Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE
I noticed last week in an editorial or in a review, I forget now which and where, an observation as timely as it was profound. The point was that we Americans have been enabled to go far in the matter of the mastery over environment. That at this moment we are engaged in a notable effort to master circumstances. That there is one thing, however, of which we need to be reminded because there are signs that we are forgetting it. No individual, no people are capable of mastering either environment or circumstances without the background of self-mastery. No man can master anything until he has mastered himself. No people can gain the mastery over anything until the majority have both become proficient in self-discipline and created an atmosphere which impresses the ideal and the necessity of self-discipline upon the lawless minority.
This is what we need to have in mind. We cannot fall back upon the best of laws to make us moral or prosperous against our wills. While experts are dealing with conditions, we need to exert our best efforts to deal with ourselves. Self-control and self-sacrifice are demanded from each and every one of us. It is one of the functions of the Church to inculcate the principle, to prescribe the discipline, and to impart the power which enable us to subdue the flesh to the spirit and to unite the spirit with God. It is only when we are in the way of attaining to this ideal that we are in the way of expressing our full and freest and best selves. The worst and the most alarming depression that we are facing today is the moral depression. There is no use in trying to deny it. The facts show it. They stare us in the face. No one social class can accuse another. There is no monopoly of guilt. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The only way of return to Christian brotherhood is the way of Christian repentance. A universal brotherhood of repentance is the only league that has not yet been tried or suggested by temporal authorities for the relief of the world. Without it no lesser league can succeed. The Church alone has insistently and patiently proclaimed and pleaded for such a brotherhood. The Church alone is in a position to do this. The Church alone has the long experience. The Church alone has the commission and the authority. The Church alone has the spiritual equipment for arousing the individual and the social conscience to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. This is her work in the world. It demands all her time. It demands all the time of her clergy. I venture to say that the best service that they can fender to the world is to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called.
Not long ago I received a clerical questionnaire submitting so many topics for expression of opinion concerning the government of the country, concerning which I, and I suspect the authors, had not the shadow of the qualification of first hand knowledge to answer, that I unblushingly consigned it to the waste basket. I shall be numbered among the ecclesiastical morons. However, my radio this evening brought me the report that the Senate Banking and Currency Committee had passed a somewhat strenuous and strained day in the attempt to arrive at a solution of one of the problems directly or indirectly involved in that questionnaire. Decidedly, I think, the priest acts wisely to stick to his craft.
On this Sunday the Church advises us of the approach of the season of Lent. She prepares us for the opening of the gates to repentance. For forty days she will lead us in the exercises of repentance. At the climax she will lead us to, and leave us at, the Cross, face to face with the crucified Redeemer of the world. To Him each of us must make answer. It is, of course, possible to pass Him by. But even then it is impossible to escape the terrible question, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by." It will be nothing or everything.
Affectionately in Our Lord,