by Howard Q. Dee
Who is Lorenzo Ruiz, the Filipino layman? Why is he at the head of a group of sixteen martyrs who was canonized by the Holy Father last October 18, 1987, World Mission Sunday?
Of the sixteen martyrs, nine were Dominican priests, two religious brothers, two sister tertiaries, two men catechists and Lorenzo Ruiz, the Filipino layman.
Lorenzo Ruiz was the odd man in the group. He was married with two sons and a daughter. He received his education from the Dominican fathers, became a confrade of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary and worked in the Church as an “escribano”, a caligrapher. He went with the group to Japan not to do missionary work but to escape the authorities who were looking for him. He got into some kind of trouble with a Spaniard and was afraid that he would be unduly punished.
It would seem then that Lorenzo Ruiz is the least of the martyrs. Why then did the Holy Spirit inspire the Church to elevate him to the head of this venerable group of blessed? God gives us the right saints at ‘the right time. Why did He wait 350 years to give us St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a Filipino layman, the unlikely saint? And to be distinctly honored before the Bishops of the world during an historic event, the first Synod on the Laity.
The answer lies in the great heroism Lorenzo displayed as a lay witness to the Faith, and the value of his example, given the state of the Faith in the world today. Our faith is in serious decline in the traditional Christian world. Christian values suffer m the flood of materialism, secularism and hedonism ‘which continue to rampage civilizations and wreak havoc on the citadels of Christianity. An entire generation has been lost.
This great battle for souls is being fought at the front lines where the laity belong: in homes, in government, in business and in labor, in the hospitals and universities, in the arts and sciences, and in all the professions. We are today witnesses of a creeping commonality of values and a vulgarity of culture that is destroying our nobility as Christians. Conformity and mediocrity is the order of the day. Corruption is widespread and practically a way of life. Pleasure, self-interest and power rule the social, economic and political order. The toll on human lives and souls is heavy: abortion claims fifty five million lives a year. AIDS will reap another equally tragic harvest. And there are many other fronts where the battle is being fought; social and economic injustice, armaments, human rights, etc.
In all these fields of endeavor, it falls on the laity to re-establish world order, to redirect human activities to the ways of God, to bring back God to human affairs and to live the nobility of his royal office as sons of God and -heirs of His Kingdom.
This is the life of witness demanded of today’s laity. It requires heroism and an unstinting courage. This is a call to sainthood for every lay person. Is this possible? God sends us Lorenzo Ruiz to show us that it is possible. He was an ordinary layman, not out to conquer the world for God, but fleeing for his life. When captured and faced with his torturers, he could have pretended to renounce his faith, keeping it in tack in his heart. He had a family to feed and support. Any priest and God himself would have forgiven him Fr. Antonio, who died with him, even advised Lorenzo: “My son, if you know something against us, say it, and you will save your Iife.”
But when confronted by his torturers, Lorenzo said: “Me, what shall I say! I do not know what to say. Why are you tormenting me? Kill me, and stop asking questions. I am a Filipino, son of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother…” When asked: “Therefore if we grant you life, will you renounce your faith?” his answer came without hesitation: “That I will never do, because I am a Christian, and I shall gladly die for God. For Him will I give a thousand lives if I had them.” For God he was willing to die a thousand times.
His torturers used three devices: water torture, torture of the needles and finally, torture of ana-tsurushi: the gallows on the pit. At the end, Lorenzo as hanged on his feet with his body tightly bound, his head up to his waist suspended into a deep pit in the ground containing manure. On the third day, they found him dead. His body, with the others, was burned and the ashes thrown into the sea to prevent their veneration.
For Lorenzo Ruiz, faith and life were synonymous and inseparable. His faith was his life. Life without faith was worthless, meaningless. Without his faith, he could no longer live. He would rather die. He who tried to escape death embraced it instead. Armed only with a Rosary and a simple love of Jesus and Mary, he proved that sanctity and heroism is within the reach of all of us, that the final victory is ours for the taking. St. Lorenzo Ruiz, pray for us!