September 5, 2020: ST. LAURENCE JUSTINIAN
September 5, 2020: ST. LAURENCE JUSTINIAN, BISHOP AND CONFESSOR
[First Patriarch of Venice]
“The Lord settled with him a covenant of peace, and made him a chief that he may have the honor of Priesthood for ever.”
“O priest and Bishop, and worker of miracles; O good shepherd of the people, pray to the Lord for us”
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that the venerable solemnity of blessed Laurence Justinian, thy Confessor and Bishop, may improve our devotion, and strengthen us in the hopes of salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
‘COME, all ye who are drawn by the desire of unchangeable good, and who seek it in vain in this passing world; I will tell you what heaven has done for me. Like you, I once sought with feverish eagerness; and this exterior world could not satisfy my burning desire. But, by the divine grace, which fed my anguish, at length she, whose name I then knew not, appeared to me, more beautiful than the sun, sweeter than balm. As she approached, how gentle was her countenance, how peace-inspiring her voice, saying to me: “O thou, whose youth is all full of the love wherewith I inspire thee, why dost thou thus pour out thy heart? The peace thou seekest by so many different ways, is with me; thy desire shall be amply fulfilled, I promise thee, if only thou wilt take me for thy bride.” I acknowledge that at these words my heart failed, my soul was all pierced with the dart of her love. As I wished to know her name, her dignity, her origin, she told me she was called the Wisdom of God; and that, at first invisible in the bosom of the Father, she had taken of a mother a visible nature, in order to be more easily loved. Then, with great delight, I gave my consent; and she, kissing me, departed full of joy. Ever since then, the flame of her love has been growing within me, absorbing all my thoughts. Her delights endure for ever; she is my well-beloved bride, my inseparable companion. Through her, the peace I once sought is now the cause of my joy. Hear me then, all of you: go to her in like manner; for she makes it her happiness to reject no one.’ (Laurent. Justinian. Fasciculus amoris, cap. xvi.)
Let us read the history of him, who in the foregoing lines has given us the key to his life.
Laurence 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. He 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 ardour in the hearts of his companions and encouraged them to perseverance.
Eugenius IV appointed him bishop of his native city. He 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, practising 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. Every one had free access to him 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 be 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 ‘honour and glory of prelates,’ which Eugenius IV applied to him in 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.
He was honoured 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 had made but little study of letters, he wrote books full of heavenly doctrine and piety. When his 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 colour and breathing a sweet fragrance. Other miracles, worked after his death, also gave proof of his 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.
Another account of St. Laurence Justinian
St. Laurence (Justinian) was born at Venice, in 1380. His father, Bernardo Justiniani, held an illustrious rank among the prime nobility of the commonwealth; nor was the extraction of his mother, Querini, less noble. By the death of Bernardo she was left a disconsolate widow, with a nursery of tender children; though very young, she thought it her duty to sanctify her soul by the great means and advantages which her state afforded for virtue, and resolutely rejected all thoughts of any more altering her condition. She looked upon herself as called by her very state to a penitential and retired life, and devoted herself altogether to the care of her children's education, to works of charity, fasting, watching, assiduous prayer, and the exercises of all virtues. Under her inspection, her children were brought up in the most perfect maxims of Christian piety. Laurence discovered, even from the cradle, an uncommon docility, and an extraordinary generosity of soul; and disdaining to lose any part of his time, loved only serious conversation and employs. His mother, fearing some spark of pride and ambition, chid him sometimes for aiming at things above his age; but he humbly answered, that it was his only desire, by the divine grace, to become a saint.
