Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Today is Passion Sunday, the first day of Passion Week. We are preparing ourselves by Sacraments, prayer and meditation in order that we may devoutly participate in the Commemoration of the suffering of Our Saviour. Palm Sunday and Holy Week will lead us to the Cross to meditate upon the sacrifice of the death of Our Redeemer. This week we are contemplating the suffering which next week we shall witness.
"The death of Christ is the one true sacrifice for sin, which alone gives value to repentance; affords a just basis of divine pardon, and makes possible the salvation from sin that is attainable in the Church through Jesus Christ, our risen and glorified Saviour. It is all this because it constitutes the objective means of redemption from the power of Satan, of expiation for sin, and of reconciliation to God, by reason of which we are given a new footing in a covenant of cleansing and sanctifying grace." Quoted from Doctor Francis J. Hall's Theological Outlines.
We are to contemplate the Passion of Our Lord as Christians. As Christians we cannot be mere onlookers. We cannot be content to watch Our Lord from a distance. No man can be an innocent bystander. He must identify himself with Our Lord or with the crowd who watched the Passion. The fact that He suffered for us arouses in the Christian the desire to suffer with Him. When we think of Saint Thomas we think of him in the words of the Collect for Saint Thomas's day, as "doubtful of Our Lord's resurrection." We need to be reminded that it was Saint Thomas who said unto his fellow-disciples, "let us also go, that we may die with him." There we see the real Saint Thomas. For this we ought to remember and praise him. The real Saint Thomas is the Saint of chivalrous devotion. "Let us also go, that. we may die with him." His voice rings out the challenge of Passiontide. "Let us also go."
A living faith in the vicarious Passion and Death of Our Saviour develops the desire for identification with Our Saviour in his Passion and Death. We can be content with nothing less than suffering with Him and dying with Him. The more fervent our faith in the Precious Blood, the more fervent will be our longing to share in the pains of the shedding.
So our contemplation of the Passion should draw us into the Passion, and inseparably identify our lives with it. But how is this done? In the first place through the Sacraments. By Baptism we are made members of Christ. "Members," as Saint Paul said, "of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." In Holy Communion "we are very members incorporate in the mystical body" of Our Lord. We are "made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him." So we are identified with Our Lord so closely that "he dwells in us, and we in him."
The next step is to translate our lives into terms of his life. By this I mean that we are to identify the circumstances of our lives with Our Lord's human life. Do we have trials and afflictions? Our Lord endured them. When we suffer our first impulse is to say, "why must I have this to bear?" If we have contemplated the Passion, we know the answer to that question. We are being allowed to share the Passion. We are being crucified with Christ.
Such trials are called in religious language necessary mortifications. There have been heroic saints who have inflicted mortifications upon themselves. These mortifications are called voluntary mortifications. They are not for everybody. The wise counsel given by the author of Sancta Sophia is "it will suffice us if we bear the mortifications God provides for us, believing Him to know what is best for us and what is proportionate to our weakness."
The lesson of the Passion is that we accept the ordinary afflictions of life as spiritual means by which we may share in the Passion of Our Lord. So we turn sorrow into joy, for if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.
Affectionately in Our Lord,