My Dear Friends,
I love letters! I fell in love with them at an early age. I was in seventh grade when I got my first foreign pen-pal. Her name was Carla and she lived in Milan, Italy. I remember the excitement of walking out to our mailbox and finding a letter from Carla. I loved her graceful handwriting and the pretty Italian stamps plastered all over the envelope. My second pen-pal was Visnja from Zagreb, Yugoslavia, followed by others in Japan, Singapore, Denmark, and South Africa. I wrote faithfully to these girls (and others closer to home) until I entered the convent in July 1962.
In the novitiate, incoming and outgoing mail was strictly controlled. Mail was distributed once a week—Sunday afternoons—except during Advent and Lent when no mail was allowed. When I was a novice, my mother wrote to me virtually every week. Her letters were filled with homey things about my father’s garden, her canning, our cats and dogs, my sister’s first pregnancy, and my brothers’ work and studies. Sometimes I reread those letters dozens of times. Often I cried. Even today in this age of email, voice mail, and texting, I still cherish getting a real letter in a real envelope written in a person’s real hand.
Why do I love letters so much? First, the arrival of a letter tells me that someone is thinking of me. Is there any greater compliment? And this person took the time to write a letter, address an envelope, lick a stamp, and mail it. Secondly, there’s something almost “immortal” about letters. They last. This means they can be read again and again—even years later. As the writer Liz Carpenter says, “You can’t reread a phone call.”
Another reason I love letters is because letters, like photographs, become more valuable with age. Samuel Butler says, “Letters are like wine; they ripen with keeping.” I still have a few letters from my parents. Just seeing their handwriting makes warms my heart and makes me appreciate them more than ever.
And just think how we’ve all been enriched by letters. Where would we be, for example, without all those letters (called epistles) in the Bible? What if St. Paul had said to Timothy, “I don’t have time to write a letter to those Corinthians. Just tell them I said hi.” I have always enjoyed reading the letters of famous people: Cicero, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Thomas Merton, and St. Julie Billiart, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame. I love the short stories by the great southern writer Flannery O’Connor, but guess what? I love her collection of letters even more! Right now I’m reading the letters of Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven edited by Robert Ellsberg. In these letters I see Dorothy struggling with relationships, faith, work, and the great social issues of her day. Her letters inspire me to face with courage the challenges of my own life and times.
What has been your experience with letters? Do you have any letters you cherish? Have you ever given the gift of a letter to your spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, friends? One of the best letters I ever wrote was to myself. I was on retreat and the director suggested it. I still have it tucked in my Bible and I reread it occasionally. More than once I’ve written letters addressed to God, Jesus, Mary, and St. Julie.
Today might be a good day to ask: what role have letters played in your life? Thank you for reading this “letter” and may God bless you!