Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
In the Collect for today we pray to Our Lord for the ministers and stewards of His mysteries. On Wednesday and Friday and Saturday of this week we shall pray for those who are to be admitted to Holy Orders.
In the Preface to the Ordinal we read, "It is evident unto all men, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these three Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church—Bishops, Priests and Deacons, which offices were evermore had in such reverend estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by public Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And, therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest or Deacon in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."
The ministers of the mysteries of Our Lord serve Him as stewards. The test of the fidelity of their stewardship is that they shall rightly administer that which has been entrusted to them, and that not as their own, but as Christ's, whose stewards they are. There is no function committed by God to man which requires so complete a surrender of the individual to the office of administration.
Ordination demands the complete sacrifice of the individual. It demands the losing of the life of the individual man that he may find his new life as a priest. As a priest he brings to his people that which is not his own, but his Lord's who sends him. The gifts he bears can be given by no one except God alone. The gifts received by the people to whom he ministers are the gifts of God. The priest is the steward. God is the giver.
Bound up with the prayers for the ministers and stewards are the prayers for the people who are to be the partakers of the mysteries. We are reminded of the first coming of Our Lord. We are reminded of His second coming. His first coming was in great humility. His second coming will be in glorious majesty. His first coming was to save. His second coming will be to judge.
In the meanwhile the hearts of the disobedient must be turned to the wisdom of the just. The Advent note of repentance, of turning, is sustained. This is our responsibility, to rightly use the mysteries of grace. The best way and the only way to appreciate the blessings of the means of grace is to use them. We learn the theology of the Sacraments by humbly, simply and devoutly using them. The more we consciously depend upon the Sacraments as the means of grace necessary for our salvation, the more we shall hold in reverend estimation the Sacrament of Holy Orders, through which those Sacraments are given to us, and the more steadfast we shall be in safeguarding its continuance, and reverent use and esteem in this Church, beyond all possibility of confusion or doubt or question.
The Collect also teaches us the duty of examining our hearts. When we pray for the, "Turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just," we are not praying for our neighbors, we are praying for ourselves. Our concern is with our own disobedient hearts.
Most of us find this difficulty sufficiently engrossing to leave us no time to judge others. But the more strictly we judge ourselves, the more sympathetic we shall be with each other. The more charitable we are, the better we shall pray for each other, that the Lord at His second coming to judge the world may find us an acceptable people in His sight.
Affectionately in Our Lord,