Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1931.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today contains the account of the temptations of Our Lord. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Temptation, therefore, is not sin. Rightly considered it is an urge to virtue.
I use that word urge with a purpose. Though I admit that it is rather an overworked word, and, I think, rather an abused word. It has acquired a perverted meaning. It has first of all been perverted into meaning an urge to transgress some moral precept. And it has become charged with the idea of being beyond resistance. An urge is represented as being a resistless impulse unrestrained by reason. It is claimed that an urge is a natural impulse which cannot be resisted without doing violence to nature, and therefore ought not to be resisted. The practical application of this teaching has been generally confined to one of the Commandments. If the principle is what its teachers claim for it, there would seem to be no valid reason for a refusal to apply it to the other nine Commandments. There would seem to be an injustice in establishing a privileged sanction for a particular urge. Of course, the principle is too obviously rotten to be rational. The heart is where the treasure is. If it is pardonable to steal a husband or a wife and unpardonable to steal a purse, then the plain inference is that purses are valuable and husbands and wives are of negligible value.
The Christian content of the word temptation is an urge upward, an urge away from brute instinct.
A temptation to dishonor God presents the alternative of honoring God.
A temptation to blasphemy presents the alternative of worshipping God.
A temptation to disregard a religious observance presents the alternative of devout observance.
A temptation to dishonor a father or mother presents the alternative of filial affection.
A temptation to murder presents the alternative of protecting a person from violence.
A temptation to commit adultery presents the alternative of chastity.
A temptation to steal presents the alternative of honesty.
A temptation to bear false witness presents the alternative of truthfulness.
A temptation to covet presents the alternative of generosity.
A temptation, therefore, is rightly regarded as a testing for virtue. A temptation is an opportunity for virtue. Everything depends upon the direction of the outlook. If one looks down, the temptation is an opportunity for evil. If one looks up, the temptation is an opportunity for good. It is abnormal to look down. It is normal to look up. This is why sin is abnormal. This is why goodness is normal. The history of civilization has demonstrated this. All progress, including moral progress, has been attained by looking up and struggling up. The history of civilization has also demonstrated that the stability of the attainment of general progress is only ensured by moral progress.
And the history of civilization has demonstrated another fact. The only code of morals which has proved itself to be a guaranty of general progress and general stability is The Code of God.
Saint James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations.”
I think the world needs just what Saint James has given to us. It needs what you and I need. A ringing Sursum Corda. That will put a new heart into the world.
Affectionately in Our Lord,