A Vincentian View: “Writing Letters”
When I worked for the Congregation and the Company in Europe, I resolved at the very beginning of my tenure to write home once-a-week. I carried out that commitment faithfully. Little danger exists that my letters will be collected and made into required reading for any literature class, but they were filled with personal tidbits and stories of my adventures. I suspect that these missives still find a place on the hard drive of one or both of my sisters. I still write letters to the family when I am away for any appreciable length of time.
One thing that has become clear to me is that some people can really write beautiful and revealing letters. Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam’s letters to Amélie capture something of their love. The letters of Vincent and Louise to each other and to other members of the Vincentian family are filled with practical instruction and deep faith for every age. The letters of the Popes, and in these days those of Francis, summon the Christian people to reflect upon the challenge of the Gospel as it needs to be lived out in the modern era. Good letters are not just informational but revelatory of the heart and soul of the author. On occasion, I envy the talent which gives rise to these texts and wonder whether or not I am capable of such wonderful expression.
I will guess that no individual has had his letters so frequently read and quoted than St. Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles established local Churches and then wrote to them as he continued his journeys on behalf of his Lord. A real value emerges for us when, in the midst of our celebrations, we try to listen to Paul’s texts as letters. Or, when we pick up our Scripture and read his offerings as being addressed to us and our parish. They were written for particular communities and have an interpersonal as well as intimate character. We can hear them as such. Paul reveals his deepest self to his correspondents and challenges with words of energetic proclamation. His letters reveal the truth about himself and his beliefs.
Several experiences over the past weeks have made me think about letters. Twice I have heard people speak about receiving a handwritten letter from someone and how much they appreciated the time and care which went into that effort. One of the books that I recently read contained many letters in which real people were sharing their feelings and hopes with one another. I felt privileged to be able to respectfully listen in. The carefully chosen words revealed the studied reflection and intended revelation of the author.
I have been thinking about letters because of the stupefying number of spoken words which are part of our world and the even more overwhelming amount of written words. Such a volume lessens the impact of any one sharing. Letters demand more attention and engagement. They remind me of what prayer should look and sound like.