Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Today is the Third Sunday before Lent. The Church bids us to prepare ourselves for due observance of the great penitential season. Lent is a penitential season. The emphasis throughout the Forty Days is on repentance. There is a definite requirement for "such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion."
But the acts and exercises of devotion are penitential. We are to use every known and prescribed means for the cultivation of true repentance. Prayer, a regulated measure of abstinence, alms giving, are means to an end. The end is the change of mind, and the surrender of the will, which is the substance of repentance. It is not necessary and generally inadvisable that this change should be accompanied by extraordinary emotional activity. The Church enjoins self-discipline, self-control as the better way. This means discipline and control of the emotions in order that there may be no distractions, nor disturbances likely to interfere with the interior quietness so necessary for a sound judgment and a steady will.
This is the meaning and purpose of repentance. We must remind ourselves at this point, if we need to be reminded, that repentance is a gift of God. We must obtain it from God. The sorrow of repentance is Godly sorrow. It comes from God. It leads back to God. It leaves the person who has received and followed it in the possession and power of the mind of Christ. It stablishes the persevering penitent under the absolute ownership and the uncontrolled power of God. It develops faith.
Remorse, or biting natural sorrow, while it may serve for its moment, is a morbid, and if persisted in, a deadly, thing. It is not Godly. It leads directly away, and as far as possible from God. It leaves its victims imprisoned in walls of its own making. It develops despair. There is no need of enlarging upon it. Its tragedies are of daily occurrence.
Repentance is the only refuge from remorse. But are either necessary? The only thing left as a third choice is indifference. But indifference will not do. It does not satisfy. It does not last. Always there is the certainty of a rude awakening. It is bound to come. When it does come the choice must be made between repentance and remorse. Repentance will mean life. Remorse will mean death.
Lent brings us the good news of repentance and life. It ushers in the spring-time of souls. It lets in the light and heat and power of the love of God upon the soul. It bathes the heart in the Godly sorrow that quickens repentance, reveals the reality of forgiveness and illumines the former night with the light of the dawn of a new day. It was well named "dear Feast of Lent." So it is for repentant sinners the world over.
Lent opens and closes doors and sets the sinner free for the great adventure of penitence. It leads first of all to the desert where the Saviour submitted Himself to be tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. In His victory the battling penitent sees the pledge of his own. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
For the first four weeks the practises of self-discipline train the Christian to enter upon the rigors of the Passion. The lesson of the flesh subdued to the spirit, which was the lesson of the Desert, will have seasoned the soul for the lesson of the Passion. For one week, Passion Week, the Christian will meditate as best he can upon the Saviour's sufferings as each day brings him nearer to Holy Week. Before that week arrives, he will do well to look squarely at his own sufferings and to let the mind that was in Christ Jesus be in him. Whatever his cross may be, he will take it up and follow on. The Passion of Our Lord will teach him how to triumph over pain. Pain remains. But what of that? If one knows how to conquer it.
Then Lent will have prepared the Christian for the climax of the Cross. He will climb Calvary, embrace the Cross, unite himself with the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, who taketh away his own sins.
Then he will wait for the third day. On that day he will see his last enemy, death, destroyed.
Affectionately in Our Lord,