Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today carries us into the midst of Our Lord's works and miracles which are the signs of His power and the evidences of His mercy. He is cleansing a leper and healing a man sick of the palsy and grievously tormented. The leper is separated from friends. The man sick of the palsy has a devoted friend. Both are beyond human power to give relief.
The leper can pray. The friend can intercede. Both are assured in their minds of the power of Our Lord. Both lack assurance of the mercy and love of Our Lord. The leper prays, "Lord, if thou wilt." The centurion prays, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." The leper and the centurion made acts of faith in the power of Our Lord. They both hesitated before trusting themselves to His mercy and love. It was not faithlessness exactly; it was the haunting sense of personal unworthiness that held them back.
Our Lord discerned the secrets of their hearts. He recognized their faith. He discerned their humility. He knew what was in their hearts. He cleansed the leper. He healed the centurion's servant. He is the friend of the friendless and the hope of the humble, always and forever.
There is a study in prayer contained in this Gospel, well worth study and remembrance. It leads us straight to the root of the matter. It explains the one difficulty in prayer known at first hand to all of us at one time or another.
Take the leper as the example of a person oppressed by the sense of loneliness in prayer. Who has not experienced it in some degree. The leper's loneliness is far beyond anything one can imagine. The leper was absolutely alone, separated from everyone he loved and depended upon, and worse than separated; he was avoided even by those who were aching to help him and were not allowed to approach him.
His lot is changed today. Men have been moved and guided and enabled to help him. He owes it to the love of God manifested in the miracle recorded in the Gospel for the day, that after centuries he is a patient in a hospital and not an outcast in a desert place. The human mind has been dull to understand and the human heart slow to transmit the Divine love and wisdom and power which flowed so freely through the mind and will and heart of the Incarnate Son of God.
The times have changed, but it is Divine love that has brought about the change. My point is this. The power of the prayer of a lonely person is beyond measure and reckoning. It goes out and on and aids the confraternity of the lonely everywhere. We have only to change the pronoun from the singular to the plural, from I to we, and our prayer ceases to be lonely so far as human companionship is to be considered.
Take the centurion as the example of a person oppressed by the sense of unworthiness in prayer. Surely we know what this means. We know what it means to pray out of a contrite as well as a broken heart. "I do not deserve this favor, how can I ask for it without presumptiousness?" We must not mistake a remorseful, proud heart for a contrite and humble one. True contrition is always accompanied by faith; true humility always inspires hope.
We must banish the thought of trust in our own righteousness for the efficacy of our prayers. "A broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise," should be our ejaculation. The centurion teaches us the lesson. He knows and confesses his unworthiness. He has faith in the love and mercy of Our Lord. He relies solely on that. He is not disappointed. So we, whatever may be our sense of unworthiness, and we ought never to be without it, address our prayers through the merits and mediation of Our Lord. Our Lord knows the sorrows, and the capacity for suffering, of the unworthy. His ears are open unto their prayers. Humility and faith are pleasing to Him. The least worthy of us may appeal to Him with confidence so long as the confidence is not in ourselves but in Him. He will hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto Him.
Affectionately in Our Lord,