We have some important liturgical celebrations this week. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. This Feast goes back to the 5th century where it was celebrated in Syria, a country that is now in serious need of transfiguration. The Feast, however, was not added to the liturgical calendar of the universal church until 1457, when Pope Calistus III had the Transfiguration added to commemorate the victory of Christian forces against the Turks at the siege of Belgrade. Pope Calistus (or Calixtus) had worked diligently to organize a crusade to stop the invading Turks. He was also the Pope responsible for the re-trail and exoneration of St. Joan of Arc. She had originally been condemned as heretic in a trumped-up trial by the English after her capture. So today would be a good day to pray for improvement of Muslim-Christian relations. We worship the same God, and both claim Abraham as our father.
Tuesday, we get to honor the Dominicans as we celebrate the Feast of their founder, St. Dominic.
Wednesday is the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known by her civilian name of Edith Stein. Born Jewish, she became inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, was baptized, and eventually entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites. Because of the Nazi persecution of Jews, she was moved to a convent in Holland, but during the Nazi occupation of Holland she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered on August 9, 1942.
On Friday, we have a chance to honor the Franciscans as we celebrate the Feat of St. Clare, disciple and follower of St. Francis of Assisi, and founder of the Poor Clares.
But I want to focus on the Saint we celebrate on Thursday, St. Lawrence, and primarily he was a deacon. During the persecution of the Emperor Valerian in 258, Lawrence was arrested by the Romans. The Romans knew enough about Christianity to know that the deacons were the ones who handled all the finances of the church, because the deacons administered charity to the poor. So the Romans told Lawrence to go out and collect all the treasures of the church and bring them back in three days’ time. When the time elapsed, Lawrence showed up with a crowd of elderly, lame, sick, poor people. “Where are the treasures of the church?” the Roman authorities demanded, looking for silver and gold and rich vestments. Lawrence pointed to the crowd of the sick and poor people and said, “These are the treasures of the church.” That, of course, only angered the Romans, and so they executed Lawrence in a very dreadful way, by roasting him on a gridiron.
Anyway, I would like to make two points about this. First of all, would that we could see the people we help through St. Vincent de Paul Society and through our Thursday Outreach program, through Casa Marianella and St. Louise House and Mary Catholic Worker House, and all the charitable organizations we support, not as burdens or drains on our charity, but truly as treasures of the church. And secondly, to note that St. Lawrence was not a priest or bishop, but a permanent deacon. In the early church, the diaconate was an important position in the church structure. Many historians believe that the diaconate fell out of favor because the deacons were so important and so powerful, controlling the money. In the Middle-Ages, the power struggle over who controlled the money between the priests and the deacons led to the suppression of the permanent diaconate. The priests won.
But one of the many wonderful things Vatican Council II did was re-institute the permanent diaconate. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of the re-institution of the permanent diaconate in the church. And a great boon to the church this has been, especially in this country. So as you pray on Thursday, pray in thanksgiving for the return of the permanent diaconate to our church, and pray for more men to take up this service to the people of God.