Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Saint Paul gives us in the Epistle for today an instruction in Christian asceticism. He restores to the word its rightful content of virility and masterfulness and joy. He describes it as purposeful, spiritual exercise. He compares it with the physical discipline to which an athlete willingly submits for the satisfaction of winning. He makes one feel the glow and the thrill. He makes one almost see the prize and the crown. He makes an adventure out of keeping the body under subjection to the spirit. He makes it appear as the obviously worth-while thing in life, which makes the most of life. And then he confidently asserts that the surprising thing about Christian asceticism is that there is never anything uncertain about it. The Christian who develops it is bound to win. And the thing that is won will last forever. It will endure long after every earthly thing has faded away.
It is a lesson that is tremendously needed today. The desire for self-expression is right enough. There is nothing wrong about that. But the trouble is that the type of self-expression that is being exploited is rotten paganism. It is intellectualized animalism. Father McKim told us a little while ago, that people need not worry about having ape-like ancestors. What really needs to be worried about is the danger of having ape-like descendants. That happens when humans revert to the manners and customs of the zoo.
The normal life for a human being is the Christian life. It is normal to subdue the flesh to the spirit. To be supernatural is not to be unnatural. It is to be something not less, but more than natural. For human beings it is unnatural not to be supernatural. One only has to observe types to see that. Every one who is really worth while, every one who has done anything really worth while and has succeeded in keeping on doing worth-while things, and that is the real test, has accomplished the fact by subduing the flesh to the spirit. That is the secret of prizes and crowns. It isn't so much the prize or the crown that matters. It is the possession of the spirit that is swift enough and strong enough to win. That is the thing that matters.
Now it is the joy of religion that needs to be made clear. It is not made clear by presenting religion as a system which kills joy here for the hope of having it hereafter. There is no joy apart from religion here or hereafter. The point is that the joy begins here.
The Christian religion comes into a person's life, not to destroy, but to fulfill. It gives not less of life, but more. It makes the most of life. And it represses nothing at all. What it does do, is to establish contacts which bring the well-springs of life into right relation with the Divine life. It provides spiritual forces which transmute natural energies into spiritual powers. Its disciplines refuse release to each and every impulse until that impulse has been governed and directed beyond a peradventure of its going wrong. It represses only that it may rightly release. It creates a self that is worth expressing, before it permits self-expression. It enters no athletes who are not in the pink of conditions.
So there are rules and regulations and a course of training. There are Sacraments and devotions which demand discipline. And there are laws which demand obedience. And there is all along the way sheer joy that can be gained in no other way.
Affectionately in Our Lord,