Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1941.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
If we would understand, as far as we are able, the mysteries of Our Lord's redemptive life, we must not only follow the steps of His life by devout remembrance, we must identify ourselves with His life. We must, and we can if we will, identify ourselves with Him in Bethlehem, in Nazareth and now in Lent, in the wilderness. We must ask the Holy Ghost to lead us into the solitude of the desert in order that we may be alone with Him.
We may do this in the midst of, and under the constant pressure of, the daily duties of our state of life. Occasional solitude is inescapable at times whether we are living in the quiet country or the crowded city. Perhaps more people are living solitary lives in crowded cities than is possible in the neighborly country.
If solitude envelopes us in lonely self-centredness, it becomes a source of sadness. Empty loneliness is a hitter affliction. It is a dangerous one also, because when it becomes unbearable the temptation presents itself to look for a way of escape, without looking for consequences.
So there is the double tragedy of losing the right way and carrying an intensified loneliness which is more bitter than the former state. Many lives are wrecked and are daily being wrecked by frantic efforts to escape solitude.
The voices of the world are treacherous. There is only one Voice that can be trusted. It speaks from the desert. It is the voice of the Saviour of the lonely. "Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." It can be heard on country roads and city streets. It leads the hearer away from the world into the desert and there the Divine Companion waits to welcome.
The mystery of solitude is explained. To be alone with Him. To sense no presence but His, to hear no voice but His. To share His solitude is the final escape from solitude. Is this an heroic adventure for the few who are saints? No, it is the refuge for the many who are not saints, even as you and I.
I do not mean to say that the way presents no difficulties. But the difficulties are self-made. There is self to be subdued. Self must be subdued to the spirit. This means that the way out of solitude is the way of self-conquest. Temptations are increased seven-fold. But once having found the Person in the desert, the soul is no longer in a state of solitary temptation.
The Person in the desert was led there to be tempted of the devil. He was tempted for us and yet without sin. He offered His temptation for us and won His victory for us. In His victory He made reparation for our defeat. It is His will that He conquers in us and through us. If we continue with Him in His temptation we shall have share and place in a Kingdom, as His Father bath appointed unto Him.
The solace for the solitude and for the temptation is provided for by the prayer life which is the lasting intimacy established by the discipleship of the desert. The experience of continuing with Our Lord in His temptation leads to a deeper understanding of Our Lord; a clearer knowledge of the purpose of our own temptation, and so to a settled conviction that without Him we can do nothing, and that with Him we can do all things. So we find the hope of grace realized in the Sacraments and sustained in the prayer life.
Christians who know the meaning of Lent will not enter upon it with a sad countenance. Christians know the treasure that Lent yields, and where their treasure is, there will their hearts be also.
Affectionately in Our Lord,