Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1931.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Epistle for the day sets before us a dazzling array of virtues. Before one has read half of it, one is driven to exclaim, “who could possibly be as good as that except the saints?”
But it is always well to read a thing over twice. Perhaps we shall not find it so difficult as we thought. After all Saint Paul never discourages anybody. It cannot be that he does so in this part of the Epistle to the Romans appointed for today.
On a second reading it seems simpler. It may not be so discouraging as it first seemed. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us.” There are different gifts then. All people have not the same gifts. And whatever the gifts may be, one must have grace to use them. Else the gifts might do more harm than good. One sometimes sees instances of this. On the other hand we are frequently amazed by the great things accomplished by people having small gifts but much grace. But we need not be surprised. It is always happening.
God gives different gifts to individuals to enable them to fulfil their duty in the state of life to which they are called. He always gives the right gifts. He gives the grace. The responsibility for right use rests with us. It is not humility to refuse to recognize a gift that God has given. On the contrary only the humble can accept the gift with thankfulness and use it selflessly. This is where grace shows its effects. The art of using a gift is to use it in such a manner as to leave a flawless work bearing the impress of God. If the work receives human recognition, it must be received without elation. If the work is obscured by human neglect, it must be received without depression. The one essential thing is to be humble about it.
There is a wide range of gifts. And since one cannot choose nor possess many or all of them, one must be content with one’s own gift, and be humble enough to be one’s self. There are few things more futile and more exhausting than to be perpetually trying to be some one else. To be cast down because we cannot accomplish this is just a subtle form of pride.
A prophet is a great person. So is a person who abhors evil and cleaves to that which is good. A teacher is a commanding figure. So is a person who is kindly affectioned. An exhorter is a persuasive person. So is a person who is fervent in spirit. A ruler is an exalted person. So is a person who serves the Lord. One does not have to he great to be good. But one cannot be good without being great. Real people are real people wherever one finds them. These are the people who really matter. They always wear well. And they do not wear out. The refreshing and likeable trait in them is their unstudied individuality. They do not think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Yet they are never self-conscious.
So we see that Saint Paul is showing us a gallery of very human saints. As we mark their balancing qualities, simplicity and mercy and cheerfulness, we almost forget about their great gifts. They are a delightful company.
Saint Paul, in a very matter of fact way, tells us to be like them. Suppose we try.
Affectionately in Our Lord,