Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1930.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Picture Our Lord alone in the wilderness. He has gone there to be tempted of the devil. The first Adam was tempted in a garden. The second Adam is tempted in a wilderness. The first Adam changed a garden into a wilderness. The second Adam changed a wilderness into a garden. Temptation may be the occasion for the doing of either. Temptation yielded to will devastate the fairest garden. Temptation overcome will transform the most desolate wilderness. Temptation itself is not sin. It may be the occasion of sin. It may be the occasion of virtue. This is what it is meant to be The temptations that follow penitence are really causes for encouragement. Because they provide opportunities for winning back lost gardens. So Saint James writes, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye enter into divers temptations."
Repentance readjusts our minds. Contrition revives our hearts. Temptation restores our wills. We all need the bracing experience of winning back the ground we lost.
"O wisest love, that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail."
The occasions of temptation are to be avoided. We must never place ourselves in the way of temptation. We must pray that we may not be led into temptation. But every prayer has its "nevertheless." So Our Lord taught us to say "but deliver us from evil." The occasions of temptation will come in crowded places. The actual battles are fought in solitude. They are best fought there. So we are led into the wilderness in times of decision. We find Our Lord there. We fight our lonely battles never less alone than when we are alone with Him. We emerge stablished, strengthened, settled. Angels rejoice over our repentance. They minister to us after our temptations and recognize us as companions.
Lent is our time for intensive training in the technique of dealing with temptation. It is a time for the cultivation of virtue, as, well as repentance of sin. Indeed the two cannot be separated. One is the complement of the other. We must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. The sorrows of old sins must end in the joys of new virtues.
The first thing to do is to find out as nearly as we can just what most needs attention in our lives. This can only be done by careful self-examination. By this means we see our faults. The Prayer Book is very definite as to this duty. And it is no less definite as to the duty of Confession. Absolution releases the soul for fresh adventures in the practice of virtue. Our forgiven sins are stepping stones to the opposite virtues. We are to leave the old sins behind and press on to the new virtues.
We must never be in doubt as to the outcome of our efforts. No matter how far we may be from the virtue we desire, we shall arrive at it if we persevere. We must remember to add faith to our repentance. God pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and, this is what we must not forget, unfeignedly believe His Holy Gospel. Faith is always accompanied with humility. Doubt is always accompanied with pride.
The humble person accepts God's forgiveness, trusts God's grace, and neither seeks nor fears temptation.
Affectionately in Our Lord,