Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent is a prayer for deliverance from evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. The Latin version gives to the word translated "evil" in our Collect, the meanings—"distorted, deformed, perverted." In other words an evil thought is a crooked mental outlook upon life, the result of a defective vision, which presents a view of life that is fantastic, wholly false. It misses the normal and throws the abnormal into exaggerated and frightful perspective.
So potent is an evil thought that it is capable of producing bodily adversities. The Collect teaches us that against this so great evil we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. The line of cleavage which separates the secular psychiatrist from the Christian priest is just at this point. When both psychiatrist and priest are in mutual understanding and agreement that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, then psychiatrist and priest may work intelligently and effectively and happily together. The psychiatrist may use his knowledge and skill up to the point when natural maladjustments have been approximately corrected. The priest must go on with the sacramental agencies which introduce the supernatural remedies which supplement the natural.
When God breathed the breath of life into man's nostrils at creation, he became a living soul. When God breathes into man's nostrils the breath of life at his regeneration, his re-creation, he becomes a son of God, a new creature in Christ Jesus, capable of walking in newness of life in the power of His resurrection. In this new supernatural life he receives the power which he lacked in the old, natural life. The power to die to sin and rise to newness of life: the power that causes sinful affections to die and all things belonging to the spirit to live and grow: the power and strength to have victory, and to triumph against the devil, the world and the flesh.
He receives the strength of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, with daily increase in manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of holy fear.
He is given the means whereby he may relieve his conscience of the grievous memory and the intolerable burden of the sins which, by reason of his frailty, he has committed. Memories and burdens which become sources of serious disorders, moral and mental, if they are allowed to remain repressed and concealed. He receives the pardon and absolution for which he longs, through a sacrament so convincing that he goes from its gentle ministration in peace, and in the firm assurance that the Lord hath put away his sins.
He receives the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of his Saviour Jesus Christ and is assured thereby of His favor and goodness. His body is made clean, his soul washed. He is made one body with his Saviour, that his Saviour may dwell in him, and he in his Saviour. He receives the assistance of grace whereby he may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as God has prepared for him to walk in. He can do all things now through Christ who strengthened him.
The Christian has, moreover, the experience of centuries to draw from. Take the matter of dealing with any kind of evil thoughts as a case in point. He is instructed in the technique. He is taught how to distinguish between a thought and a suggestion.
A suggestion is only the presentation of an idea. It can only become a thought after it has been carefully considered, deliberately received and consciously reserved for positive action. If such consent is denied, the suggestion should be treated in a religious matter precisely as one would treat a rejected suggestion in a secular matter, as dismissed and to be given no further consideration.
Affectionately in Our Lord,