Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

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




The Collect for today is given to us as a final prayer of preparation for Lent. It is a prayer for Charity. Charity means a loving spirit toward God and toward man. “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great Commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two Commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.”

This we hear every time we attend upon the Eucharistic Mysteries. Immediately the Church leads us to pray, “Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.” Whatever may be the sins for which we need mercy, each and every sin proceeds from a lack of charity. So we are to pray that the Holy Ghost may pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity. Without charity all our doings are nothing worth. Without charity whosoever liveth is counted dead before God. Charity is the fulfilling of the law of God. Charity worketh no ill to his neighbor. Charity is the fulfilling of the law of man.

Lent will call us to extraordinary acts and exercises of penitential devotion. Self-examination will reveal many sins for which we shall need to repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. But more and more as our repentance deepens we shall be moved to say. “Lord, it is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint.” At this point our repentance will have reached contrition. Then love will be released for our rescue. Charity will grow more perfect. It is perfect love that casts out fear. There is no fear in love. Loving penitence will rouse us to filial confidence. Filial confidence will banish servile fear; disentangle us from the net work of morbid introspection; free us from panic-stricken scrupulosity, and give us courage to say, “I will arise and go unto my Father.”

This is what we shall all be doing in Lent. We shall be arising and going unto our Father. It is comforting to know that while we are yet a great way off, He will come out to meet us. Indeed He will be waiting while we are first arising, on Shrove Tuesday.

The Epistle for the day gives us instruction concerning the second commandment of the law. It contains a summary of points for meditation upon charity. The same points will serve for examination of conscience. Saint Paul warns us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Charity, he declares, is greater than faith and hope. We must have it then at all costs.

Saint John is no less emphatic. “If a man say, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen.”

Whatever our Lent rule may be, the objective must be growth in charity. For the sake of charity our rule must be adapted to our state in life. It must help us to perform the duties of our state. It must help us to do the ordinary things with extraordinary kindness. The Christian life is a hidden life. It is manifested only in charity.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury