Saint Lawrence Justinian, Bishop

September 5

Today is the feast day of Saint Lawrence Justinian.  Ora pro nobis.

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

St. Lawrence was a descendant of the noble house of Giustiniani, greatly famed at Genoa, Venice and Naples. He was born 1380, of very pious parents, but early lost his father, Bernard. His mother, on whom now devolved the education of her children, redoubled her care, but Lawrence gave her very little trouble, as he was naturally inclined to virtue. One day, she made him understand that she feared he harbored ambition or pride secretly in his heart; but he answered: “fear not, mother; I have only one ambition, and that is to become a great servant of the Lord, and to be more pious than my brothers.” His conduct in youth bore witness to his words; for though he lived at a period when the morals of the whole city were very corrupt, his edifying life was regarded by everyone with surprise and admiration.

To escape the danger which threatened him, he prayed most fervently to God to give him the grace to know the vocation to which he was called. While, one day, kneeling before a crucifix and an image of the Blessed Virgin, he said his prayers for this intention, he felt deep within him an intense desire to leave the world, and to serve God in the religious state. He obeyed the heavenly voice, renounced the world and all its allurements, went to the Regular Canons of St. George, in Alga, an island near Venice, and requested to be received among their number. His request was granted, and he began his novitiate cheerfully; but he soon manifested in his conduct that he was no beginner in the science of holiness, but a proficient. His superiors had much more difficulty in moderating his zeal than in animating it.

Amongst other austerities which he practiced to mortify himself, it was specially noticed that, even on the coldest days, he never warmed himself by the fire, and that, in summer, he took nothing to allay his thirst except with his meals at noon and evening. He was never seen taking the air in the convent garden, or enjoying the beauty and fragrance of the flowers. The only time when he visited his home was when he was called to see his dying mother. Still more to be admired is the fortitude with which he bore a very painful and dangerous operation on his throat for the removal of a great tumor. He himself encouraged the surgeon to begin fearlessly. “Cannot Christ,” said he, “give me as much fortitude as He gave to the three youths in the furnace?” Not even a sigh escaped him during the operation he repeated only the names of Jesus and Mary. When those present uttered their profound astonishment at his self-control, he said: “How little is my suffering compared with that of the holy martyrs, who were tortured with burning torches and red hot irons, or roasted over a slow fire.”

After Lawrence had been ordained priest, he said daily Mass with great devotion and seldom without tears. During the Mass on Christmas-night, heaven bestowed upon him the grace to behold his Saviour in the form of a lovely child, to the inexpressible comfort of his heart. Although he desired to remain free from all offices of honor, he was chosen general of his order, and sometime later was nominated bishop of Venice, by Pope Eugenius IV. The humble servant of the Almighty endeavored in every possible manner to escape this dignity; but at last obliged by obedience, he accepted it. As bishop, he altered nothing of the austerities he had practiced in the monastery; he visited his whole diocese, and with apostolic zeal, animated his flock to observe the Commandments of God and the Church. His income he used for the benefit of the Church and the relief of the poor.

Besides several collegiate Churches, he founded fifteen religious houses, and daily fed a great number of poor. The answer he gave to one of his relatives, who requested a contribution out of the Episcopal revenues as a marriage-portion for his daughter, must not be omitted. “It will not satisfy you if I give you but little,” said he; “and if I give you much, you alone will receive it, and many others will have nothing. No, the Episcopal revenues must not be used for worldly luxuries, but to comfort the needy. Be not offended, therefore, that I cannot fulfill your desire.” Thus spoke the holy bishop, whom Pope Nicholas V. soon after raised to a still higher dignity.

The Patriarch of Grado died; and as the Pope desired to nominate Lawrence as his successor, but was convinced at the same time, that the Venetians would not consent to part with their bishop, he transferred the Patriarchal chair to Venice, and declared St. Lawrence the first Patriarch of Venice. This city had indeed great reason to use all possible means not to lose the Saint, as only on his account God averted a terrible and well-deserved punishment from its walls. There lived at that time, in the Island of Corfu, a hermit, famous for his holiness, who, one day, said to a Venetian noble, who visited him: “The inhabitants of Venice have provoked God’s wrath, by despising His words, and had not the tears of your Patriarch cried to Him, you would all have long since gone to destruction like the inhabitants of Sodom.”

While the holy Patriarch was assiduously occupied with the functions of his high station, his strength gradually gave way and he felt his end approaching. On the feast of the Nativity of Christ, he felt, during Holy Mass, an intense desire to be admitted into the presence of his God. A fever, which seized him soon after Mass, ended with his death in a very few days. He lay on the bare floor, and not even in his last days could he be persuaded to make use of a softer bed. “Jesus Christ,” said he, “died upon the hard wood of the Cross, and you desire that a sinner, like me, should lie soft and comfortable!” After receiving the holy Sacraments, he gave his last instructions to those around him. “Keep the Commandments of the Lord,” said he; “nothing is more noble or excellent than to serve God.” After having finished his discourse, he raised his eyes to heaven and said: “I am coming, O my Jesus!” and his soul went to God. Thus ended, in the seventy-third year of his age, the earthly career of this great and holy Patriarch. That his life in heaven had begun, was known by the manner in which the Lord honored his holy body, from which emanated a heavenly fragrance; as also, by the miracles which, at the intercession of the Saint, took place at his tomb, in favor of the infirm and the possessed. (2)

He was beatified in 1524 by Clement VII and canonized in 1690 by Alexander VIII. His feast day was established for September 5, the day of his episcopal consecration.  (5)  The saint’s ascetical writings have often been published, first in Brescia in 1506, later in Paris in 1524, and in Basle in 1560, etc. We are indebted to his nephew, Bernardo Giustiniani, for his biography. (4)
Image: San Lorenzo Giustiniani adoring the Baby Jesus. Artist: Luca Giordano, circa: 17th century

Research by REGINA Staff


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