Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




We have just observed the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. It is a very important event to commemorate. His conversion was a wonderful one. At the very moment when he was yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter, the light from heaven smote him and he heard the voice. He fell to the ground. He trembled and was astonished. And he said, “Who art thou, Lord?” He heard the answer “I am Jesus.” He made the only answer any man can make, who has seen Our Lord. “What wilt thou have me to do?” He heard the command which always comes to every man who asks that question humbly. “Arise—go—and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” He obeyed. And here we are in our time and place revering him as our Saint.

Sudden and swift conversions with interior rather than exterior signs have been taking place ever since. Violent haters become violent converts. And the process which follows conversion is the gradual transformation from violence to quietness. Violence is always an indication of weakness. It is in quietness and confidence that we attain to the possession of strength. So it was with Saint Paul. He became a master in the science of the interior life. Whatever else we plan for Lent spiritual reading, Saint Paul’s Epistles should, after the Gospel records of the Passion, have first place. If one saturates one’s self with one Epistle, the result will be a profitable Lent. Saint Paul’s gift to us is not the record of his own miraculous conversion, so much as his subsequent record of the technique of the practise of the interior life. This is within the range of our possible experience, and within the measure of the grace given to us all.

The normal experience of the average person is an awakening and a gradual growth. Take the life as most of you know it in the Church. The daily Masses. The Divine Office. By that I mean Matins and Evensong. The Sacrament of Penance. The devotional life as it follows the cycle of the Christian year. It is as invariable as the rising and the setting of the sun. There are thousands to whom it means nothing. Just nothing at all. But ask this man or that woman, why he or she is devoted to religion. There will usually be one of two answers.

“I always knew that there was something. Whatever it was I did not like it. I was hostile but I could not be indifferent. You see, it is a thing that one either likes or dislikes. This is the curious thing about it. You hate it and you go away. And then you can’t help coming back, and there it is. It never changes. It is the only thing in the world that never does change. Perhaps that is the reason why it changed me. One day without any warning at all, I suddenly saw what it all meant. And it has meant everything ever since.”

The other answer is this. “You see, I grew up in it. I was Baptized in infancy. I was Confirmed and went to Confession and Communion. I went to Mass and said my prayers. At times I was very mechanical. At times I was very lax. But there was always something that held me. It holds me now. I could not imagine myself without it. It is all so very simple and it is all so very necessary.”

Well, there you are.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury