Fourth day within the Octave of St. Lawrence
Taken from the Book on Offices Written by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan
Let us not pass by the glorious and holy Lawrence, who began to weep when he saw Sixtus his Bishop being led to martyrdom, not because Sixtus was going to suffer, but because he himself was going to remain behind. And so he began to say to him such words as these: Father, whither goest thou without thy son? Holy Priest, dost thou fare hence without a Deacon? It hath never been thy use to offer sacrifice without a minister. What therefore in me hath displeased thee, my Father? Hast thou tried me and found me unworthy to be called thy son? Make trial if I am indeed a useless servant, even I, whom thou didst choose to commit unto me the administration of the cup of the Blood of the Lord; unto me, to whom thou gavest part in the celebration of the Sacraments, dost thou refuse part with thee in thy blood-shedding?
When he was asked for the treasures of the Church, he answered that he would show them. The next day he brought the poor. When he was asked where were the treasures which he had promised, he pointed to the poor, and said: ” These are the treasures of the Church.” And in good sooth, he was right. They are treasures indeed, in whom Christ is, and in whom the belief in Christ is. The Apostle saith: ” We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” (2 Cor. iv. 7.) What better treasures hath Christ than they in whom He hath said that He Himself is? For thus is it written: “I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in,” and then: ” Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” (Matth. xxv. 35, 40.) These were the treasures which Lawrence showed, and he had the better of his persecutors, for these were treasures which they could not take away.
Was it not said to blessed Lawrence: “Thou hadst no right to disperse the riches of the Church, or to sell the vessels which were used for the Sacraments?” If any man is to do thus, it is a thing which must be done with the most upright honesty and the most wise discretion. If any man does it for his own profit, it is surely a sin, but if it be done to help the poor or redeem slaves, it is a work of mercy. For no man can say, why doth the needy live? or, why ought we to ransom slaves? No man can challenge it, if it be done to build the temple of God. No man can rebuke it, if a rule be stretched to bury the remains of the faithful. No man can grieve that the departed find rest in Christian burial-places. For these three objects it is lawful to break, melt down, or sell the vessels of the Church, even after they have been in use.
St. Hippolytus, an officer of the body-guard of the emperor Decius, had been born in the darkness of idolatry, but he had become a Christian, with all his household, in consequence of witnessing the many miracles which St. Lawrence performed while in the prison under his charge.
He had also been present when the saint, lying on the red-hot gridiron, endured the most terrible tortures. At the sight of the heroism of St. Lawrence, he was filled with the desire to denounce himself a Christian, but he was prevented by St. Lawrence.
But when this martyr had gloriously ended his combat, Hippolytus, with the assistance of a priest, named Justinus, buried the sacred remains with great devotion and veneration. The emperor on being informed of it, had Hippolytus seized and brought before him. He asked him if it was true that he had become a Christian? Hippolytus answered firmly: “Yes, I am a Christian, and moreover resolved to die such.” The emperor, who had always highly esteemed him, endeavored, first by promises and then by menaces, to induce him to forsake Christ. As, however, all was unavailing, he caused him to be tortured. He was accordingly stretched on the ground, whipped with scourges, and beaten with clubs so fearfully, that it was believed he could not survive. But God, by a visible miracle, prolonged his life. Keeping his eyes fixed upon Heaven, he frequently repeated: “I am a Christian, I suffer for Christ’s sake.” After having been tormented for a long time, he was cast into prison, and the prefect received the order to behead him. Before executing this order, however, he went to the house of Hippolytus to secure his property. Finding the entire household had become Christians, he took them beyond the gates of the city and had them beheaded. Concordia, an old and holy matron, who had been Hippolytus’ nurse, was scourged until she expired, because she encouraged the others to remain firm in their faith. At last, Hippolytus was taken out of prison and fastened to the tails of two horses, and dragged by them until he was torn to pieces, and his heroic soul was in the presence of Him whom he had so fearlessly confessed.
On the same day, though at another place, St. Cassian suffered a martyrdom of unprecedented cruelty.
This saint, was bishop of Brescia, but had been banished from his See on account of his faith. He intended to go to Rome and offer the Pope his services for the salvation of souls in some other place. On his way, he changed his mind, and taking up his residence at Imola, a town in Italy, he resolved to teach children to read and write, hoping that occasion would not be wanting to do good. In this apparently humble position, he was no less zealous than he had been in the administration of his diocese. He taught the children with love and gentleness, and endeavored to inspire them with respect for the Christian faith, fear and horror of sin, and love of virtue and piety. He continued in this occupation with great zeal for some years, to the great benefit of young and old, when suddenly a terrible persecution of the Christians arose. He was one of the first who were taken prisoners. The tyrant commanded him to sacrifice to the gods. The holy bishop and teacher refused, as might have been expected, and tried to convince the judge of his fearful blindness in worshiping dumb idols or making gods of godless men. The tyrant, furious at his arguments, ordered the executioners to strip him of his clothes and tie his hands behind his back, and leave him exposed to the mercy of the children whom he had taken such pains to teach.
The children, who had been taught that Cassian was a magician and consequently must die a most painful death, took their sharp iron pencils with which, in those days, they wrote upon their wax tablets, and pierced him with them till the blood ran profusely from his veins. This torture lasted long and was extremely painful.
The saint, however, never complained of the ingratitude of his pupils, nor gave a sign of impatience, but praised and thanked the Lord until his soul went to Heaven to receive the crown of martyrdom.