Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




This letter is concerned with one phrase, "Such a measure of abstinence." It is evident from what follows the phrase that abstinence is required as an aid to devotion. An abstinence that would result in a disability for devotion would be a hindrance and not a help. Discretion must be used in making a rule which goes beyond the traditional general rule. The vocational activities must be considered first of all. Persons engaged in work which makes demands on physical energy, or which involves exacting mental labor or exhausting nervous strain, must have a rule of abstinence which will not impair the working efficiency. Invalids will require certain special dispensations. The Prayer Book provides a general rule for exterior mortifications and lays emphasis on interior mortifications. This is the approved traditional rule for persons called to an active life in the world.

It is of interior mortifications that I am writing.

But first we must define our terms. What is meant by an interior mortification? What in the first place is a mortification? The content of the word is the idea of dying, to sin. You remember that the Catechism teaches that the inward and spiritual grace of Baptism is a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness. In the Collect for Easter Even we shall pray that "by continually mortifying our corrupt affections, we may be buried with Him, and that through the grave and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection." So by mortification is meant dying to sin. Interior mortification means the use of such discipline over our inward thoughts and feelings as shall restrain us from giving expression to all thoughts and feelings that are wrong. It is this interior mortification which is the end for which certain selected exterior mortifications are means. The imposition of the exterior mortification may cease at the end of Lent. The increased capacity for interior mortifications will be the permanent possession.

But what is the interior mortification to be? That is what we must determine for ourselves. Lent is a penitential season. The first exercise of penitence is self-examination. It is our business to learn by self-examination what there is in us which most needs mortifying. We ought to make a thorough self-examination before Lent. The name given to the day before Lent indicates this penitential preparation. It is called Shrove Tuesday. Shrove means pardon. Shrove Tuesday is a day to be shriven. It is a day to remember the words of the Prayer Book, which declares that "Almighty God hath given power and commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins." Being penitent means that we are to "acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness." With this Shrove Tuesday preparation we begin Lent with a definite purpose.

One purpose will be to discipline our thoughts. We will not bother our heads over suggestions. Suggestions are like street cries, distracting but negligible. Thoughts are serious mental processes to which the consent of the will is given.

Another is to discipline our speech. We will cultivate self-restraint in our use of words. We will practice silence. We will learn how to keep from talking.

Another is to discipline our acts. We will learn how to resist impulse. How to do nothing under excitement. How to wait. How to keep quiet.

All this is very difficult. It is interior mortification. It is what Saint Paul calls dying daily.

It is to keep the fast of Lent.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury