Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, 1941.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Yesterday we observed the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. We are waiting today for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, commonly called the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin. This Festival we shall observe. next Sunday. We are free today to direct our thoughts to Saint Paul's conversion.
The Epistle for the Conversion of Saint Paul records the events connected with the Conversion. With these events in our minds we may give our attention to the mystery of conversion.
It is a mystery. The explanation can only be found in the fact that conversion is an act of God working in the soul of a receptive subject. The startling thing about a conversion is that it brings to the surface a personality, which is the exact opposite to the character, hitherto commonly known.
Conversion is a turning of the mind, the will, and the heart; of the soul and body, so that the subject is moved to renounce an inferior life with all its works and to choose a superior life, with new standards and ideals. The former things pass away. All things become new. This is the beginning of the vision. But it is only the beginning.
You remember how Saul yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, desired letters from the high priest giving him power to bring bound unto Jerusalem, all men or women who were following the Christian way of life. He firmly and passionately believed that in so doing he was doing God service.
Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
This was the beginning of Saul's new life. It was a blinding experience. Then Ananias was sent to him. Ananias went his way, and entering into the house where Saul was, and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales, and he received sight forthwith, and arose and was baptized. We know what happened to him after that. We know what great things he suffered. We know how he became a model penitent. We know how he emerged from his experience, no longer the former Saul, but a new Paul, Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul a martyr for his Lord's sake.
There are more sudden conversions in our time than we are aware of. The lives of such converts are for the most part hidden from the eyes of the world. Occasionally we get glimpses of them in books of spiritual biography. Occasionally we have contact with them.
Better even than that we are allowed not one, but repeated, conversions of our own. We recall them with deepened penitence, chastening humility and profound gratitude. We count them as crisis in our spiritual lives. Ordinarily they came as gradual awakenings, rather than as sudden happenings.
This is the gentle progress made possible by the Church for which the martyr converts shed their blood. We are brought up in the Church. We receive the Sacraments. We are taught the practise of public worship and private prayer. We are given Christian teaching in faith and morals. It is made possible for us to gradually awaken to the significance of all this.
As the years go on our minds are illuminated, our wills are adjusted, our hearts are sensitized. So at last our series of awakenings result in completed conversion.
Affectionately in Our Lord,