Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Gospel for today gives to us a parable; the parable of the Tares. Saint Matthew's Gospel gives us seven of Our Lord's parables: the Sower, the Tares, the Mustard Seed, the Leaven, the Hid Treasure, the Pearl, the Net.
A parable is a narrative based upon a fact in the natural world, designed to illustrate and impress a spiritual lesson. The commentators tell us that Our Lord did not begin to make use of parables until opposition to His teaching began. The parables were used for a double purpose; to reveal doctrine to those who were receptive and to conceal it from those who were unreceptive. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Tares are weeds that look so much like wheat that they cannot be distinguished from wheat until the time of ripening when they are discovered to be fruitless.
The wheat represents true religion. The tares represent false religion. Our Lord is the sower of the seeds of true religion. The devil is the sower of the seeds of false religion. The lesson of the parable is that every manifestation of religion must be subjected to the closest scrutiny and tested by its results in character. "By their fruits ye shall know them." We cannot judge ourselves by appearances but only by results.
The Epistle for today gives a list of tests of true religion. These tests may be applied to each one of our devotional practises. Each practise may be dear to us by inclination, desire and habit. This is all as it should be providing that we are seeking to cultivate something more than pleasurable habits of devotion. We must be sincere in our attachments to habits of prayer, of the use of the Sacraments, of worship. The test of our sincerity will be made by self-examination. The questions to be asked in self-examination are: "What is the result of my devotional practises? Is the result a heart of compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, a disposition to for-give? Am I growing in charity? Unless I have set my mind, my will, my heart, with all my strength to the cultivation of charity, persevering through failures, I may be a nominal Christian, but I am not a real one. There are more tares than wheat in me.
The Church is a kind mother of penitents. She is always that. We love to see her in the majesty and beauty which is her right as the Bride of Christ. We love to see her as the King's daughter all glorious within; vested in her clothing of wrought gold. We love the splendor of her sanctuary, in which her King is enthroned. We love the stately ceremonies of her Liturgy. But often in the midst of some festal procession; with crucifix, censers, torches, banners and vestures of cloth of gold, our minds turn with gratitude to the humble refuge which she has provided for her penitents.
We are thrilled by the Hosannas and Alleluias, but we love best and most lastingly the language of penitence which she has taught us for intimate use when she has laid aside her magnificence, and has come to us as a gentle mother, in simple attire to her not very good, and often very bad, children, to anoint and cheer soiled faces with the abundance of the grace bestowed ever since the first Pentecost.
The Hosannas are piercing. The Alleluias are glorious. But the language that makes us feel most at home is penitential. "We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed." We trust her absolutions. We give thanks for the Spiritual Food with which we are fed at her Altars. We are consoled by the confidence of a certain faith and the comfort of a reasonable, religious and holy hope, that at harvest time there may be found in us wheat to be gathered into God's barn.
Affectionately in Our Lord,