Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




The Gospel for today leads us abruptly to the beginning of Our Lord's public life. Last Sunday we were given a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of His Childhood. The life in Nazareth is hidden. We can picture that life. Only Our Divine Lord and His Blessed Mother know all that it was. We are told that He was subject to Mary, His Mother, and to Joseph, their guardian, and that He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

The life of the Holy Family is a hidden life. Yet the light of it has not been hidden. The world has been illumined by it. The glory of virginity. The majesty of maternity. The beauty of childhood. The chivalry of guardianship. The sacredness of home. These have been the rays which have cast bright beams of light revealing the ideal of the holiness which is the aspiration of every Christian family. Sometimes I wonder if the conveniences of modern inventions do not become at times instruments of invasion of domestic privacy. I wonder if families have enough time and opportunity to develop a properly protected domestic life. For such a life the Holy Family is our example and inspiration.

From the contemplation of the peaceful life in Nazareth we turn reluctantly. In passing we remember the sorrow which pierced the heart of the Blessed Mother. It had been foretold. That did not make it less poignant. The day of His going was a day of desolation. Father Stanton spoke of it years ago in Saint Alban's, Holborn. "Our Blessed Lady tastes of that sorrow which is in the heart of every parent, when the first separation takes place. It may be the first going to school. It may be an agony, though tears are restrained. It may be when son and daughter leave the home and hearth of their parents. Not only in fact, but in ideas which the family never knew, and could never understand. Could not the mother keep the soul of the child? No! It belonged to God. And the sense of separation is always there. The first time the Saviour had been missed by His Blessed Mother. Can you understand the sorrow? There is scarcely a home or parent, that does not know what it means, the first time when the beloved child goes away in any sense."

We would gladly stay longer with the Holy Family. But the Gospel compels us to follow Our Lord in His swiftly moving work of redemption. So today we find ourselves standing, on the banks of the Jordan. Saint John the Baptist is baptizing those who have responded to his preaching of repentance. And Our Lord approaches with the penitents and submits Himself to the rite! How can this be? It was because He came as the Head of our race. He, the sinless one, led the way for us, the sinful ones. As Captain of our Salvation, He led the way. He identified Himself with the last and the least of us, that the last and the least of us might not travel that road alone. It was a sublimely generous act of self humiliation. It set the example of penitence from which we cannot and must not shrink. No penitence is complete without self-humiliation. A penitence which only seeks the luxury of a quiet conscience is a soft and self-regarding substitute for the real thing.

It was when Our Lord was coming up out of the water that He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove, descending upon Him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

What a day! What a revelation! The Companion of penitents is acclaimed as the Redeemer of penitents.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury