I still remember with joy the festive reception I was given in 2008 in Brindisi, the city that in 1559 witnessed the birth of an illustrious doctor of the Church, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the name that Giulio Cesare Rossi assumed on entering the Order of Capuchins. From his youth he was attracted to the family of St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, when he lost his father at age 7, he was entrusted by his mother to the care of the Conventual friars of the city. A few years later, however, he moved with his mother to Venice, and precisely in the Veneto he met the Capuchins, who at that time gave themselves generously to the service of the entire Church, to enhance the great spiritual reform promoted by the Council of Trent.
In 1575, Lawrence made his religious profession, becoming a Capuchin friar, and in 1582 he was ordained a priest. Already during his ecclesiastical studies he showed the eminent intellectual qualities with which he was gifted. He easily learned ancient languages, such as Greek, Hebrew and Syriac, and modern ones, such as French and German, which were added to his knowledge of the Italian language and Latin, once spoken fluently by all ecclesiastics and men of culture.
Thanks to his command of so many languages, Lawrence was able to carry out an intense apostolate for various categories of people. An effective preacher, he thoroughly knew not only the Bible but also rabbinical literature, such that rabbis themselves were amazed and admiring, manifesting to him their esteem and respect. A theologian versed in sacred Scripture and the fathers of the Church, he was also able to illustrate in an exemplary way the Catholic doctrine to Christians who, above all in Germany, had followed the Reformation. With his clear and quiet exposition he showed the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of the faith called into question by Martin Luther. Among these, the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as man's interior transformation, the need of good works for salvation. The success that Lawrence enjoyed helps us to understand that also today, in carrying forward ecumenical dialogue with so much hope, the confrontation with sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an irreplaceable element of fundamental importance, as I wished to recall in the apostolic exhortation "Verbum Domini" (No. 46).
Even the simplest among the faithful, those not gifted with great culture, were benefited by the convincing word of Lawrence, who addressed humble people to call them all back to a coherence of their lives with the faith they professed. This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of other religious orders that in the 16th and 17th centuries contributed to the renewal of Christian life, penetrating society profoundly with their testimony of life and their teaching. Also today the new evangelization needs well-prepared, zealous and courageous apostles, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel will prevail over the cultural orientations of ethical relativism and religious indifference, and transform various ways of thinking and of acting into a genuine Christian humanism. It is amazing that St. Lawrence of Brindisi was able to carry out uninterruptedly his activity as an esteemed and tireless preacher in many cities of Italy and in several countries, despite carrying out other onerous tasks of great responsibility. Within the Order of Capuchins, in fact, he was a professor of theology, master of novices, several times provincial minister and counselor-general, and finally minister-general from 1602 to 1605.
Amid so many endeavors, Lawrence cultivated a spiritual life of exceptional fervor, dedicating much time to prayer and in a special way to the celebration of Holy Mass, which often took hours, penetrating and being moved by the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.
In the school of the saints, every presbyter -- as was often stressed during the recent Year for Priests -- can avoid the danger of activism, that is, of acting while forgetting the profound motivations of the ministry, only if he takes care of his interior life. Speaking to priests and seminarians in the cathedral of Brindisi, the city of St. Lawrence's birth, I recalled that "the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest's life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And therefore, time for prayer must be given a true priority in our life. If we are not interiorly in communion with God we cannot even give anything to others. Therefore, God is the first priority. We must always reserve the time necessary to be in communion of prayer with our Lord."
With the unmistakable ardor of his style, Lawrence moreover exhorted everyone, not just priests, to cultivate the life of prayer because through it we speak to God and God speaks to us. "O, if we only considered this reality!" he exclaimed. "Namely that God is really present to us when we speak to him by praying; that he really listens to our prayer, even if we only pray with the heart and mind. And that not only is he present and listens to us, but that he can and desires to willingly comply, and with the greatest pleasure, to our requests."
Another trait that characterizes the work of this son of St. Francis was his work for peace. Both Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic princes repeatedly entrusted to him important diplomatic missions to settle controversies and foster concord between the European states, threatened at the time by the Ottoman Empire. The moral authority that he enjoyed made him a sought after and listened to counselor. Today, as in the times of St. Lawrence, the world is in such great need of peace, in need of peaceful and pacifying men and women. All those who believe in God must always be sources and agents of peace. It was precisely during one of these diplomatic missions that Lawrence concluded his earthly life in 1619 in Lisbon, where he had gone to the king of Spain, Philip II, to plead the cause of the Neapolitan subjects oppressed by the local authorities.
He was canonized in 1881 and, because of his vigorous and intense activity, his vast and harmonious learning, he merited the title of Doctor Apostolicus, "Apostolic Doctor," from Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1959, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of his birth. This recognition was accorded to Lawrence of Brindisi also because he was the author of numerous works of biblical exegesis, theology and writings designed for preaching. In these he gives an organic presentation of the history of salvation, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation, the greatest manifestation of divine love for men. Moreover, being a Mariologist of great value, and author of a collection of sermons on Our Lady entitled "Mariale," he made evident the unique role of the Virgin Mary. He affirmed with clarity the Immaculate Conception and her cooperation in the work of redemption carried out by Christ.
With fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also highlighted the Holy Spirit's action in the life of the believer. He reminds us that with His gifts the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and aids our commitment to joyfully live the message of the Gospel. "The Holy Spirit," wrote St. Lawrence, "makes gentle the yoke of the divine law and its weight light, so that we observe the Commandments of God with great facility, even with pleasure."
I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St. Lawrence of Brindisi underscoring that all his activity was inspired in his great love for sacred Scripture, which he knew in great part by heart, and by the conviction that the listening and acceptance of the Word of God produces an interior transformation that leads us to holiness. "The Word of the Lord," he affirmed, "is light for the intellect and fire for the will, so that man can know and love God. For the interior man, who through grace lives from the Spirit of God, it is bread and water, but bread that is sweeter than honey and water that is better than wine and milk. ... It is a hammer against a hard heart obstinate in vices. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin."
St. Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love sacred Scripture, to grow in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily the relationship of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that every action of ours, every activity will have its beginning and fulfillment in Him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness will be luminous and capable of leading the men of our time to God.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today focuses on Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin friar of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries known for his vigorous labour for the salvation of souls, his vast learning and his eloquent preaching. Coming of age at a time when many of the articles of the faith were being called into question, Saint Lawrence applied his immense talents to making clear the biblical and patristic foundations of the teachings of the Church. This son of the Franciscan tradition also applied himself heroically to efforts towards peace and reconciliation between the nations and peoples of Europe. His witness serves as an excellent example for our age, so fraught with violence, ethical relativism and religious indifference. The new evangelization needs well-prepared, zealous and courageous apostles like Saint Lawrence so that the light and beauty of the Gospel may reach into the depths of every human heart. Dear friends, in order to achieve such a lofty vocation, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi would have us grow close to our lord Jesus Christ by reading the Sacred Scriptures and by cultivating daily the relationship of love with him in personal prayer, because every good action of ours has its beginning and its end in him.
I am pleased to greet the members of the Catenian Association from England, the students of the combined choir of Saint Anne and Saint Ibs Schools, and the many university students present here today. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from England, Ireland, Denmark, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God's abundant blessing.
Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[He concluded in Italian:]
I give, moreover, an affectionate greeting to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear friends, may the Lenten season be a propitious occasion to translate our daily existence, according to the different situations in which each one of us finds himself, into the same sentiments of the Savior, who for us gave his life on the cross, finding comfort and support in his sacrifice offered for the salvation of the whole of humanity.