In 1959 John XXIII bestowed the title of Doctor Apostolicus on the Franciscan friar St Lawrence of Brindisi (d 1619). He was a gifted linguist and theologian who produced many works on a wide variety of topics. He was a diplomat, apologist, scholar and general of his Capuchin order. The Capuchins collected his works into 15 volumes, 11 of which are sermons. In both the traditional and post-conciliar calendars the Apostolic Doctor is honoured at the altar on July 21.
With conviction he defended the Catholic Faith in places where Protestant errors had taken hold and with his knowledge of Hebrew and Scripture he evangelised among Jews in Italy. With conviction in 1601 he literally led troops into battle facing great odds against Islamic invaders. Thirty years after the Christian victory at Lepanto, Sultan Mehmed III, having slain his 19 brothers to secure power, swore that he would turn the altar of St Peter’s Basilica into a horse trough. While Elizabeth I sent envoys with gifts to Mehmed, Clement VIII asked Lawrence to help organise Catholic princes into a crusade to save Europe.
Speaking of conviction, at Székesfehérvár (Stuhlweissenburg) in Hungary, Lawrence, armed only with a crucifix, rode to battle and victory with 18,000 men against 80,000 invaders.
St Lawrence was intensely active in the world and his accomplishments are staggering. However, as Benedict XVI explained in a 2011 audience series about Doctors of the Church, “At the school of the saints, every priest … may only avoid the danger of activism – acting, that is, without remembering the profound motives of his ministry – if he attends to his own inner life.” Lawrence of Brindisi was grounded in prayer and in the celebration of Holy Mass, which in his devotion could last for hours.
The devout conviction of St Lawrence is exemplary. He put all the strength of his heart, soul and mind into both his interior life and outward activities, and the two dimensions were unified in love of God and neighbour, even when in great physical peril. Each of us has God-given vocations, with interior and outward dimensions. To fulfil them we must rely on both grace and elbow grease, putting our whole selves forward in conviction. As Lawrence taught, “The Holy Spirit sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure.”