Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




Last Sunday I wrote to you concerning the ministry of teaching. I reminded you of the constant reading of the Bible provided by the Church in her liturgical worship. The Church gives opportunity for the hearing of the Scriptures three times a day throughout the year. The priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice and reads the Offices of Matins and Evensong publicly in the Church, every day of his life, is by the very exercise of his sacerdotal function a faithful minister of the Gospel. This ministry may and does escape the notice of the world. But I maintain that it is an event of tremendous significance and importance. Whether it is taking place in Locust Street, in the midst of the rush and din of modern city life or in the placid street of a quiet village, it is a significant and important event. I am so convinced of this that I am prepared to say, that if all sermons were to cease for one year, and that if every priest were required to offer the Holy Sacrifice and read Matins and Evensong publicly, every day throughout the year, that it would be a salutary discipline which would clarify the minds of the clergy and edify the souls of the people. And incidentally it would rid the parishes of a welter of fictitious and futile activity. If people cannot find a place apart from the world to receive the Sacraments, to hear the Bible read and to pray, where can they expect to find it? Where can they go? What can they do?

As a matter of fact, the priest who keeps his priesthood first, and who gives the first fruits of his daily strength and time and interest to his priestly functions, will find that the rest of his day will be filled with absorbingly compelling human contacts. He may be neither a saint nor a scholar. Few priests are. But if he is living a priestly life, he is bound by the very necessity of his daily routine to spend no small part of the day proportionately, with His Lord. And that will be the secret of any influence that God may release through him. Only one thing is required of a priest and that is that he be found faithful. He may make no claim upon the world for consideration of his human personality. If he is really trying to be a real priest, he is deliberately and ruthlessly and constantly effacing his own individuality. He must decrease, His Lord must increase. His people do not come to Church to see him. They come to see his Lord. “Sir, we would see Jesus,” is the pathetic petition and pot infrequently the awakening rebuke which needs to pierce the ears and smite the soul of the man who, forgetting the priesthood, is enticed by the flattering attention of a shallow, unthinking multitude of sensation seekers. There is not a man of the world, whatever that phrase means, who wants to see a priest become a man of the world. The man of the world expects a priest to be a man of God. There is not a man in the street who expects a priest to become a man in the street. He wants him to be the man in the Church.

The Collect for today is a prayer for the triumph of the priestly ideal. Use it fervently.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury