Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
SEPTUAGESIMA SUNDAY, 1943.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
Septuagesima Sunday is the first of three Sundays of preparation for Lent. The other Sundays are Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. The Collects for these Sundays contain petitions for special gifts necessary for a definite purpose in the observance of Lent.
As the Epistle for today reminds us, we must be certain in our minds as to our purpose. We must have a determination in our wills to achieve it. We must be willing to pay the price of resolute endeavor.
Saint Paul reminds us that the athlete does this. The Christian must do the same. He must train himself as a spiritual athlete. "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."
The reward conferred upon the spiritual athlete is so much greater than any prize that the world has to give, that it is only to be expected that the effort to attain it will be more exacting. There is this to be remembered about the prize. Saint Paul tells us that it is incorruptible. It will never fade. When all the earthly prizes that we have desired and won or lost have faded and been forgotten, the spiritual prizes will remain and will be treasured.
But this is not all that ought to be said about these incorruptible prizes. They are not exceptional rewards for merits beyond the reach of any of us. In the case of aspirants for earthly prizes, one receives the prize. The others may try, but only one wins. But in the spiritual race there is no uncertainty. The spiritual athlete runs "not as uncertainly;" he so fights "not as one that beateth the air."
This certainty is his sustaining comfort so long as he "keeps under his body and brings it into subjection." Everything depends upon his voluntarily accepted self-discipline. But that is required of every one who is trying to win something worth winning, or at least worth trying for.
What are the gifts we are to pray for in the Collects prescribed for use before Lent? Use them and you will have your own answer. Very likely you will be conscious of a special emphasis upon some word or sentence. This will be due to some spiritual experience of your own. So you may be led into making each Collect a subject for meditation during the weeks between Sundays. Generally speaking I think we shall find an emphasis in which we shall all share. The personal one we may still keep for personal use.
In the Collect for today it is clear that the general intention is for God's mercy. Next Sunday, Sexagesima, the general intention will be for God's power. For the Sunday next after, the general intention is for God's peace. Mercy--Power—Peace. Whatever particular prize we may struggle for in the coming Lent, we shall all need to have as a foundation a personal knowledge gained by personal experience in Sacraments and prayer by which we have attained a first hand contact with God's mercy, power and peace.
The mercy of God is pointed out to us in the Collect in which we first of all acknowledge and confess that we worthily deserve to be punished. This indicates true repentance. The true penitent does not seek nor ask deliverance from punishment. He asks only to be delivered from sin. He is content with that deliverance and he appeals to Divine Mercy beyond justice.
The power of God is the centre of the Sexagesima Collect. The true penitent knows too much about himself to put his trust in anything that he does. He relies only, and confidently, upon God's power to defend him against all adversity.
The peace of God is the centre of the Quinquagesima Collect. The peace of God is rooted in charity which is the very bond of peace.
Charity establishes right relationship with God and our neighbor. In this right relationship is true peace, because it is the peace of God.
Affectionately in Our Lord,