A. Let me say how happy I am to return to St. Lawrence Parish to offer with you and for you this Mass of Thanksgiving that marks the 150th anniversary of this parish community. Let me first of all join you in expressing our common debt of gratitude to Father Victor Scocco and Fr. Binoy for their devoted service to your parish!
B. I also want to join you in thanking the Trinitarians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province for serving this parish for nearly 40 years … since 1978. We are blessed that the Provincial is with us, Father Bill Axe, and I understand, Fr. Bill, that you formerly served as Pastor here – welcome back!
C. Finally, let me express my gratitude to all of you, the parish family of St. Lawrence Parish for your fidelity and goodness. Some families have lived in this area for many years and others of you have come here more recently. But together you make up a single community of faith, worship, and service – and with you I give thanks for the blessings God has showered upon this parish for the last century & a half, even as we seek God’s help and protection in the future.
D. And now, let me offer a few reflections that will focus on your patron, your history, and your future – all seen through the lens of today’s Scripture readings.
II. St. Lawrence, the Martyr
A. During the past 150 years, I’m sure the story of St. Lawrence was repeated many times in this church. Yet a good story is always worth re-telling, particularly when it’s true. So you might know that the name “Lawrence” means “one who is laurelled” – meaning, decorated and honored. Lawrence was honored not because he won a race in a stadium or a military victory, but rather because he, along with Pope Sixtus II of Rome, gave his life for the faith. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons who served Rome during the 3rd century along with Pope Sixtus II – a time when Christians were severely persecuted, even as today many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East are undergoing severe religious persecution. As a deacon, Lawrence was charged with managing the church’s money as well as providing charitable assistance to the poor of Rome.
B. As this persecution raged, Pope Sixtus was captured and Lawrence was given a brief period of time to collect the Church’s treasures so that these could be handed over to the Roman authorities. Lawrence distributed to the poor whatever funds the Church had and then presented the poor of Rome as the true treasures of the Church. In many ways, Lawrence was like the clever servant Jesus praises in the Gospel. Lawrence exercised his stewardship ingeniously – not by hoarding it for himself and not by cheating anyone of what they were owed – but rather by overturning the scales by which true wealth is measured. “Behold in these poor persons,” he said to the Roman prefect, “the treasures I promised to show you.”
C. Needless to say, this did not go down well with Roman prefect who ordered that Lawrence be burned alive on a gridiron. Unlike those stingy swindlers whom Amos the prophet condemned in our 1st reading, Lawrence cheerfully made his whole life a gift to the Lord and to the Church. As he was being roasted he said to the executioner, “I’m well done. Turn me over!” He must have read where St. Paul wrote: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
D. So your patron saint, sets the bar pretty high when it comes to bearing witness to the faith, loving and serving the poor, and cheerfully making any sacrifice that following Jesus might require of us. Fortunately, saints not only set the standard, they also pray for us and help us!
III. History of St. Lawrence in Jessup
A. Well, 150 years ago, the seeds of faith were planted here when St. Lawrence Martyr was founded as a mission of St. Augustine Parish and later a mission of St. Mary of the Mills in Laurel. The land was generously donated by Susannah Merritt to Archbishop Martin Spalding and it is said that some 2,000 people turned up for the Church’s dedication. (I wonder where they all sat?)
B. By 1921 St. Lawrence was a “free-standing” parish which over the years would gradually expand the scope of its services, as young families with children moved into the area. In 1966, your centennial, Lawrence Cardinal Shehan blessed a refurbished parish church named for his patron saint and soon thereafter the parish center was completed. In the meantime, the Trinitarian Fathers had been serving the prisoners at Jessup and in 1978 were invited also to assume the pastoral care of this parish … linking this parish with a very special outreach to the imprisoned – Jesus in one of his “distressing disguises” as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say.
C. Under the leadership of Fr. Victor and Fr. Binoy, St. Lawrence continues to respond to changing pastoral needs with a special focus on ministry to young people through Life Teen, ChristLife, and other pastoral programs. Yet, even as St. Lawrence has changed over the years, it has remained what St. Paul describes in our second reading: a community of prayer: a community that offers supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings for all – the great and powerful, the poor and lowly – Your community has remained a place where you discover through Word & Sacrament how deeply God wills your salvation, how deeply his wills that you come to a knowledge of his truth revealed in the Person of Jesus. Thus may you be a peaceful, loving, generous community growing in holiness, now and in the years to come!
IV. The Future
A. Now you stand on the threshold of a new chapter in your history, a chapter marked by rapid growth and change as thousands of new homes are built in this area. Not long ago I joined with Fr. Victor and members of this parish in breaking ground across route 175 for a new parish center. There is always something in us that longs for the good old days when our communities were smaller and life was simpler. Yet, when we think of the courage with which St. Lawrence faced the future and the generosity of those who first established this parish, we recognize that now it is our turn not only to cherish what we’ve been given but indeed to expand the mission, the outreach of the parish in this area. It is our turn to be witnesses, our turn to be builders, our turn to hand on the faith to new generations – even as we seek to transform the culture of which we are a part.
B. So as we celebrate this anniversary, may we be of good cheer and filled with hope, asking, through the intercession of St. Lawrence, God’s blessings upon this parish family and upon each of you and your loved ones! May God bless us and keep us always in his love!