Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1941.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Christian Year provides for the setting forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us. The order of the setting forth is arranged in the manner of seasonal commemorations of the facts recorded in Holy Scripture, summarized in the Creeds and enshrined in the Liturgy. The teaching sets forth the Divine plan of redemption and enlists the cooperation of mind, will, heart and all the senses.
The Christian Year teaches the Christian religion: It does more. Religion must not only be taught; it must be caught: Unless it is caught, the teaching, however thorough it may be, will be little more than a means of gratifying the curiosity to hear some new thing. As a matter of fact, religion is caught before it is taught, or at least before the teaching can be intelligible.
Conversion usually precedes instruction. So it is in the Gospel records. So it is in the lives of most Christians in all ages. The Christian year requires of those who would receive the teaching a whole-hearted surrender to Our Lord in His Church. This-surrender begins and continues in a prescribed sacramental life. This surrender brings one into the practise of the prayer life. It brings one into participation in the Liturgical worship of the Church. It surrounds one with the atmosphere of the Church. It steeps one in the traditions of the Church. It makes one Catholic-minded. And then at last one is equipped for, and ready for, the clearer and deeper understanding of the truths, which up to this point received in faith, under obedience, have rooted themselves into the very fibre of one's being and becoming vitalized by the experience of habitual practise, bring forth fruit in due season.
There are varieties of religious experience and there are types of conversion. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit.'' Whatever the spiritual history of the individual may be, the sum of the matter for all is arrival at the apprehension of the faith of the Gospel, "God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The reward of faithful observance of the Christian Year is increase in the peace of God which passes understanding and keeps the heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord. Each Advent as it comes should mark 1 the beginning of a new spiritual adventure.
Advent offers the opportunity of living a year of Our Lord in preparation for an eternity of Our Lord, whose coming it announces. The purpose of Advent is to turn our minds toward the love of God manifesting itself in the promised coming of Our Lord. The meaning of repentance is the turning of the mind. Our business in Advent is this turning of the mind Godward. We shall need to exercise persistent effort in the brushing away of all hindering distractions. There are so many of them. They are so persistent, and so confusing, and many of them are so oppressive. They hardly give time for consideration of religion.
But the time comes when the persistence and confusion and oppression become a weariness and an intolerably heavy burden. Then the longing for rest asserts itself and expels the bundle of distractions and drives us to seek rest in Our Lord. We turn at last to the Church. We join the procession which forms at Bethlehem and marches on through Nazareth and the desert and the holy land and the holy city and Gethsemane and Calvary and the garden and the mountain and only halts at the wide opened gates of Heaven. Each day will have its special adventure. An adventure in the Sacraments, an adventure in prayer, an adventure in faith, an adventure in hope, an adventure in resignation, an adventure in fortitude, and beyond peradventure peace.
The distractions will be dissipated. The cares will vanish. Peace will come at the last. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusted in thee."
Affectionately in Our Lord,