Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




“We have seen his star, and are come to worship.” This was the witness of the Wise Men. It has been the universal witness of the faithful ever since the first Epiphany. The witness of the Wise Men did not win the favor of the world. The witness of the faithful does not win the favor of the world today. I do not think the entire blame lies with the world. I think it lies more with religiously minded teachers who have never seen the star themselves. The kind of religious teaching which registers in the public press and finds lodgement in the popular mind is wholly concerned with men and methods. The new man with the new method seems to be endowed with a news value which lends a fatal facility for obscuring religion. The advocates of new religions may be accorded the privilege of proclaiming their superiority. My only point at present is that they are new religions. They are not the old religion. I am wholly concerned with and committed to the old religion. I have not been impressed by institutional parsons, or psychic parsons, or puzzled parsons, or impatient parsons, or any of the other varieties of popular parsons. The man with a method for a new religion is a sorry substitute for God and the Sacraments of the old religion. I have never known a man with a new religion who knew anything about the old religion.

Yet the star still shines to lead to the place where the young Child may be seen with Mary His Mother. In that place there may be seen the believers of the old religion, worshipping Him and saluting His Mother with the words of an Archangel.

It is not difficult to recognize the old religion when one sees it. A Virgin Mother and a Divine Child are the sure signs. Where the Child is adored and the Virgin venerated, there is the old religion. The Incarnation is the central fact. Where the Son is adored, the Mother is venerated. Where the Mother is venerated the Son is adored. It is difficult to explain but it is easy to sense what, for want of a better term, is called the Catholic atmosphere. Yet for those who know, it is all so simple. The impressions of mystery and reverence and power and sweetness and beauty and peace sum up, at least in part, what one finds in every Church of the old religion. One is conscious of the source of all this, the moment one enters. At this time of year, one stops for a moment at the Crib. There one kneels and makes a meditation and sees Bethlehem as simply and as vividly as one did long ago when one was very young.

One is drawn from the tableaux of the Crib to the Reality of the Tabernacle. And there one finds the Lord Himself. His presence fills His temple. This explains everything. He is the Priest and Victim on His Altars. He is the Absolver in His tribunals of Penance. He is the Compassionate Advocate of the petitions of His clients. He consoles and cleanses and heals and feeds and blesses. His Mother is with Him. His Angels attend Him. His Saints surround Him.

This is what the Catholic senses beyond the familiar externals of the old worship. The externals are valuable to him only because they are identified with the practise of the old religion. What he finds in it is not to be found anywhere else. The old religion is dearest and best.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury