Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
QUINQUAGESIMA SUNDAY, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The final words of preparation for Lent are given to us today. The Collect is a prayer for Charity. The Epistle explains Charity. The Gospel exemplifies Charity. The lesson is clear.
Growth in charity is to be our common aim. Our measures of abstinence; our extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion will be determined and directed by circumstances of age, avocation and physical capacity. Our particular intentions will indicate particular emphasis upon the besetting sins which we have set ourselves to overcome; upon the opposite virtues which we have set before ourselves for attainment. But for all of us alike the virtue of charity will be the goal of desire. Charity, the Collect teaches, is the most excellent gift; the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before God.
It is conceivable, as Saint Paul tells us in the Epistle, that one might practise heroic acts of self-discipline, philanthrophy and even what would seem to be martyrdom, and yet lack the essential virtue which provides the motive that makes words and works meritorious. Since charity is the test by which the impressive achievements mentioned in Saint Paul's list are to be judged, how much more it applies to those which we humbler and less ambitious and less heroic folk set for ourselves in Lent.
Whatever our self-imposed regulations may be, (and by these I mean the personal regulations which are attempted beyond, but in the spirit of, the generally prescribed regulations of the Church) the purpose of each course in self-discipline must be the cultivation of charity. We are to be stern with ourselves in order that we may become kind to others. Indeed without self-discipline we are bound to be emotional, temperamental, unreasonable, unsympathetic, resentful, quick-tempered, unkind, harsh and cruel. Only the self-disciplined can be uniformly, dependably kind. The self-disciplined understand how hard it is to be good. So they are able to forgive.
The self-disciplined remember that God has been long-suffering with them. They understand how important it is to suffer long with others. It must always be long. Sometimes it must be life-long. We cannot change ourselves in a minute or a month. But we can change. Only we must have, and give, time.
The self-disciplined are aware of God's kindness. They are aware of the miracles of change that kindness can work. The self-disciplined realize that human kindness may be the only conscious contact that some persons may have in this world of the kindness of God.
The self-disciplined will not feel inclined to be puffed up. No one knows better than they that they have no call for self-complacency.
And so with all the other manifestations of charity mentioned in the Epistle. The person who has seriously sought self-conquest will have learned the values of the virtues for which he has painfully struggled. And he will have learned from experience that Charity is the greatest of the virtues, and that it makes easier the attainment of the other virtues. He will have learned that charity which works no ill to his neighbor is the fulfilling of the law. He will have learned that there is no fear in charity; but perfect charity casteth out fear.
When the self-disciplined person arrives at this stage of escape from the spirit of fear, he has gained the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. He genuinely loves his neighbor because He really loves God. He loves God because God first loved him. He has realized as he never did before the spirit of adoption, whereby he cries, "Abba, Father". And he has a new commandment, that he who loveth God, loveth his brother also.
Growth in charity is the test and the reward of a well-spent Lent.
Affectionately in Our Lord,