Turn me over--I'm done on this side!" (One version reports him saying: "Turn me over, and eat!")
St. Lawrence became one of the most beloved and venerated saints in the Roman church, and that veneration spread throughout Christendom over the centuries. His church in Rome is one of the seven major churches of that holy city. He is the only non-biblical person whose memorial day reaches the rank of "feast." (We often use "feast" as a shorthand for someone's memorial, but the church actually has several degrees of feast day: optional memorials, obligatory memorials, feasts, and solemnities.) He's kind of a big deal.
What does this have to do with me? St. Lawrence is my confirmation saint, the name I chose to take as my own when receiving the sacrament of the sealing of the Holy Spirit. I only knew about him because when I would flip through the missal and see the different saints' feasts, I looked to see if there was one on my birthday: lo and behold, St. Lawrence of Rome! Then in school we learned about his martyrdom story, and I thought it was brave and hilarious that someone in the midst of their own murder would have the guts to crack a joke. (I wanted to be a comedian when I was little.) His feast was on my birthday, and we seemed to share a sense of humor: just as good of a reason as any other to pick him as my confirmation saint, right?
Looking back, my reasoning seemed a little flippant, and I sometimes wondered if I might have chosen someone else had I given it more serious thought. But then I learned the other story about St. Lawrence, the one that led to his martyrdom, and it touched me. I thought, "Here is a man of depth, filled with the love of God and love of neighbor, AND he cracks jokes during his martyrdom! Now that's a saint!" Some people may think this combination of humor and gravity to be incompatible, but as Chesterton pointed out, the opposite of funny is not serious: the opposite of funny is not funny. Funny and serious can go together. As readers of this blog know, I think levity and gravity can go together, and often should. I take my humor seriously, and my seriousness humorously.
Over the last 15 years since my confirmation, St. Lawrence has been for me a model for the love of God and neighbor, and proof that in the most dire moments of life we can find joy, because Christ has conquered sin and death: we can laugh at Satan even as he's killing us, because we know that "he who believes in me will never die." Hey, Lucifer, Jesus called: he said thanks for letting him use your guestroom, but he had to go and was taking some folks with him; he left the sheets folded on the bed.