St. Laurence Justinian
Feast Day: September 5
Saint Laurence Justinian was born at Venice of the illustrious family of the Justiniani, and while still a child was remarkable for the seriousness of his character. He spent his youth in exercises of piety, and then being attracted by divine Wisdom to the chaste espousals of the Word and the soul, he began to think of embracing a religious state. As a prelude to this new warfare, he secretly undertook many bodily austerities, such as sleeping upon bare boards.
Sitting, as it were, as judge, he placed the pleasures of the world and the marriage prepared for him by his mother on the one hand, and on the other the austerities of the cloister; then casting his eyes on an image of Christ crucified, he said: “Thou, O Lord, art my hope: there Thou hast placed Thy most secure refuge,” and he betook himself to the congregation of Canons of St. George in Alga.
Here he invented fresh torments and waged war with even more vehemence than before, against himself, as if against his greatest enemy. So far from allowing himself the least gratification, he would never set foot in the garden belonging to his family nor in his paternal home, except when without a tear he performed the last offices of piety towards his dying mother.
Laurence was equally zealous in the practice of obedience, meekness, and especially of humility. He would choose of his own accord the humblest duties of the monastery, and begged his bread in the most crowded parts of the town, seeking rather mockery than alms. He bore insults and calumnies unmoved and in silence. His great support was assiduous prayer, wherein he was often rapt in God in ecstasy. The love of God burnt so brightly in his heart that it kindled a like ardor in the hearts of his companions and encouraged them to perseverance.
Pope Eugenius IV appointed him bishop of his native city. Laurence made great efforts to decline the dignity, but when obliged to accept it, he so discharged its obligations as to win the praise of all. He changed nothing of his former manner of life, practicing holy poverty, as he had ever done, in what regarded his table, his bed, and his furniture. He kept but few persons in his house or service, for he used to say that he had another large family, meaning Christ’s poor.
Everyone had free access to St. Laurence at any hour; he helped and consoled all with fatherly charity, even burdening himself with debts in order to relieve the necessitous. When he was asked on whose help he counted in such cases, he answered: “On my Lord’s help, and He can easily pay for me.” And divine Providence always justified his confidence by sending him help in the most unexpected manner.
He built many monasteries for nuns, whom he trained with great vigilance to the life of perfection. He devoted himself zealously to withdrawing the ladies of Venice from worldly pomp and vanity of dress, and to the reformation of ecclesiastical discipline and Christian morals. Thus he truly deserved the title of ‘honor and glory of prelates,’ which Eugenius IV applied to him in the presence of the Cardinals. Nicholas V, the next Pope, translated the Patriarchate from the See of Grado to that of Venice, and proclaimed him first Patriarch.
Laurence Justinian was honored with the gift of tears, and daily offered to Almighty God the Victim of propitiation. Once when saying Mass on the night of Our Lord’s Nativity, he saw Christ Jesus under the form of a most beautiful Infant.
Great was his care for the flock entrusted to him; and on one occasion it was revealed by Heaven that Venice owed its safety to its Pontiff’s prayers and merits. Filled with the spirit of prophecy, he foretold many events which no human mind could have foreseen; while his prayers often put the devils to flight and healed diseases.
Though he made but little study of letters, he wrote books full of heavenly doctrine and piety.
When St. Laurence’s last illness came on, his servants prepared a more comfortable bed for him on account of his sickness and old age; but he, shrinking from such a luxury which was too unlike his Lord’s hard death-bed, the Cross, bade them lay him on his usual couch. Knowing the end of his life had come, he raised his eyes to Heaven, and saying “I come to Thee, O good Jesus!” he fell asleep in the Lord on the eighth of January.
The holiness of his death was attested by angelic harmonies heard by several Carthusian monks; as also by the state of his body, which during the two months that it lay unburied, remained whole and incorrupt, of a lively color and breathing a sweet fragrance.
Other miracles, worked after his death, also gave proof of St. Laurence’s sanctity; on which account, Pope Alexander VIII enrolled him among the saints. Innocent XII assigned for his feast the fifth of September, on which day the holy man had been raised to the pontifical dignity.
This article was taken from the series of books The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B. This book, along with others, is available from www.fatimashoppe.org.