Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




The Gospel for today provides us with a lesson for a practical use of Lent. Unless Lent has a particular purpose and a definite objective, it is very apt to mean little more than the endurance of certain restrictions only endurable because of the sure hope of eventual release. I remember hearing a sermon years ago, in which the preacher said, "there is nothing more futile than purposeless asceticism." I have never known whether it was a quotation or not. Whoever said it first was a wise man. Purposeless asceticism is like training for a race that one does not mean to enter or for a fight that is never meant to come off, to revert to last Sunday's Epistle.

"For their sakes I sanctify myself." This must be indelibly impressed upon the cells of the conscious and the caverns of the subconscious mind. The secret of unconscious influence depends upon it. Every one of us, whether we know it or not, whether we will it or not, constantly exerts an unconscious influence. That influence depends upon what we are. It speaks more loudly and more lastingly than words. Its results are more potent and more effectual than works. Words and works may prove to be unconvincing. An unconscious influence for good is inescapable. The gaining of this unconscious influence is the purpose of self-discipline in Lent and out of Lent. It is the pursuit of the love that fulfils the law, because it works no ill to his neighbor.

There is another aspect of the discipline of Lent. It is, as I have pointed out, expressed in today's Gospel. It carries us far down beneath the surface of our lives. It goes down to the roots of everything that is in us. It leads to the discovery of the causes of spiritual losses, and failures, and difficulties. It points to the secret of growth. It points to something that needs to be thought out. Thinking it out requires time. Lent gives us the time.

"The seed is the word of God." It has fallen upon the soil of our souls times without number. The word of God has dropped upon us from the prayers we learned as children, from the Catechism, from the Bible, from the Liturgy, from Sermons. It is all familiar. Yet who has not had the experience of suddenly hearing, as if for the first time, something which as a matter of fact we have heard literally thousands of times, only it never meant anything before? There is a tendency then to say, "why I never heard that before. No one ever told me." Perhaps you never understood. But you have been told often enough. What has been the trouble? To find out we need to examine our lives by asking four questions.

(1) Have I kept the ground in good condition by right, frequent and regular use of the means of grace given through the Sacraments?

(2) Have I exposed myself to the distractions of the world and neglected the safeguards with which the Church surrounds me?

(3) Have I taken my religion thoughtfully, seriously, conscientiously?

(4) Have I allowed myself to become so absorbed in my temporal affairs as to cause me to neglect my spiritual interests?

Lent gives us time and opportunity to think these questions through to the answer. The finding of the answer will move us to quicken and deepen our sacramental life. It will move us to appreciate and seek the protective enclosure of the Church. It will move us to give religion the first place in our lives. It will move us to pray more and to worry less. It will take us out of the turmoil which the world can give into the peace which the world cannot give.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury