Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, 1943.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Last Sunday the Collect for the day directed our prayer toward bodily discipline. The Collect for this Sunday directs us to pray for grace to exercise mental discipline. We are to pray that we may be kept inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt us; and that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee."
The exercise of mental discipline is the way of peace so long as it leads the mind to stay itself in God. The mind will find perfect peace only in the peace of God. It passes understanding, yet it keeps both mind and heart in the knowledge and love of God.
Humility, next to faith, is the first requisite. "Almighty God, Who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves," is the first approach to God for preparation for mental self-discipline. This confession marks an advance in self-knowledge. It is probably a costly offering of humiliation and most acceptable to God. It opens the way for so much.
When we really know that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, then we are ready to turn to God, and really mean it. We have learned the first part of our lesson. Evil thoughts assault and hurt the soul; and we have no power of ourselves to defend ourselves. Evil thoughts must be dealt with. But how?
First of all we must remember that temptation is not sin. A temptation to an evil thought is not sin. The temptation presents a suggestion which would lead to sin of some kind. This is the first stage of the temptation. However much it may disturb the mind and however long the duration, there is no sin as yet.
The suggestion may present an attraction. However strong this maybe, there is no sin as yet. The person thus tempted must then judge. Is this an evil suggestion? If the answer is that the suggestion is evil, then if the person refuses to consent and denies further consideration of the matter, there has been no sin, because there has been no consent. This process applies to every moral act, of every kind or description, which calls for a moral judgment.
Whatever our avocation may be, whatever the environment may be, we are all of us daily and constantly called upon to give moral judgments. Our conduct is determined and our character is formed by our judgments and subsequent actions. If and when we are in doubt concerning a matter of secular ethics we may and should consult a person whom we consider sound and competent as a moral guide.
If it is a spiritual matter and we require further comfort and counsel, the Church has provided that we may have opportunity to go to some Minister (a Bishop, or a Priest) that we may receive "such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness." The Church in her own sphere has further power and commandment "to declare and pronounce to her people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins."
In resisting temptations to evil thoughts of any and every kind, there is usually a tendency to become panic stricken. This is particularly apt to be the case with persons of very sensitive conscience. Such persons will have a strong impulse to self-accusation. They will be fearful lest they may have given consent to the evil suggestions. Or that their resistance was inadequate. They will be strongly inclined to question the advice and decisions of their advisors, clerical or lay. They will torture themselves with scruples.
Their rescue from this unhappy and futile state can only be effected by the resolute insistence of their advisors. The moral theologians all agree as to the advice to be given under such circumstances. It is concisely stated by the author of the Spiritual Combat, "You have the right to believe yourself victorious, so long as you are not sure you have fallen."
Affectionately in Our Lord,