Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Riches at the Service of the Poor

For a third century arch-deacon of the Church in Rome, St Lawrence has more memorable tales surrounding him than most of his contemporaries who seem to have faded into legend. Perhaps it's because he held the purse strings of the Christian community!

Indeed, it was for the rumoured treasures of the Church in Rome that he was martyred. In 258 aD, the Emperor demanded that St Lawrence surrender the wealth of the Church to him. The vicious Emperor Valerian had already beheaded Pope St Sixtus II and six deacons and he was now intend on enriching himself. Lawrence acceded to the Emperor's request, but not before dispersing the gold and silver of the Church. Then, on 6 August 258 brought to the Pope a company of the poor, crippled, blind and sick of Rome.

He then proclaimed: "Here are the true treasures of the Church!"

The image above by Fra Angelico in the Vatican Palace shows St Lawrence, vested as a deacon, with these people.

For refusing to bring the gold and silver he'd expected, the enraged Emperor ordered the arch-deacon to be roasted alive on a gridiron! It is said, that St Lawrence was so cheerful in disposition and willing in martyrdom that when his executioners had roasted one side of him, he asked them to turn him over because that side was done!

This gridiron is commemorated in a most glorious manner in El Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the enormous royal palace, monastery, seminary, library and church complex in Spain, near Madrid. The interconnecting corridors and cloisters of this complex form the pattern of a gridiron when seen from the air, it is said, in memory of St Lawrence in whose honour King Philip II built the monastery after a victory against France on this day in 1557.

In a sense these examples form two extremes; two tensions within the Church which have remained ever since: poverty and wealth. Great buildings and riches are dedicated to the glory of God and His saints; the Liturgy of the Church and her edifices are adorned with richness and beauty to evoke the splendours of the heavenly City, which even the Scriptures mention as bejewelled and richly adorned. But all this wealth is never at the neglect of the true treasures of the Church: her people and especially the poor. Indeed, the riches which are bequeathed to the Church as a blessing and gift are to be used for the benefit of the poor and shared with the poor. Thus, the riches of the Church are at the service of the people, especially the poor. This point was recently impressed upon us by Fr Edmund Nantes OP, Prior Provincial of the Philippines, when he reminded the Dominican Family that its resources - schools, retreat houses, libraries - must be accessible to the poor and indeed used to serve and aid the many poor people in this nation (shown trawling through a rubbish dump below).

Hence St Lawrence hid the wealth of the Church before he went to his death. As any prudent treasurer knows (and Fr Nantes himself was once treasurer of the entire Order of Preachers!), money is a necessity, and St Lawrence knew that all the poor and sick and crippled would need the help of the Church even after his death and this can only be possible if there were still funds available! Thus, the Church requires investments, income generating projects, fund raisers, etc. She needs to be wise about how to make money and invest in resources.

But, that is never an end in itself. It is always in order to better enable the Church's mission. As such, one must never lose sight of the true treasures of the Church and ask how we can serve them better from the many gifts (treasures) we have ourselves received from God.


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