Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saint Laurence of Brindisi, Doctor Apostolicus (1559 - 1638)

Peter Reinicke (1715-1768)
Bust of Saint Laurence of Brindisi
White Meissen Porcelain
Museo Francescano dei Frati Minori Cappuccini, Rome

Saint Laurence of Brindisi with book
Oil on canvas
Museo Francescano dei Frati Minori Cappuccini, Rome

Saint Laurence of Brindisi in meditation
Oil on canvas
Museo Francescano dei Frati Minori Cappuccini, Rome

On 19 March 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII declared St Laurence of Brindisi (Doctor Apostolicus)(1559 - 1638) a Doctor of the Universal Church (Apostolic Letter Celsitudo ex humiltate)

It was a cause of great celebration naturally in Brindisi, the city port in the south of Italy. See below.

Santa Maria degli Angeli, Brindisi 1959
Celebration of the Proclamation of St Laurence of Briindisi as a Doctor of the Universal Church

He was one of the great saints of the Counter-Reformation. He had quite an exciting life being involved in diplomacy and war. There is an excellent biography of his life by Brian Kelly in

Brian Kelly wrote that "He is perhaps the least known of the thirty-three doctors of the Church. That should not be so."

To help spread the word about Saint Laurence the Pope in his last Wednesday audience dedicated his catechesis to the life and works of St Laurence

The Pope emphasised a number of points about Saint Laurence.

First, his great knowledge of Scripture and howit was fundmental in his theological works:

"A theologian versed in sacred Scripture and the fathers of the Church, he was also able to illustrate in an exemplary way the Catholic doctrine to Christians who, above all in Germany, had followed the Reformation.

With his clear and quiet exposition he showed the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of the faith called into question by Martin Luther. Among these, the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as man's interior transformation, the need of good works for salvation.

The success that Lawrence enjoyed helps us to understand that also today, in carrying forward ecumenical dialogue with so much hope, the confrontation with sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an irreplaceable element of fundamental importance, as I wished to recall in the apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini" (No. 46)...

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St. Lawrence of Brindisi underscoring that all his activity was inspired in his great love for sacred Scripture, which he knew in great part by heart, and by the conviction that the listening and acceptance of the Word of God produces an interior transformation that leads us to holiness.

"The Word of the Lord," he affirmed, "is light for the intellect and fire for the will, so that man can know and love God. For the interior man, who through grace lives from the Spirit of God, it is bread and water, but bread that is sweeter than honey and water that is better than wine and milk. ... It is a hammer against a hard heart obstinate in vices. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin." "

Second, his great preaching ability and his ability to evangelise peoples of all backgrounds and abilities:

"Even the simplest among the faithful, those not gifted with great culture, were benefited by the convincing word of Lawrence, who addressed humble people to call them all back to a coherence of their lives with the faith they professed.

This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of other religious orders that in the 16th and 17th centuries contributed to the renewal of Christian life, penetrating society profoundly with their testimony of life and their teaching.

Also today the new evangelization needs well-prepared, zealous and courageous apostles, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel will prevail over the cultural orientations of ethical relativism and religious indifference, and transform various ways of thinking and of acting into a genuine Christian humanism.

It is amazing that St. Lawrence of Brindisi was able to carry out uninterruptedly his activity as an esteemed and tireless preacher in many cities of Italy and in several countries, despite carrying out other onerous tasks of great responsibility."

Third, at the foundation of his life, his works and preaching was his cultivation of his spiritual life through prayer, the Mass and his meditation on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

"In the school of the saints, every presbyter -- as was often stressed during the recent Year for Priests -- can avoid the danger of activism, that is, of acting while forgetting the profound motivations of the ministry, only if he takes care of his interior life.

Speaking to priests and seminarians in the cathedral of Brindisi, the city of St. Lawrence's birth, 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 a 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."

With the unmistakable ardour of his style, Lawrence moreover exhorted everyone, not just priests, to cultivate the life of prayer because through it we speak to God and God speaks to us. "O, if we only considered this reality!" he exclaimed.

"Namely that God is really present to us when we speak to him by praying; that he really listens to our prayer, even if we only pray with the heart and mind. And that not only is he present and listens to us, but that he can and desires to willingly comply, and with the greatest pleasure, to our requests." "

Fourth was his great commitment to peace found on his faith:

"Another trait that characterizes the work of this son of St. Francis was his work for peace. Both Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic princes repeatedly entrusted to him important diplomatic missions to settle controversies and foster concord between the European states, threatened at the time by the Ottoman Empire.

The moral authority that he enjoyed made him a sought after and listened to counselor. Today, as in the times of St. Lawrence, the world is in such great need of peace, in need of peaceful and pacifying men and women.

All those who believe in God must always be sources and agents of peace. It was precisely during one of these diplomatic missions that Lawrence concluded his earthly life in 1619 in Lisbon, where he had gone to the king of Spain, Philip II, to plead the cause of the Neapolitan subjects oppressed by the local authorities."

Fifth, he had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary:

"Moreover, being a Mariologist of great value, and author of a collection of sermons on Our Lady entitled "Mariale," he made evident the unique role of the Virgin Mary. He affirmed with clarity the Immaculate Conception and her cooperation in the work of redemption carried out by Christ."

Sixth, his theology and preaching was centred on the Mystery of the Incarnation:

"[H]e was the author of numerous works of biblical exegesis, theology and writings designed for preaching. In these he gives an organic presentation of the history of salvation, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation, the greatest manifestation of divine love for men."

Seventh, Saint Laurence emphasised the importance of the Holy Spirit on religious life:

"With fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also highlighted the Holy Spirit's action in the life of the believer. He reminds us that with His gifts the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and aids our commitment to joyfully live the message of the Gospel. "The Holy Spirit," wrote St. Lawrence, "makes gentle the yoke of the divine law and its weight light, so that we observe the Commandments of God with great facility, even with pleasure."

It is clear that Pope Benedict thinks that Saint Laurence is a figure of great relevance and importance in today`s world and we have much to learn in re-discovering him and his works.