Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
This letter is concerned with the meaning of the word "devotion." The general meaning is giving something under a vow. In its religious application it means vowing and giving to God. The motive for so doing is the desire to render to God that which is His due.
First of all comes self-devotion. The devout person desires to present self, soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. Self-devotion is the acknowledgment of the debt of gratitude to God for creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life, and above all for redemption, the means of grace and the hope of glory. It means giving the best that one is and may become for the fulfilment of the will of God. It means returning life service for life received. It means regarding life as a trust. The devotion of self to God is the essential devotion which gives value to all other specialized forms of devotion. It is in fact the quality of charity without which, as Saint Paul says, everything one may say or do is meaningless. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."
Prayers without self-giving may be merely the result of sentimental adherence to habit. Delight in religious ceremonial may be merely the emotional reaction to sensuous attractions. Both may exist without real regard for Divine law or even with deliberate abandonment to sin.
The giving of money to the Church, without self-giving, may mean nothing more than an amiable, meaningless benevolence or a calculating regard for public opinion. The gift without the giver is bare.
The gift of self must always antedate the giving of money One must have given one's self to God, before one presumes to the privilege of giving one's money to God. Otherwise the material offering only dishonors God. A person who disregards every precept of God's religion and good humoredly "puts something generous into the collection," only adds absurd ostentation to habitual neglect. The gifts of the faithful are offerings, not collections. The offerings of the faithful are presented at the Altar. They are a privileged devotion.
The faithful make their offerings because they are thankful. They are thankful for being Baptized. They are thankful for being Confirmed. They are thankful for having absolution for their sins. They are thankful for having received Holy Communion. They are thankful for the ministrations of the priests. They are thankful for the open Church for daily refuge. They are thankful for the continual offering of the sacrifice of the death of Christ and of the benefits which they receive thereby. They are thankful, in this place, that they have what was mentioned concerning a great London Church, described as situated in "a hive of hotels; a church which is really quiet: where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved; where the offices and mass are said daily:"
So offerings for Church maintenance , are acts of devotion. They are not "alms" but "dues."
So long as the amount given is in right proportion to the means of the giver, whether it is large or small, it is acceptable with God.
Whatever is given over and above the church "dues" for charitable purposes is an "alms."
But we must not confuse "dues" with "alms."
Affectionately in Our Lord,