Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today records the baptism of Our Lord, by Saint John the Baptist.
Before we think of this event, we cannot pass over the words, "Jesus came from Nazareth." This means the parting from His Mother. The leave-taking is wrapt about with reticence. Father Stanton commented upon it years ago in Saint Alban's, Holborn. "Our Blessed Lady tastes of that sorrow which is in the heart of every parent; known to every parent; father and mother of the child that they love, when the first separation takes place. It may be the first going to school. It may be an agony, though the tears are restrained. It may be when son and daughter leave the home and hearth of 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 her child? No! Could not the father keep the soul of his son? No! Bless you, 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."
"He was baptized of John in Jordan." "The baptism of repentance for the remission of sin." He? The Sinless One? The Incarnate Son of God? Yes. Mingling with the crowd of sinners? Truly Man? Yes.
"And straightway coming up out of the water, 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." With the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end? Yes.
So we see Our Lord in this Gospel for today. Truly Man, identifying Himself with our human joys and sorrows: Friend of sinners, Saviour of penitents, Guide of Saints: Truly God, the everlasting Son of the Father. So we find our inspiration for prayer, penitence and worship. It is all so intimate, so personal, so simple, that we may wonder why prayer should ever seem difficult, or penitence harsh or worship formal. The cause of any one or all three of these hindrances lies within ourselves. And the remedies lie within easy reach. We only need to recapture the virtue of childhood, that we were never meant to lose, and keeping which we can never grow old. Simplicity.
Our prayers must be simple. We must not be afraid to speak to God about simple things in simple language. God knows that the simple affairs of our lives are really important. Our lives are made of, and determined by, simple relationships, and simple duties and simple decisions. Each, if rightly met, may seem to us unimportant. It is only when a mistake is made, that we suddenly discover how seriously important they really were. A chain with one weak link will break at a crucial moment. Nothing is too simple to pray about.
We must learn to be simple in the confessing of our sins. We must learn to go to God as trustful children go to a father who is sure to understand. I think that penitents are sometimes tempted to forget that faith which steadfastly believes the promise of God is the necessary complement of the repentance which would forsake the sins. Surely God could not be expected to make it more clear than He has, that He is faithful and just to pardon and absolve all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel. We must school ourselves to become simple penitents.
We must learn to be simple when we worship. This interior simplicity is not dependant upon externals or occasions. The externals of worship may be reduced to the bare liturgical requirement, or they may be enriched with all the splendor which God puts into the power of man to offer. The occasion may be the solemn commemoration of a Divine Mystery, or it may be the humble remembrance of a human personal joy or sorrow. However it may be, or whatever it may be, nothing need mar the simplicity of the act. Two persons are concerned. God and the soul. Heart speaks to heart.
Affectionately in Our Lord,