St. Lawrence of Brindisi: Diplomat, missionary, preacher; feast day July 21
St. Lawrence of Brindisi, whose feast we celebrate on July 21, is a Doctor of the Church who was a gifted preacher, evangelizer and diplomat during a turbulent period in European history, when the continent was divided into feuding city-states and under attack from a Moslem invasion from the east.
He was born Giulio Cesare Russo on July 22, 1559, in Naples. Of a precocious piety, Lawrence gave early evidence of a religious vocation. He studied with the Conventual Franciscans of Brindisi, where he rapidly progressed in his studies. When he was barely 6, he already showed the great gift of oratory, which he would later use as a persuasive preacher and ambassador.
When he was 12, his father died. He moved to Venice, under the supervision of his uncle, to continue his studies with the clerics of St. Mark Basilica. In 1575 he was received into the order of Capuchin Franciscans under the name of Brother Lawrence, and he continued his philosophical and theological studies at the University of Padua.
Owing to his wonderful memory, he mastered not only the principal European languages, but also most of the Semitic tongues. It was said he knew the entire original text of the Bible. Such a knowledge, in the eyes of many, could be accounted for only by supernatural assistance, and, during the process of beatification, the examiners of the saint's writings rendered the following judgment: "Vere inter sanctos Ecclesiae doctores adnumerari potest." ("Certainly, he can be counted among the Doctors of the Church.")
Such unusual talents, added to a rare virtue, fitted Lawrence for diverse missions. When he was still a deacon, he preached the Lenten sermons in Venice, and his success was so great that he was called successively to all the principal cities of the peninsula. Subsequently, thanks to his numerous journeys, he was enabled to evangelize at different periods most of the countries of Europe. The sermons he left fill no less than eight folio volumes.
He held all the offices of his order and established new communities in several major cities, even as he preached all over Italy and the rest of Europe. In particular he served as a missionary to the Jews, where his expert knowledge of the Scriptures in Hebrew and his powerful oratory persuaded many to become Christians. Everywhere he went his reputation as a holy man preceded him, and people flocked to hear him preach and to receive his blessing.
In 1601 he was named chaplain of the Christian imperial army, then about to march against the Moslem Turks. The victory of Lepanto in 1571 had only temporarily checked the Moslem invasion, and several battles were still necessary to secure the final triumph of the Christian armies. By 1595 Mohammed III had conquered a large part of Hungary. Determined to prevent a further advance, the emperor dispatched Lawrence to the nearby German princes to obtain their cooperation, and they responded to his appeal.
The Christian armies of Europe, under the leadership of the German princes, then planned an attack on Albe-Royal (now Stulweissenburg) – a battle that would pit their 18,000 men against 80,000 Turks. The German generals hesitated and appealed to Lawrence for advice.
Holding himself responsible for victory, he communicated to the entire army in a glowing speech the ardor and confidence that he himself felt. He was too feeble to march, so he rode on horseback and, crucifix in hand, took the lead of the army, which followed irresistibly after him.
Although he was the most exposed to danger, Lawrence was not wounded – universally regarded as due to a miraculous protection. The city was finally taken, and the Turks lost 30,000 men. But they still had more remaining soldiers than the Christian army, so they formed their lines anew, and a few days later another battle was fought. It was always the chaplain who was at the head of the army. "Forward!" he cried, showing them the crucifix, "Victory is ours." The Turks were again defeated, and the honor of this double victory was attributed by the entire army to Lawrence.
Lawrence resigned from leadership of his order in 1605, and then the pope sent him to evangelize in Germany. He also served as an ambassador for the pope among the various princes of city-states that now comprise Germany, Spain and Italy. He settled disputes among them, and he encouraged them to support the Church and protect the Catholic faith from various heresies.
This skilled politician also had an intense inner life as a priest. He cultivated a life of prayer and contemplation, and he loved the Mass above all else. He was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he often prayed the rosary and the Office of the Blessed Virgin. As in the case of St. Francis of Assisi, there was something poetical about his piety, which often burst forth into canticles to the Blessed Virgin. It was in Mary's name that he worked his miracles, and his favorite blessing was "Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria." (Mary, with your loving Son, bless us each and everyone.)
In 1618, the 59-year-old Lawrence withdrew to a monastery for a few days of peace and quiet, but he did not get it. The leaders of Naples asked for his help in a serious political dispute involving the French, Italians and Spanish, who were quarreling over territorial boundaries and treaties. An alleged plot to capture and burn down Venice had been discovered, and the Venetians subsequently executed several French men and charged that the Spanish were secretly in charge of the conspiracy. Lawrence was asked to travel to Spain and apprise the Spanish king, Philip III, of the mess. He went, but the long journey exhausted his feeble strength. He was unable to return home, and after a few days of great suffering he died in Lisbon on July 22, 1619 – just as he had predicted when he set out on the journey.
St. Lawrence was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI, canonized in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.
— Catholic News Agency, Catholic Encyclopedia
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FROM THE PASTORS
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