In the nineteenth year of his age, he was called by God to consecrate himself in a special manner to his service. He seemed one day to see in a vision the eternal wisdom in the disguise and habit of a damsel, shining brighter than the sun, and to hear from her the following words: “Why seekest thou rest to thy mind out of thyself, sometimes in this object, and sometimes in that? What thou desirest is to be found only with me; behold, it is in my hands. Seek it in me, who am the wisdom of God. By taking me for thy spouse and thy portion, thou shalt be possessed of its inestimable treasure.” That instant he found his soul so pierced with the charms, incomparable honour, and advantages of this invitation of divine grace, that he felt himself inflamed with new ardour to give himself up entirely to the search of the holy knowledge and love of God. A religious state appeared to him that in which God pointed out to him the path in which he might most securely attain to the great and arduous end which he proposed to himself. But, before he determined himself, he made his application to God by humble prayer, and addressed himself for advice to a holy and learned priest, called Marino Querini, who was his uncle by the mother's side, and a regular canon in the austere congregation of St. George, in Alga, established in a little isle which bears that name, situate a mile from the city of Venice, toward the continent. The prudent director, understanding that he was most inclined to a religious state, advised him first to make trial of his strength, by inuring himself to the habitual practice of austerities Laurence readily obeyed, and in the night, leaving his soft bed, lay on knotty sticks on the floor. During this deliberation, he one day represented to himself on one side honours, riches, and worldly pleasures, and on the other, the hardships of poverty, fasting, watching, and self-denial. Then said to himself, “Hast thou courage, my soul, to despise these delights, and to undertake a life of uninterrupted penance and mortification?” After standing some time in a pause, he cast his eyes on a crucifix, and said, “Thou, O Lord, art my hope. In this tree are found comfort and strength.” The ardour of his resolution to walk in the narrow path of the cross, showed itself in the extreme severity with which he treated his body, and the continual application of his mind to the exercises of religion. His mother, and other friends, fearing lest his excessive mortifications should prove prejudicial to his health, endeavoured to divert him from that course, and, with this view, contrived a proposal of an honourable match to be made him. The saint perceiving in this stratagem that his friends had entered into a conspiracy to break his measures, fled secretly to the monastery of St. George, in Alga, and was admitted to the religious habit.
By the change of his state he found no new austerities which he had not before practised: his superiors even judged it necessary to mitigate the rigours which he exercised upon himself. He was only nineteen years of age, but surpassed, in his watchings and fasts, all his religious brethren. To make a general assault upon sensuality, he never took any useless recreation, subdued his body by severe discipline, and never came near a fire in the sharpest weather of winter, though his hands were often benumbed with cold; he allowed to hunger only what the utmost necessity required, and never drank out of meals; when asked to do it under excessive heats and weariness, he used to say, “If we cannot bear this thirst, how shall we endure the fire of purgatory?” From the same heroic disposition proceeded his invincible patience in every kind of sickness. During his novitiate he was afflicted with dangerous scrofulous swellings in his neck. The physicians prescribed cupping, lancing, and searing with fire. Before the operation, seeing others tremble for his sake, he courageously said to them: “What do you fear? Let the razors and burning irons be brought in. Cannot he grant me constancy, who not only supported, but even preserved from the flames the three children in the furnace?” Under the cutting and burning he never so much as fetched a sigh, and only once pronounced the holy name of Jesus.
Humiliations he always embraced with singular satisfaction. The meanest and most loathsome offices, and the most tattered habit, were his desire and delight. The beck of any superior was to him as an oracle; even in private conversation he was always ready to yield to the judgment and will of others, and he sought everywhere the lowest place as much as was possible to be done without affectation. When he went about the streets begging alms with a wallet on his back, he often thrust himself into the thickest crowds, and into assemblies of the nobility, that he might meet with derision and contempt. Being one day put in mind, that by appearing loaded with his wallet in a certain public place, he would expose himself to the ridicule of the company, he answered to his companion, “Let us go boldly in quest of scorn. We have done nothing if we have renounced the world only in words. Let us to-day triumph over it with our sacks and crosses.” Nothing is of greater advantage toward gaining a complete victory over ourselves, and the fund of pride which is our greatest obstacle to virtue, than humiliations accepted and borne with cheerfulness and sincere humility. To those which providence daily sends us opportunities of, it is expedient to add some that are voluntary, provided the choice be discreet, and accompanied with heroic dispositions of soul, clear of the least tincture of affectation or hypocrisy. Our saint frequently came to beg at the house where he was born, but only stood in the street before the door, crying out, “An alms for God's sake.” His mother never failed to be exceedingly moved at hearing his voice, and to order the servants to fill his wallet. But he never took more than two loaves, and wishing peace to those who had done him that charity, departed as if he had been some stranger. The storehouse, in which were laid up the provisions of the community for a year, happening to be burnt down, St. Laurence, hearing a certain brother lament for the loss, said cheerfully: “Why have we embraced and vowed poverty? God has granted us this blessing that we may feel it.” Whilst he was superior, he was one day rashly accused in chapter of having done something against the rule. The saint could have easily confuted the slander, and given a satisfactory account of his conduct; but he rose instantly from his seat, and walking gently, with his eyes cast down, into the middle of the chapter-room, there fell on his knees, and begged penance and pardon of the fathers. The sight of his astonishing humility covered the accuser with such confusion and shame, that he threw himself at the saint's feet, proclaimed him innocent, and loudly condemned himself.
