Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1936.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
One of the questions in the Prayer Book Offices of Instruction reads, “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?” The answer reads, “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in His Church; and to work and pray for the spread of His Kingdom.”
Today as we begin the Christian Year, we shall do wisely and well if we consider our bounden duty in its observance.
The catechetical instruction quoted above authoritatively defines our duty. The instruction, as you may observe, emphasizes duty rather than discipline. The word ‘duty’ conveys the idea of personal responsibility. It implies an interior personal obligation, the fulfilment of which determines our integrity. Mere discipline with its promises of reward for obedience and of punishment for disobedience has some place and usefulness in controlling those who are not naturally inclined to keep the law. But obedience enforced under pressure of fear indicates nothing more than self-regarding caution. Only voluntary response to an accepted obligation attains to virtue. Whatever we do must be done through love not fear.
“Perfect love casteth out fear. There is no fear in love. He that feareth (that is with servile fear) is not made perfect in love.” Holy fear we must all have and pray for daily increase, because it is one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, given to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Holy Fear is loving anxiety to please God. It moves us to regard our duty toward God as a bounden duty of love. This being the nature of Holy Fear, we can readily see how it is closely related with another of the Seven Gifts—True Godliness—which is reverent and loving piety.
My point about all this is that such a conception of duty is more compelling than the conception of duty based on servile fear. The very fact that we are inspired by the duty of love places upon us an obligation which cannot be disregarded. There is no discipline so rigorous as the discipline of conscience. It is far better to be ruled by love than by fear, but the individual responsibility is far greater and more grave. We must always remember this. “My bounden duty is to follow Christ.” This is a very definite duty. The observance of the Christian Year is the school in which we are trained to literal obedience. The Church takes us to the Manger in Bethlehem and leads us step by step to the Cross, and beyond to the very gate of Heaven. The Church makes each season live and make us live in it and through it. By the teaching of the Scriptures the facts are rehearsed. By the teaching of the Liturgy the scenes are reproduced. By the teaching of the Prayers the hearts of the worshippers are lifted up to the Lord.
By the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the entire Gospel is shown forth in one sublime act of sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
By the action of Holy Communion the Christian is made one with Christ, that, assisted with His grace, he may do all such good works as God has prepared for him to walk in.
So the way of life and the means of grace are set before us, to the end that we may fulfil the three-fold bounden duty, “to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in His Church; and to work and pray for the spread His Kingdom.”
Here we arrive at the centre of religion. Religion can be nothing less than the centre of life. It can never be a secondary consideration, a mere side issue. It must be the centre from which we work out to the circumference. Religion only can widen as well as deepen life. “Our Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Affectionately in Our Lord,