Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today records the cleansing of a leper and the healing of a man sick of the palsy. We never hear of them again. They must have been grateful all the rest of their lives. They could not have forgotten Our Lord. Certainly they had faith enough. But we do not know what happened afterward.
I cannot keep from thinking of the lepers who were never cleansed and the palsied who were never cured. It was not because Our Lord had no pity for them. Why were they not drawn to Him? Why did not friends intercede for them? The questions have been answered by persons who, in sickness and sadness, have learned at first-hand the mysteries of life. We do not have to wonder what became of these adventurers in faith. They went from strength to strength. They became more deeply devoted to Our Lord. Their sickness imprinted the marks of His Passion on their bodies.
When we compare the two groups, the tiny group miraculously cured, and the multitude that no man can number who have climbed the steep ascent to heaven through pain by the virtue of miracles of grace, we no longer wonder why Our Lord did not include the gift for miracles in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Because the gift for miracles of grace which is included is a far greater gift. To convey the grace which gives victory over pain is a greater miracle than the miracle which gives escape.
I am not so inexperienced as to say that escape may not be desired or is not desirable, or that it is not granted by Our Lord more often then we know. But the fact remains that there is a certain distinction which does belong to a person who has won a victory over sickness, which does not seem to belong to a person who has merely escaped. Just as there is a certain distinction about a person who has won a victory over a temptation, which does not seem to belong to a person who has been so fortunate as to escape the temptation. There is something worth while given to those "who best can drink their cup of woe, triumphant over pain."
It was surely Our Lord's way for Himself. He never worked a miracle for His own relief or comfort. From Bethlehem on He lived under the shadow of His Cross. Yet He never allowed the shadow to fall upon the people with whom He lived. His whole ministry was one of comfort and cheer. But when the time came to call for disciples, He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." And it was then that the greatest miracles began, the miracles of grace that made saints. We do hear of them again. We do know what became of them. We do know what happened afterward. Some of them were in the glorious company of the Apostles. Some of them were in the noble army of Martyrs. All of them made up the roll of the holy Church throughout the world. There were so many saints among them that they filled the calendar to overflowing, so that we have to save one day to commemorate all the saints, because we have not enough days to go round. They performed miracles to save others, but like their Lord they would not perform miracles to save themselves. They neither had time nor desire to think of themselves, and they loved not their lives to the death.
This does not mean that Our Lord in His Church forsakes us in our sickness. The Church watches over us very tenderly. In the Office for the Visitation of the Sick the Church provides for Confession and Absolution. In the Communion of the Sick the Church administers the most Comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Unction of the Sick the Church anoints us with the Holy Oil for relief from distress and release from sin.
After all this the Christian is prepared for a miracle of healing, if it is God's Will to continue the life in the body, and a miracle of grace if it is God's Will that the soul shall depart from the body.
The people in the Gospel of whom we read only had a part; we have the whole thing.
Affectionately in Our Lord,