St. Laurence so much dreaded the danger of worldly dissipation breaking in upon his solitude, that from the day on which he first entered the monastery, to that of his death, he never set foot in his father's house, only when with dry eyes he assisted his mother and brothers on their death-beds. Some months after his retreat from the world, a certain nobleman who had been his intimate friend, and then filled one of the first dignities in the commonwealth, returning from the East, and hearing of the state he had embraced, determined to use all his endeavours to change his purpose. With this design he went to St. George's with a band of musicians, and, on account of his dignity, got admittance; but the issue of the interview proved quite contrary to his expectations. Upon the first sight of the new soldier of Christ he was struck by the modesty of his countenance, and the gravity and composure of his person, and stood for sometime silent and astonished. However, at length offering violence to himself he spoke, and both by the endearments of the most tender friendship, and afterwards by the sharpest reproaches and invectives, undertook to shake the resolution of the young novice. Laurence suffered him to vent his passion: then with a cheerful and mild countenance he discoursed in so feeling a manner on death and the vanity of the world; that the nobleman was disarmed, and so penetrated with compunction, that cutting off all his worldly schemes, he resolved upon the spot to embrace the holy rule which he came to violate; and the fervour with which he went through the novitiate, and persevered to his death in this penitential institute, was a subject of admiration and edification to the whole city.
St. Laurence was promoted to the priesthood, and the fruit of the excellent spirit of prayer and compunction with which he was endowed, was a wonderful experimental knowledge of spiritual things, and of the paths of interior virtue, and a heavenly light and prudence in the direction of souls. The tears, which he abundantly shed at his devotions, especially whilst be offered the adorable sacrifice of the mass, strongly affected all the assistants, and awakened their faith; and the raptures with which he was favoured in prayer were wonderful, especially in saying mass one Christmas night. Much against his inclination he was chosen general of his Order, which he governed with singular prudence, and extraordinary reputation for sanctity. He reformed its discipline in such a manner as to be afterwards regarded as its founder. Even in private conversation he used to give pathetic lessons of virtue, and that sometimes in one short sentence; and such was the unction with which he spoke on spiritual matters in private discourses, as to melt the hearts of those who heard him. By his inflamed entertainments he awaked the tepid, filled the presumptuous with saving fear, raised the pusillanimous to confidence, and quickened the fervour of all. It was his usual saying, that a religious man ought to tremble at the very name of the least transgression. He would receive very few into his Order, and these thoroughly tried, saying, that a state of such perfections and obligations is only for few, and its essential spirit and fervour are scarce to be maintained in multitudes; yet in these conditions, not in the number of a religious community, its advantages and glory consist. It is not therefore to be wondered at that he was very attentive and rigorous in examining and trying the vocation of postulants. The most sincere and profound humility was the first thing in which he laboured to ground his religious disciples, teaching them that it not only purges the soul of all lurking pride, but also that this alone inspires her with true courage and resolution, by teaching her to place her entire confidence in God alone, the only source of her strength.
The saint never ceased to preach to the magistrates and senators in times of war and all public calamities, that, to obtain the divine mercy, and the remedy of all the evils with which they were afflicted, they ought, in the first place, to become perfectly sensible that they were nothing; for, without this disposition of heart they could never hope for the divine assistance. His confidence in God's infinite goodness and power accordingly kept pace with his humility and entire distrust in himself, and assiduous prayer was his constant support. From the time he was made priest he never failed saying mass every day, unless be was hindered by sickness; and he used to say, that it is a sign of little love if a person does not earnestly endeavour to be united to his Saviour as often as he can. It was a maxim which he frequently repeated, that for a person to pretend to live chaste amid softness, ease, and continual gratifications of sense, is as if a man should undertake to quench fire by throwing fuel upon it. He often put the rich in mind, that they could not be saved but by abundant alms-deeds. His discourses consisted more of affective amorous sentiments than of studied thoughts; which sufficiently appears from his works.
