Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor
July 21—Optional Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of Brindisi, Italy
A little known Doctor of the Church did it all and did it well
Julius Caesar Russo was born into a religious family, yet from a young age was drawn to join another religious family—that of Saint Francis of Assisi. After his father’s early death, little Julius was placed in the care of the Friars Minor by his mother. Upon moving to Venice, though, he came to know the Capuchins, another expression of Franciscanism, and joined their Order as a teenager. He took the religious name of Lawrence, was ordained a priest in 1582, and from that point on plowed his way through life like a high speed train. Father Lawrence bulleted north and south, east and west, stopping in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Bohemia, Spain, and Portugal. This one-man army seemed to be everywhere, doing everything, and yet always made the salvation of his own soul his highest priority.
Father Lawrence was smart. Very smart. His intellectual gifts were fully deployed in the service of the Lord to master whatever discipline he studied. He learned the biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Syriac. In addition to his native Italian, he also spoke Spanish and German, which he put to extensive use in his ministry in Central Europe. His knowledge of Scripture was so wide and so deep that it seemed he had memorized the entire Bible. He even earned the esteem of Jewish scholars for his profound understanding of rabbinic texts. Lawrence also cultivated a burning love for Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Eucharist in long hours of prayer. It sometimes took hours for him to say Mass. He seemed to be carried away in ecstacy and had the gift of tears. This level of fervor, education, poverty, intelligence, and devotion to the Church made Saint Lawrence of Brindisi the ideal priest for his time and place. He was many things, but among them he was the ultimate Counter-Reformation warrior.
Saint Lawrence explained with great force and lucidity the truths of the Catholic faith to those who had fallen into the trap of Protestantism. He calmly elaborated upon the Scriptural and patristic foundations of the Papacy, Bishops, Mary, and the Sacraments. Lawrence was the anti-Luther and the epitome of the great Capuchins who invigorated Franciscanism in the 1500s and beyond. Amid all of his labors as a preacher and teacher, Lawrence also carried out a parallel set of demanding duties in the administration of the Capuchin Order. He was a novice master, provincial, and minister general, or head, of the Order. Father Lawrence completed mountains of work day in and day out for many years, a sustained drive and competence which inevitably led to him being burdened with still more weighty responsibilities.
As a Franciscan dedicated to preserving and restoring peace, Lawrence was tasked by both the Holy Father and secular princes with various diplomatic missions geared toward settling controversies among Christian states and between these states and the surging Ottoman Empire. Yet Lawrence’s desire for peace was not divorced from truth, the right to self-defense, or love of Christian Europe. He was the chaplain of a Christian army which was mustered in Germany against the Turks at Lawrence’s insistence. Lawrence then personally led the troops into battle with his crucifix held high. The German army’s victory was attributed to our saint’s intercession and inspiring example. Saint Lawrence died on his birthday, July 22, at age sixty, while on a diplomatic mission to Lisbon, Portugal. He is buried in a monastery in Northern Spain and was canonized in 1881. In 1959 Pope Saint John XXIII proclaimed Saint Lawrence of Brindisi an Apostolic Doctor of the Church for his creative yet orthodox writings on the Virgin Mary and for his commanding erudition in, and harmonious presentation of, Scripture, patristics, and fundamental theology. He is the third Franciscan Doctor of the Church, along with Saints Bonaventure and Anthony, and, unfortunately, one of the least well-known.
Saint Lawrence, you were ideally suited to the needs of your age and moved all you met through your virtuous example, vast knowledge, and life of prayer. Through your intercession, help all priests, especially Franciscans, to not spare themselves but to emulate your zeal.