Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




The Epistle for today teaches the meaning of Christian asceticism. This word means disciplinary exercise for the purpose of acquiring efficiency. In athletic circles, as Saint Paul reminds us, disciplinary exercise, or as we say, training, is necessary for a runner in order that he may win his race. Training is necessary for a boxer in order that he may win his fight. Every athlete knows the necessity for strict training; takes it as a matter of course and gets pleasure in the glow of feeling fit, before, during and after his contest.

Sometimes we Americans are accused of taking our sports too seriously. I do not think we take them seriously enough. I admit that spectators fail to take our sports seriously when they treat them as gladiatorial spectacles. But in the training quarters things are better understood. People there are seriously engaged in training the body for endurance, skill and efficiency.

I have always thought that school and college athletics provide a powerful religious stimulus, at the very age when religion finds its immediate, and perhaps at the time its only, contact with the boy through his body. I am inclined to think that spring training may be the salvation of a boy who would neither be reached, nor influenced, by a Lent course of sermons. If athletic training results in bodily asceticism cheerfully accepted, then I say it is all to the good in the making of a Christian man.

Saint Paul goes farther and bids Christians learn a lesson from the athletes, who take such pains to win a perishable crown. The prize for which the Christian trains is the imperishable prize of a body delivered from the humiliation of slavery to animal instincts, and elevated into the glory of a spirit-controlled body. The body is never free nor content nor happy, until it has clicked into place as a marvelously accurate mechanism which responds instantly to the slightest motion of the soul. This is the glorious liberty which Our Lord offers us.

His body was a gloriously free body. In it, He conquered devils in a desert. In it He cleansed lepers; made the deaf to hear; the dumb to speak; the blind to see; the "lame walk, and the dead to rise. In it He withstood the worst the world could inflict. In it He gave His life on the Cross for the sins of the world. In it He rose from the dead and destroyed death. In it He ascended into heaven. In it He brought power to us that our bodies might be changed into the likeness of His own glorious body. The prize of Christian asceticism is a glorious body. Who wouldn't bear any amount of training to gain it?

Think of the things that can be done with it. The disciplined body is able to obey the dictates of the reason. Being freed from the fetters of passions it is free to act reasonably. It becomes the willing servant of the mind. It will forego its desires and lend itself willingly to exhausting work in order that the mind may exercise its best powers in the best way, and produce its best results.

The disciplined body will serve the spirit generously. It will surrender every instinct, appetite, passion and desire, in order that it may walk in the spirit. Freed from the animalism which it really hates with every fibre, it will be gratefully transformed into the instrument of the soul. It will fulfil every law of service to its neighbor and work ill to none. It will give itself to hours of prayer, and rise to heights of worship which will require the first fruits of all the arts to express its spirations.

The disciplined body will receive from the spirit the vision of God and register the impress in its brain cells. It will be obedient to the motions of God calling for full surrender of all that it has, to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith it is called. It will lose its life to find it. It will overcome its last enemy—death, and rise again at the last day.

This is the incorruptible crown for the body which, to use the liturgical words that I have been paraphrasing, offers and presents itself to God, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury