St. Laurence and the Church’s wealth
“On August 6, the faithful assembled in the cemetery of Pretextatus were dispersed, the pontiff (St. Sixtus II) executed, and the chief deacon (St. Laurence) arrested and ordered to deliver up the treasures which the Government know to be in his keeping. ‘Acknowledge my just and peaceable claims,’ said the prefect. ‘Bring forth these immense treasures, the shameful spoils you have won by deceiving the credulous; the public good demands them; render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, that he may have wherewith to full his treasury and pay his armies.’
“Laurence, untroubled by these words, and as if quite willing to obey, gently answered: ‘I confess you speak the truth; our Church is indeed wealthy; no one in the world, not even Augustus himself, possesses such riches. I will disclose them all to you, and I will show you the treasures of Christ. All I ask for is a short delay, which will enable me the better to perform what I promised. For I must make and inventory of all, count them up, and value each article.’
“The prefect’s heart swelled with joy, and gloating over the gold he hoped soon to possess, he granted him a delay of three days. Meanwhile Laurence hastened all over the town and assembled the legions of poor whom their Mother the Church supported; lame and blind, cripple and beggars, he called them all. None knew them better than the archdeacon. Next he counted them, wrote down their names, and arranged them in long lines. On the appointed day he returned to the judge and thus addressed him: ‘Come with me and admire the incomparable riches of the sanctuary of our God.’ They went together to the spot where the crowds of poor were standing, clothed in rags and filling the air with their supplications. ‘Why do you shudder?’ said Laurence, to the prefect. ‘Do you call that a vile and contemptible spectacle? If you seek after wealth, know that the brightest gold is Christ, who is light, and the human race redeemed by Him; for they are the sons of the light, all these who are shielded by their bodily weakness from the assault of pride and evil passion; soon they will lay aside their ulcers in the palace of eternal life, and will shine in marvelous glory, clothed in purple and bearing golden crowns upon their heads. See, here is the gold which I promised you – gold of a kind that fire cannot touch or thief steal from you. Think not, then, that Christ is poor; behold these choice pearls, these virgins, I mean, and these widows who refuse second marriage; they form the priceless necklace of the Church, they deck her ears, they are her bridal ornaments, and win for her Christ’s love. Behold, then all our riches; take them; they will beautify the city of Romulus, they will increase the Emperor’s treasures and enrich you yourself.’”
All these events happened on August 9, 258. St. Laurence was arrested and tortured, then burnt to death on the gridiron. In this manner, he gained the imperishable crown.
[Taken from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Guéranger, on the feast of St. Laurence]
Pope John Paul II speaks about the poor
From the encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, 1991: “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as a people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”