ST. LAWRENCE of BRINDISI:
Greatest Capuchin Preacher and Doctor of the Church
1559 – 1619
Like his namesake Julius (Giulo) Caesar, Cesare de Rossi grew to be a great man.
Early in life he already showed signs of being deeply religious and of being a great orator.
He joined the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, which was one of the leading voices for reform both within the order and the Church. He then changed his name to Lawrence.
Not only was St. Lawrence a great scholar with a very facile memory but one with an amazing gift for languages. In no time he became fluent not only in his native tongue Italian but also in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, Bohemian, French and Spanish.
Because of this he was able to preach in five languages. His excellent knowledge of Hebrew and Greek enabled him to easily instruct the Jews in Rome thereby allowing him to make many converts among them. He was also able to study the Bible in its original languages.
His prodigious memory helped him to acquire an extraordinarily broad knowledge of the text of the Bible. It’s no wonder that he was able to use Scripture so extensively in his preaching.
But it was his remarkable gift of oratory that made him famous. Even before his ordination while still a deacon he already was entrusted with preaching the Lenten sermons, which he did with great success.
After his ordination as a deacon at age twenty-three he became famous throughout Europe as a forceful and magnetic preacher. His preaching ministry began in Padua, Verona, Vicenza and other cities in northern Italy.
Lawrence was very successful with his preaching style probably because it was always carefully adapted to the spiritual needs of his listeners. Of course his evident sanctity also helped to readily capture their hearts. This led many to comment that he was an effective and forceful preacher because his life of prayer and penance affirmed his sermons.
To illustrate the points he was making Lawrence often relied on scriptural quotations. This combination of brilliance and human compassion is very evident in most of his sermons, which were aimed principally at the conversion of his hearers to a better way of life. It is no wonder that many scholars consider him the greatest Capuchin preacher of the Church.
While Lawrence, unlike other doctors of the Church didn’t write any important book, still the collection of his sermons filled eleven volumes. In 1928-45 they were published in nine volumes.
In 1596 he went to fill the office of Definitor General of his Order (a post he held twice) in Rome. This was when Pope Clement VIII asked him to work for the conversion of the Jews. He successfully did this aided by his knowledge of Hebrew and the Old Testament. He was so fluent in Hebrew that in fact many Jews believed him to be a Jew like them who just converted to Catholicism.
Laurence was then sent in 1598 together with Bd. Benedict of Urbino (who was later beatified) to Germany and Austria to oppose Lutheranism, which was gaining strength. To do this they first nursed those sick of the plague and then established the Capuchin Convents at Prague, Vienna and Gorizia, which later on developed into the provinces of Bohemia, Austria and Syria. They proved a very effective bulwark against Lutheranism.
n the meantime the Turks were becoming agreater menace of Europe. While their sea power had been broken at the battle of Lepanto in 1571, Sultan Mohammed III since his accession in 1595 had been able to conquer a large part of Hungary and was now threatening the whole of the country.
So Emperor Rudolf II, having heard of the fame of Lawrence’s holiness, wisdom and administrative ability, sent him to enlist the help of the German princes against the invading Turks. Not only was he successful in his mission but when an army was gotten together he was appointed military chaplain general of the forces.
At the Battle of Stuhlweissenburgthe low spirits of the Christian soldiers who were outnumbered four to one were roused with a powerful inspiring address by their chaplain Lawrence who managed to communicate his ardor and confidence to them.
Then he mounted a horse and with a crucifix held high in his hand he rode before the army and successfully beat back the Turks and Europe was saved. It’s no wonder that the crushing defeat of the Turks was attributed by many to Lawrence.
In 1618 he tried to retire as he was worn out and his health had deteriorated. But he was recalled from the friary at Caserta at the request of the rulers of Naples to go to Spain to intercede with King Philip to settle their grievances.
While he was once more successful in his mission he was so ill that on his 60th birthday July 22, 1619 he died in his lodging at Belem near Lisbon, Portugal.
This man of prayer as well as of deep learning was beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783, canonized by Leo III in 1881 and declared a Doctor of the Church for his wisdom and deep learning by John XXIII in 1959.
SOURCES OF REFERENCE
ST. LAWRENCE of BRINDISI
A Calendar of Saints – p 138
A Year With the Saints – July 21
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 337 – 338
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. I pp 320 – 321
My First Book of Saints – pp 154 – 155
Saint Companions – pp 265 – 267
Saint of the Day – pp 171 – 172
Book of Saints – Part 7 – pp 14 – 15