Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




The Epistle for today emphasizes the virtue of Charity. The Collect leads us to pray for Charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before God.

On Ash Wednesday we shall begin to pray for the gift of contrition, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain perfect remission and forgiveness.

Every sin is a violation of charity, a violation of the two great commandments. "Thou shall love the Lord thy God." "Thou shalt love thy neighbor." On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Repentance is a revelation of the lack of the one virtue which is the bond of all virtues. The awakening to the sense of sorrow that our sins have offended God and worked ill to our neighbor is the moving cause for repentance, for true contrition. So long as sorrow for sin is self-centred, it is only remorse. It is concerned with self love. It grieves over the injury done to self. It mourns over pains of sense and pains of loss. It laments for lack of peace.

Remorse serves a purpose. It awakens the beginning of something which can be used to lead to repentance. But until it is so used it has in it the dangers of presumption and despair. Remorse has in it the deadly drug which dulls faith and hope and charity.

Repentance on the other hand is illumined by these virtues. The greatest of these is charity. The true penitent seeks first of all the virtue of charity, and after that to die to sin for charity's sake.

The Christian life is a positive life. Christian repentance leads to positive virtues. There is nothing purposeless in Christian self-discipline. Therefore a good Lent is a Lent in which we set ourselves to repent of our sins in order that we may increase in charity.

The great penitents who became great saints have all been distinguished by their great charity for great sinners. Why was this? They knew from their own experience the trials and perils of temptations. Having been tempted they were able to help those who were tempted. The saint knows temptations and he knows them with a far deeper knowledge than the worldling. He understands the tempted as the worldling never can understand them. He has a sympathy with the tempted that the worldling cannot even suspect. He sees in the tempted the possibilities of sainthood.

The worldling remains a worldling just because he has no aspirations to be anything else. There is nothing to tempt him because he has yielded to all his temptations.

But the saint understands this and so he understands the worldling better than the worldling understands himself. The saint can love the worldling as the world never does nor ever can. The saints are life-long pentitents because they love God. They are forgiven penitents because they have loved much. They have learned the meaning of repentance.

The saint suffers long and is kind; he envieth not; he vaunteth not himself, is not puffed up. He seeketh not his own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; he beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. He learned charity in the school of penitence.

This is what we are given a chance to do in Lent. Lent will be our school of penitence. We shall examine our consciences, confess our sins, discipline our natures and offer our devotions. Underneath it all we shall have in mind the special intention of praying to the Holy Ghost that He may pour into our hearts the most excellent gift of charity.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury