Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
QUINQUAGESIMA SUNDAY, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
On this Sunday next before Lent, the Collect teaches us to pray for the most excellent gift of Charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before God.
The Epistle gives a catalogue of splendid gifts, tongues of men and angels, gifts of prophecy, understanding of mysteries and all knowledge; faith, philanthropy, and even submission to martyrdom; only to end by saying that without charity the possessor of any one or all of these outward signs is nothing, and profits nothing, unless Charity is the inward reality within the outward sign. We have the parable of the tares and the wheat over again.
Saint Paul lists the qualities in Charity. "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Saint Paul declares that prophecy shall fail, tongues shall cease, knowledge shall vanish away. Faith, Hope, Charity are the abiding virtues: But the greatest of these is Charity.
Charity is more than a natural benevolence. It is a spiritual gift. Since it is not to be found in our natural selves, we are to seek it in God. So the Collect teaches us to pray, "Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of Charity."
Charity was one of the virtues given to us in Baptism. It was strengthened and confirmed in us in Confirmation. It is nourished and increased in Holy Communion. It is exercised and developed by habitual acts.
The exercise of Charity, by which we seek stability in this virtue, meets active resistance and constant opposition in our natural selves, Therefore we are constrained to self-discipline in order that we bring the rebellious natural instincts into subjection to supernatural law. Self-discipline is never purposelessly negative. It is always directed toward a definite end. It rejects the lower in order that it may attain the higher. It restrains the less worthy in order that it may release the more worthy. It imposes a service in order that it may win a freedom.
This is the distinctive characteristic of Christian asceticism. It leads one to lose his life in order to find it. Its principle applies to every department of life. Every attainment worth having is won at the cost of self-denial, self-discipline, self-sacrifice.
Growth in Charity then is the purpose of the "measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion," prescribed by the Church for Lent. Whatever the individual rule, determined by the Church's general requirement, may be, the cultivation of devotion is the motive. Devotion means the giving of self to God and to those for whose well-being we are responsible. That self-giving is the love that fulfils the law of Charity.
Lent will lead us on to the Hill of the supreme self-giving of Our Lord, who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
Lent devotion will not make us self-centred. On the contrary it will take us out of ourselves. It will arouse us to contrition. It will stir us to look unto Jesus the Author and finisher of our faith. It will move us to make use of all the means of grace to be found in the Church.
The extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion will serve to raise the standard of the ordinary acts and exercises throughout the rest of the year.
Affectionately in Our Lord,