Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel today brings us the parable of the sower and the seed. Our Lord is teaching us the mystery of the word of God. We hear the lesson year after year, and each year we find something new in it. It is not really new. It only seems new. Why is this? The Gospel answers the question.
The seed is always the same. It is the soil that needs attention. If the soil is not good, the seed, good as it is, cannot bear fruit. This is very simple. It is very obvious. Yet the disciples were not able to grasp it. They asked Our Lord what this parable might be. If they needed to ask once, we need not wonder if we need to ask many times. Our Lord assured his disciples that it was given to them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. These same mysteries, conveyed in the same words, would seem to others just parables. Just parables—nothing more. Why? Because the others were not disciples. They were not learners. This is what the word disciple means.
One cannot learn anything unless one has the mind and will to learn. This is true of any department of knowledge. No teacher can impart knowledge to an inattentive, unwilling pupil. Beside this there must be the right personal relation between teacher and pupil. The heart must be in the business of learning, as well as the mind and the will. The parable might be paraphrased and used by any teacher for any class on the opening day, when the class assembles for the first time. The parable seems simpler and more obvious now, doesn't it?
Much people were gathered together. There was a crowd. The parable concerned something that was very familiar to them. Yet the crowd did not understand. Crowds rarely do understand. But the trouble with the crowd was that they did not care enough about Our Lord to ask Him what He meant. Only His disciples cared enough to do that. They did ask. And they found out. The crowd never found out. They did not have the mind nor the will nor the heart to find out. So the parable which carried a hidden truth to the disciples, only conveyed to the crowd something that baffled it. What the disciples learned was this.
The disciples must be on their guard against the perils of neglecting spiritual safeguards. In the midst of an unbelieving world they would need the enclosing protection of the Church. Mingling with the world as they must, they must always keep within them the Kingdom of God. This was to be their refuge from the dangers of the wayside, where men tread under foot, often ruthlessly, more often ignorantly, the seeds of truth before they have time to root. Once caught into the current of wayside life, the devil would steal out of their hearts the words which were never meant to pass away from them.
They must be on their guard against the shallowness of passing fashions of thought, and the deceits of popular enthusiasms. The seed of the word must go down deeper than all that. They must be ready to dislodge the rocks of resistance to truth, when the truth makes its demands for sacrifice. A shallow religion cannot withstand the shock of temptations.
The disciples must be on their guard against the distractions of cares, riches and pleasures. What does this mean? Who can escape cares? No one can. But everyone can learn to trust in God.
Do riches make a person less religious? Of course not, any more than poverty might. But either may be a distraction if allowed to become the chief concern. Are pleasures, lawful pleasures, inconsistent with religion? Of course not, if they are kept under discipline and not allowed to interfere with religion. But when cares or riches or pleasures assume the first place in life, they can and do choke religion and make spiritual growth impossible.
The business of preparing ourselves for the reception of spiritual truth is a responsibility which must rest with ourselves. It requires an honest heart and a good one to resolutely set about it. It requires the use of the gifts of wisdom and knowledge and counsel and understanding to keep the soul off the waysides of life. It requires the gift of ghostly strength to remove the rocks which make life shallow.
It requires the gift of true godliness to weed out the thorns of life. It requires the gift of holy fear to keep the ground good.
The lessons of the Gospels just before Lent are to prepare us for a good Lent.
The lesson of this particular Gospel is that it is not more instruction that we need, f but more attention to our interior lives.
Affectionately in Our Lord,