Pope Eugenius IV being perfectly acquainted with the eminent virtue of our saint, obliged him to quit his cloister, and nominated him to the episcopal see of Venice in 1433. The holy man employed all manner of entreaties and artifices to prevent his elevation, and engaged his whole Order to write in the same strain, in the most pressing manner, to his holiness: but to no effect. When he could no longer oppose the repeated orders of the pope, he acquiesced with many tears; but such was his aversion to pomp and show, that he took possession of his church so privately that his own friends knew nothing of the matter till the ceremony was over. The saint passed that whole night in the church at the feet of the altar, pouring forth his soul before God, with many tears; and he spent in the same manner, the night which preceded his consecration. He was a prelate, says Dr. Cave, admirable for his sincere piety towards God, the ardour of his zeal for the divine honour, and the excess of his charity to the poor. In this dignity he remitted nothing of the austerities which he had practised in the cloister, and from his assiduity in holy prayer he drew a heavenly light, an invincible courage, and indefatigable vigour, which directed and animated him in his whole conduct, and with which he pacified the most violent public dissensions in the state, and governed a great diocess in the most difficult times, and the most intricate affairs, with as much ease as if it had been a single well regulated convent.
Though he was bishop of so distinguished a see, in the ordering of his household he consulted only piety and humility; and when others told him that he owed some degree of state to his illustrious birth, to the dignity of his church, and to the commonwealth, his answer was, that virtue ought to be the only ornament of the episcopal character, and that all the poor of the diocess composed the bishop's family. His household consisted only of five persons; he had no plate, making use only of earthen ware; he lay on a scanty straw bed covered with a coarse rag, and wore no clothes but his ordinary purple cassock. His example, his severity to himself, and the affability and mildness with which he treated all others, won every one's heart, and effected with ease the most difficult reformations which he introduced both among the laity and clergy. The flock loved and respected too much so holy and tender a parent and pastor, not to receive all his ordinances with docility and the utmost deference. When any private persons thwarted or opposed his pious designs, he triumphed over their obstinacy by meekness and patience. A certain powerful man, who was exasperated at a mandate the zealous bishop had published against stage entertainments, called him a scrupulous old monk, and endeavoured to stir up the populace against him. Another time, an abandoned wretch reproached him in the public streets as a hypocrite. The saint heard them without changing his countenance, or altering his pace. He was no less unmoved amidst commendations and applause. No sadness or inordinate passions seemed ever to spread their clouds in his soul, and all his actions demonstrated a constant peace and serenity of mind which no words can express. By the very first visitation which he made, the face of his whole diocess was changed. He founded fifteen religious houses, and a great number of churches, and reformed those of all his diocess, especially with regard to the most devout manner of performing the divine office, and the administration of the sacraments. Such was the good order and devotion that he established in his cathedral, that it was a model to all Christendom. The number of canons that served it being too small, St. Laurence founded several new canonries in it, and also in many other churches; and he increased the number of parishes in the city of Venice from twenty to thirty.
It is incredible what crowds every day resorted to the holy bishop's palace for advice, comfort, or alms; his gate, pantry, and coffers were always open to the poor. He gave alms more willingly in bread and clothes than in money, which might be ill spent; when he gave money, it was always in small sums. He employed pious matrons to find out and relieve the bashful poor, or persons of family in decayed circumstances. In the distribution of his charities, he had no regard to flesh and blood. When a poor man came to him, recommended by his brother, Leonard, he said to him, “Go to him who sent you, and tell him, from me, that he is able to relieve you himself.” No man ever had a greater contempt for money than our saint. He committed the care of his temporals to a faithful steward, and used to say, that it is an unworthy thing for a pastor of souls to spend much of his precious time in casting up farthings.
The popes held St. Laurence in great veneration. Eugenius IV having ordered our holy bishop to give him a meeting once at Bologna, saluted him in these words: “Welcome, the ornament of bishops.” His successor, Nicholas V, earnestly sought an opportunity of giving him some singular token of particular esteem; when Dominic Michelli, patriarch of Grado, happened to die in 1451, his holiness, barely in consideration of the saint, transferred the patriarchal dignity to the see of Venice. The senate, always jealous of its prerogatives and liberty above all other states in the world, formed great difficulties lest such an authority should in any cases trespass upon their jurisdiction. Whilst this affair was debated in the senate-house, St. Laurence repaired thither, and, being admitted, humbly declared his sincere and earnest desire of rather resigning a charge for which he was most unfit, and which he had borne against his will eighteen years, than to feel his burden increased by this additional dignity. His humility and charity so strongly affected the whole senate, that the doge himself was not able to refrain from tears, and cried out to the saint, conjuring him not to entertain such a thought, or to raise any obstacle to the pope's decree, which was expedient to the church, and most honourable to their country. In this he was seconded by the whole house, and the ceremony of the installation of the new patriarch was celebrated with great joy by the whole city.
St. Laurence, after this new exaltation, considered himself as bound by a new tie to exert his utmost strength in labouring for the advancement of the divine honour, and the sanctification of all the souls committed to his care. Every one looked upon him as if he had been an angel living on earth. His advice was always satisfactory and healing to the various distempers of the human mind; and such was the universal opinion of his virtue, prudence, penetration, and judgment, that causes decided by him were never admitted to a second hearing at Rome, but in all appeals his sentence was forthwith confirmed. Grounded in the most sincere and perfect contempt of himself, he seemed insensible and dead to the fluttering temptation of human applause, which appeared to have no other effect upon him than to make him more profoundly to humble himself in his own soul, and before both God and men. His good works he studied as much as possible to hide from the eyes of others. When he was not able to refrain his tears, which proceeded from the tenderness and vehemence of the divine love, and from the wonderful spirit of compunction with which he was endowed, he used to accuse himself of weakness and too tender and compassionate a disposition of mind. But these he freely indulged at his private devotions, and by them he purified his affections more and more from earthly things, and moved the divine mercy to shower down the greatest blessings on others.
The republic was at that time shaken with violent storms, and threatened with great dangers. A holy hermit, who had served God with great fervour above thirty years in the isle of Corfu, assured a Venetian nobleman, as if it were from a divine revelation, that the city and republic of Venice had been preserved by the prayers of the good bishop. The saint's nephew, who has accurately wrote his life in an elegant and pure style, mentions several miracles wrought by him, and certain prophecies, of which he was himself witness. It appeared, in many instances, how perfectly the saint was mortified in his senses. A servant presenting him vinegar one day at table instead of wine and water, he drank it without saying a word. Out of love for holy poverty, in order to disengage his heart from the things of this world, he never had any books bound, but only sewed.
St. Laurence was seventy-four years old when he wrote his last work, entitled, “The Degrees of Perfection;” he had just finished it when he was seized with a sharp fever. In his illness, his servants prepared a bed for him, at which the true imitator of Christ was troubled, and said, “Are you laying a feather-bed for me? —no, that shall not be. My Lord was stretched on a hard and painful tree. Do not you remember that St. Martin said, in his agony, that a Christian ought to die on sackcloth and ashes?” Nor could he be contented till he was laid on his straw. He forbade his friends to weep for him, and often cried out in raptures of joy, “Behold the Spouse! let us go forth and meet him.” He added, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, “Good Jesus, behold I come.” At other times, weighing the divine judgments, he expressed sentiments of holy fear. One saying to him that he might go joyfully to his crown, he was much disturbed, and said, “The crown is for valiant soldiers, not for base cowards, such as I am.” So great was his poverty that he had no temporal goods to dispose of, and he made his testament only to exhort in it all men to virtue, and to order that his body should be buried without pomp, as a private religious man would be, in his convent of St. George, though this clause was set aside by the senate after his death. During the two days that he survived, after receiving extreme unction, the whole city came in turns, according to their different ranks, to receive his blessing. The saint would have even the beggars admitted, and gave to each class some short pathetic instruction. Seeing one Marcellus, a very pious young noble man, who was his favourite disciple, weep most bitterly, he comforted him, giving him the following assurance, “I go before, but you will shortly follow me. Next Easter we shall again meet in mutual embraces.” Marcellus fell sick in the beginning of Lent, and was buried in Easter-week. St. Laurence, closing his eyes, calmly expired on the 8th of January, in the year 1455, being seventy-four years old, having been honoured with the episcopal dignity twenty-two years, and four with that of patriarch. During the contestation about the place of his burial, his body was preserved entire, without the least ill savour or sign of corruption, sixty-seven days, and interred, according to a decree of the senate, on the 17th of March. The ceremony of his beatification was performed by Clement VII in 1524, and that of his canonization by Alexander VIII in 1690. His festival is kept on the 5th of September, the day on which he was consecrated bishop.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Laurence Justinian, pray for us.