Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, 1930.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
"He shall save his people from their sins." It is only when a person has become possessed of true contrition that the desire of being saved from sins is awakened and becomes dominant. The quality of contrition is love.
There is an inferior sorrow which fills a person with fear of punishment for sins. This is called attrition. Fear is its ruling emotion. The desire to escape the consequences of sins is uppermost. The quality of attrition is fear.
Attrition serves a purpose when fear is the only appeal which a person is capable of sensing. A person must be ruled by fear when nothing else can arouse. But it indicates a very imperfect condition of the soul. Yet it is better than nothing. But only because of the hope that it will lead on to love. But until this hope has been fulfilled the soul is in a servile state. Its every motive is selfish. It is self-centred.
Contrition causes the soul to cease thinking about itself. It thinks first of God, whose love has been treacherously dealt with. It thinks of those on earth whose trust has been betrayed. Its one desire is to avoid repeating the offense. It is willing to suffer anything that will end in the removal of the root of sin. By this very desire suffering is given remedial properties. The soul is in the way of being saved from its sins when it ceases to shrink from purificatory pains. Contrition at this point passes into the perfect love which casts out fear. And at the same time sins are cast out.
Our Lord does save from the eternal consequences of sin. He allows us for our own good to suffer some of the temporal consequences of sin. The good news of the Christmas Gospel is that sinners can be saved from sins and that suffering burns clean. There is no condemnation for the contrite. There is no punishment for the penitent. Pardon and purgation go hand in hand.
The Christian penitent begins the pilgrimage at the Crib. He ends it on the Cross. He who loves the Child in the Manger will not desert the Man on the Cross. The Child has a long road ahead. He who loves Him will follow Him all the way. The joy of this following is that one gets rid of the hateful, not that one escapes the hard. It is this idea which is the very nerve of Catholic penance. That idea is the only true one because it goes to the root of the matter. It actually saves from sins. It is the one penitential adventure which finds boundless compassion, unquenchable hope and miraculous transformation.
These are the real wonders and heroisms and victories which lie far down below the surface of life. Here is where real life is really lived. Here is found the stuff out of which is hewn and carved and polished massive character. Here is where you find the timber of too solid worth to suffer the indignity of veneer. Here is where people are to be found who dare to be their simple selves. Indeed if they were not, the world would be robbed of something it can ill afford to lose.
The literary neurotics have missed not only the best of life; they have missed life itself and have frantically clutched at death. The people who really lived in nineteen thirty and the people who will really live in nineteen thirty-one are not the wilful weaklings who make ostentatious surrender to animalism and who make capital out of mentalities perverted to the point of seeing good as evil and evil as good. It is not these people, who are offering their merchandise to the world as a marked-down sale of moral remnants, who really counted last year or will count this year.
The people who really count and always will count are the people who, without spectacular display, are heroically subduing the flesh to the spirit for love of the Holy Child; who exalt virginity in homage to the Blessed Virgin; who reverence maternity in honor of the Immaculate Mother; who cherish chivalry in emulation of Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus and Mary. These are the people who are making this world a habitable place for virgins and mothers and little children. These are the people who are keeping chivalry alive.
Affectionately in Our Lord,