Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Today we begin to prepare for Lent. In Lent we shall be preparing for Easter which is about seventy days distant.
The name of this Sunday reminds us of the reward of a well-spent Lent. Christian self-discipline is the means by which we attain to a definite end. Discipline is not an end in itself. It can only be useful and effective if it is regarded as a means. We must never lose sight of the end. The disciplinary seasons of the Christian year are days “on which the Church requireth such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion.” The purpose of extraordinary acts of devotion is to raise the permanent standard of the ordinary devotional life. The purpose of the extraordinary acts of devotion on Sundays is to raise the tone of the devotional life of the other six days in the week. So it is with Lent.
The purpose of keeping forty days of penitence, discipline and prayer is to establish, strengthen and settle us in the habitual practise of penitence, discipline and prayer. The purpose of the extraordinary acts of devotion on the Christian Festivals is to stablish, strengthen and settle us in the spirit of thankfulness, stability and joy. No fast or festival is an end in itself. Each is a pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The Festivals and Fasts, if rightly used, will enable us to reach the balance of the Christian life. Penitence and thankfulness: Discipline and stability: Prayer and joy.
A preliminary self-examination concerning these points will prove to be the best preparation for Lent. Are we penitent? Are we thankful? Are we disciplined? Are we stable? Are we prayerful? Are we joyful? Not spasmodically, but habitually. Is our religion rightly balanced? At what points is it weak? What needs mending? The result of this examination ought to suggest an intelligent, definite, helpful rule for Lent.
The rule must be a hopeful rule. The Epistle for today gives this note of hope. “So run, that ye may obtain.” We shall gain what we seek. “I therefore run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” We shall need this encouragement all through Lent. Perhaps most of all in mid-Lent. The ,Church gives us Refreshment Sunday in mid-Lent. The symbols of penitence are for that one day suffused with the light of hope, the violet changes to rose color. The remembrance that the prize for which we strive is an incorruptible crown arms us with fresh courage to enter Passion Week and to advance to Holy Week.
Whatever may be gained in Lent is to be kept. The Easter flowers will fade. The Lent prize will not fade. It is to be kept as a fadeless possession to signify an advance in the spiritual life. Our Lent life should lead us to a higher level for all the rest of the year, and for all the years.
For this reason we should exercise moderation in making our Lent rule. It is a long race that is set before us. The tendency is to forget this and to make a rule that we cannot make permanent. We are apt to set ourselves a task into which we enter feverishly, endure grimly and escape gladly. This sort of rule is sure to result in reactions marked by laxity.
There is a fictitious Easter joy which is only based on relief that Lent is over. The true Easter joy is joy in walking with Our Lord in newness of life. It is this newness that is the prize of Lent.
Affectionately in Our Lord,