Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
In the Gospel for today Our Lord warns us against the perils of an empty heart. He describes a man out of whom an unclean spirit has been cast. The heart has been delivered from the evil tyrant. It has been swept and garnished. Peace seems to have been established and assured. Rest has come at last. And then suddenly, upon an unexpected day, the unclean spirit returns with seven other spirits more wicked than himself. They enter through the unguarded door and take possession, and dwell there. The last state of that man is worse than the first. Our Lord does not say that his state is hopeless. But the battle for eviction has to be fought all over again. And it will be seven times harder than the first. This is the peril of the empty heart.
After the evil spirit has been exorcized, after the heart has been swept and garnished, it must be opened for the occupancy of the owner, the stronger than the strong, who is able to keep it in peace: This is the parable of the Three Mystic Ways. The ways of Purgation, Illumination, Union. The masters of the spiritual life have written volumes of commentaries and instructions. The source may be clearly seen in these few sentences of Our Lord. The masters have gone farther than we have gone. But we must go where they have gone. We shall ourselves arrive some day.
The experience of the Way of Purgation is the experience of the eviction of the evil tenant. The evidence of his tenancy is the besetting sin and its series of consequent disorders. The distressing disorders are the symptoms of the root sin from which they spring. The true penitent must probe far down under the surface disorders. He must not stop short of the root. The process of extraction will be painful, but it must be resolute and thorough. The area of infection must be cleansed and sterilized. Medicaments must be applied to the wounded tissues. Malformations must be corrected. Nourishment for the development of new tissue must be administered. The treatment must be constant. The physician is Our Lord. The medicines are the Sacraments. Purgation is attained through Penance and Communion.
The soul does not rest here. The work of Illumination must be accomplished. Already it will have begun while the attention has been concentrated on Purgation. Rays of Divine Light will have dawned through the manifestations of Divine Love, evidenced by endless revelations of Divine Compassion, forbearance and patience. Agonies of prayer, experiences of the Sacraments, depths of self-knowledge, flashes of the knowledge of God, interior illuminations and spiritual impulses are not only possible but inevitable for any and every genuine penitent. God is no respecter of persons. Penitents may leap to peaks of spiritual knowledge far above and beyond the easy access of the scholar who disdains the path of the humble penitent. For it is not the merely tutored mind, but the purified heart, which sees God.
Yet the soul does not rest here. Escaping from defilement, emerging into the light, the soul becomes athirst for God. It cannot rest until it rests in Him. Beginning to be filled with grace and heavenly benediction, it is not content until it has been made one body with Him, that He may dwell in it, and it in Him. The Soul becomes a tabernacle for the indwelling of God. The Life received at the Altar is enshrined in the living monstrance of the heart to give the blessing of the blessed to those whom God would bless through the human heart united with the Sacred Heart. All is energy within the soul now. Restless and resistless energy, he energy of the love which works no ill to its neighbor and lays down its life for its friends. The heart is filled. Life is freed. Vocations are discovered. Undreamed of powers are revealed. The powers possessed by the sons of God.
Made a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and worship.
Affectionately in Our Lord,