Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




The Epistle for today gives us our final preparatory instruction for Lent. The purpose of the discipline of Lent is advance in Charity. Charity is the greatest of the Theological Virtues. Faith will vanish into sight; Hope be emptied in delight. Charity will remain forever as the climax of perfection. It will find its unending expression in loving God with all the heart, with all the mind, with all the soul, and with all the strength: and secondly in loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

"Charity," writes Saint Paul, "suffereth long, and is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth." It never fails to rise to the occasion, to meet the situation, to feel kindly, to think fairly, to do justly, to act courteously. Charity makes normal contacts and rational relationships possible. Without Charity we are left exposed to temperamental eccentricity, invincible prejudice, uncontrolled emotionalism, and all the humiliations of hysteria. Uncharitableness suspends sound reasoning and precludes effective action. We cannot be normal unless we are charitable.

Tact is recognized as a necessity for happy and successful human relationships. But what is tact? I am afraid that it is frequently taken to mean adroitness in getting around persons. One or two experiences with this kind of tact leaves us not unjustifiably suspicious of tactful persons. Of course, that sort of thing is not tact. It is shot through with insincerity. It is a patent counterfeit.

Tact is the touch of Charity. It is the probe of kindness which goes unerringly to the best in another, however deeply it may be hidden under an unpromising exterior. Tact is the touch of humility, gentle because of the consciousness of serious faults in self. Tact is the touch of sympathy which feels with, but does not presume to feel for, another. Tact is the touch of unstudied graciousness which is never unconsciously rude. Tact is the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual Charity.

Charity enables us to suffer long in one way or another without rebellion or complaint, because it looks far ahead of the present, and well into the future, and is content to wait. Charity makes us kind because it enables us to see ourselves in others and others in ourselves in human kinship. It reveals the futility of envy and the foolishness of boasting and vanity, and the meanness of self-seeking. It develops emotional stability which is proof against provocation. It fosters the high-mindedness which is above base suspiciousness. It produces the delicate sensibilities which perceive the tragedy of iniquity and admire the grandeur of the truth. It moves us to bear all things with dignity. It inspires us to believe steadfastly, to hope undauntedly and to endure intrepidly. Whatever the difficult situation may be, whatever may fail us, Charity never fails. In the long, long run it conquers everything.

Yet Charity is not easily attained to. It is not won without supreme effort. As a matter of spiritual experience the struggle for Charity does not come in the -beginning of the spiritual combat. Most of us, as we look back, remember two battle grounds, and indeed and of course we are keenly aware of them now. The first is the battle ground upon which we fought and are fighting against our besetting sins. This war is a war of dislodging and exterminating our besetting sins. It will last to the end of our period of probation. But the time does come when we find frequent shiftings to another sector. On this front we are aware of the great, final, decisive battle. It is the struggle for the one virtue, without which all other virtues, however hardly won, will count for nothing. To keep all we must win Charity at all costs. Easter must register an advance in Charity. This is the Church's last word as we go into Lent.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

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