Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1928.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The essence of contrition is to grieve that by our sins we have so often offended God. The essence of charity is to forgive as we would be forgiven. Indeed this is the very condition of forgiveness. So a rule of charity that would go to the root of the whole matter would be to remember our own faults and forget the faults of others. Life becomes a very simple affair when we do that. It becomes simple for us, and what is even more to the point, simple for the people who live with us. Fault finding is a helpful occupation if it means finding our own faults. It is a troublesome pursuit, if it means finding other people's faults. The person who is adept in finding faults in himself is very apt to be possessed of a good deal of influence. A person who has the gift of discovering the faults of others has, it is true, no little influence. But one may say of that influence, what a witty Bishop once said of a popular preacher who was reputed to have so much taste. "Ah yes," murmured the Bishop, "And all so very bad." Doubtless self-knowledge is the sure cure for censoriousness. To truly and earnestly repent us of our sins and to be in love and charity with our neighbors is to be in the state requisite for Holy Communion.
Those who know how to repent, know best how to forgive. It is a curious thing that the most unforgiving people always have most need of forgiveness. Only the forgiving are able to accept forgiveness with simplicity. A spiritual writer has said: "It is not good for you to go with great detail into the causes of particular faults, or to set yourself to think much about them or give account of them. What you need is to love Our Lord more and more, and get closer to Him, and run to Him for everything. His love is the great motive power. That is what you need. Go to Him for comfort and help and strength and love, and ask Him to supply all your needs, and then just as a mother loves her little child to depend upon her for everything, so He will gladly take care of and provide for you. Just love Him, trust Him, and be happy with Him, and your faults will fall away of themselves. If you have been unfaithful, don't have a fuss about it. Turn to Him lovingly and trustfully, and begin at once to be more faithful without further ado. Never be sad or dismal. It does not become one whom Our Lord loves. Be quite simple, free and happy in His Love."
The man who wrote this was well accustomed to discipline. The rigor of his own life taught him to be tender in his dealings with others. At the same time he evidently had arrived at freedom through discipline.
Discipline is the one straight road to freedom. Penitence is the one straight road to charity. Through hard things we arrive at high things.
It is this interior mortification which is the essence of real self-denial. It is to train ourselves to recognize our own faults and to discern the virtues of others. It is to accustom ourselves to confess our own sins and to be silent about the sins of others. It is to learn to blame ourselves and praise others. It is to labor with our own beams and to leave the motes of others to God. Our advance in this direction will mark the measure of our Lenten progress.
Affectionately in Our Lord,