Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




Passiontide has come again to announce the redemptive properties of pain. The message seems a hard saying. But is it? It seems to contain a dark mystery. But is it a dark mystery? It seems to intrude upon life as we would have it. But would life be understandable without it? Does Passiontide envelope the world in darkness? Or does it illuminate it? Does it present a fantasy? Or does it face a fact?

It cannot be denied that it faces a fact. There is such a thing as pain. Pain registers a disorder. The disorder is the cause of the pain. If the disorder is righted the pain will cease. Were it not for the pain the disorder might not be discovered. The warning of pain may lead to the way of cure. If the disorder is incurable, then the pain doubles the tragedy. This is about as far as any one whose horizon stops short of Passiontide can get.

Suppose we work out farther to the very bounds of the horizon. We know what happens when we do that. We never reach our horizon. It is always just as far ahead of us. After a while the place we started from falls below the horizon as we look back and we have discovered a new world.

Look at pain from this angle. I shall quote a few sentences from the autobiography of Mary Roberts Rinehart. She is describing her life as a hospital nurse. “Things were brought out into the open of which I had never dreamed, and one by one, in two years of this contact with life as it is at its rawest and hardest, my young illusions began to go. Thereafter, and always, I have built such dreams as I have dreamed; such romance as I have written, on a basic foundation of reality, stark and naked reality. I have had no illusions. Life can be beautiful and sweet, but it can be harsh and terrible. But out of real knowledge, of seeing men and women stripped of every hypocrisy and pretension, at their lowest and often at their worst, there came the conviction which I have never changed; that the real sins are those of the spirit and not those of the body. That men and women alike are creatures, and often victims of their environment. I cannot hate anybody.”

When the author made this discovery she made a flying leap from the clinic to the Cross. In the purple light of the Passion, she saw with her own eyes the redemptive properties of pain. And she heard across nineteen centuries the echo of the first word from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The spiritual glory of Our Lord upon the Cross has placed within our reach a moral glory as we hang each upon our own. In the wondrous ending we cease to wonder at the doleful beginning. It is a fact that the adventurous souls who have succeeded in uniting their pains with the Passion of Our Lord have blazed a shining path to Paradise, which the dark actuality of pain itself has never dimmed. It is a fact that pain voluntarily accepted and penitently offered as expiation does work miracles of moral transformation, so thorough, and so complete, as to render the person who makes the offering incapable of repetition of the sin which made the offering necessary. This is the desire of the penitent, and the achievement of the saint.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury