So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Love letters and where to find them.

Daily Mass goers, even Sunday attendees, are regularly exposed to beautiful letters written by the Apostles and the prophets of Israel.

The writings of the Bible are very much love letters, letters which guide the soul to the Lover Who is God Himself. Some of those "letters", especially those of the prophets and the Psalms, describe in no uncertain terms the terms (boundaries, advantages, obligations) of a loving relationship between God and the soul.

The Ten Commandments, too often looked upon by so-called "moderns" as abolished rather than fulfilled (St Matthew 5:17-20), are songs of love. They are the bar lines in the music of life, life eternal and temporal. They are the form or pattern of true romance between God and humankind.
O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is oil poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.
Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
—Song of Songs 1:2-4
The four Gospels are love letters supreme. God gives us grace in Christ Jesus to love even our enemies. The parable of the Prodigal Son (St Luke 15:11-32), the woman annointing Jesus' feet with expensive oil and her tears (St Luke 7:36-50; St John 12:1-8), Jesus healing the sick and possessed—these are a few of the many examples that remind us of God's love for each and every soul. Someone touched and moved by these "love letters" is blessed, a witness to the love of God.

The Beatitudes sing of the harmony between the Lover and His Beloved, the Church. We are blessed when we are immersed in the relationship of salvation into which Jesus calls us.

The Sacred Liturgy, the Mass, is saturated with love letters. The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), the perfect prayer through which Jesus makes present upon the altar His Body and Blood, is a love letter that makes present heaven on earth, a love letter through which Jesus enables us to enter into His eternal Presence. Time and eternity meet. The Nuptial Mass makes explicit the love between a man and woman which mirrors the love Jesus has for His Bride the Church. In a sense, every Mass is a nuptial Mass. The communion between Christ and His Bride the Church is consummated on the Cross. The Crucifixion is made present in every valid Mass. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we see the consummation of heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:9-11), of Jesus the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church.

Flat Earth

Among younger people, and others not so young, the art of writing letters is being lost to a few characters on a flat digital screen. Saying much by saying little was once a virtue. Now, saying little is... saying little. People check their Facebook pages with a frequency that tends to confirm a disordered need for attention. How many 'likes' does your page have? How many 'followers' does your Twitter page have? There should be no surprise that, as militant secularists have marginalized affiliation with authentic community, people turn to technology to fuel their need for acceptance, meaning and connection. The problem is that technology, while useful to point people in the direction of authentic religion, i.e., toward the Catholic Church, tends to reinforce in those alienated from the truth about man the illusion of community and enables people to avoid the self transcendence and openness to reality beyond the narrow confines of a religion of technology.

Pen Pal or Paypal?

Instead of giving up a food item in one's diet, perhaps a future Lenten practice might be to give up one's smartphone and instead write letters on fine paper sealed and mailed (posted) to a distant friend or family member. How many of us still have actual "pen pals" for whom we package up a neatly written letter? Handwritten letters have a heart that emails (and text messages and other online services) can never match.

Skype Hype?

A handwritten letter may seem passé in this era of instant gratification. Why bother with the folded page, licking a stamp and envelope and waiting days or weeks for a letter to reach its destination when you can instantly dial up a live feed with someone half a world away? Here's a reason—imagination. A letter fuels the imagination. If enjoying anticipation hasn't been completely forgotten in this era of the fast and furious, then the anticipation of the arrival of a letter outweighs the experience of Skype-ing someone a thousand fold. Being made to wait is not a bad thing. People constantly complain about how busy they are, how fast their days-off fly by. I would wager that people don't really want to relax when they are so entranced by a world of instant communication. Has technology really improved the communion between people or has technology only made accessibility easier? And, with that accessibility, a loss of solitude. Constant alerts—disturbingly trite and annoyingly loud soundbites. The worst that can happen with a letter is that one gets a paper cut from opening the envelope. O sweet wound suffered for love of a (love) letter!

The Scent of Things Remembered

We have yet to achieve a digital smell-o-gram. Whereas, in days of yore, one could zap a letter with a hint of perfume or cologne that one's distant friend could identify and immediately associate with one's person, thus intensifying the memory, for example, of conversations shared over dinner or during a long walk or,... and place oneself in another's presence, so-to-speak. We do a similar thing at Mass when incense is used that brings to mind the heavenly aroma of the Presence of God and the scent of prayer. There, in the Mass, Christ becomes really Present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Mass is not merely a memorial of a past event, it is the one and same Sacrifice of Calvary made present on the altar. God gave us the Mass and all the sacraments so that we might enter into communion with Him and receive the grace to grow in holiness, which is to grow in likeness to God. How blessed are we that God shares Himself with us in the intimate loving communion that is the Mass? So then—let us adore Him!

What makes a good love letter?

The following list presents a few thoughts which immediately come to mind. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the combox.
  • the truth (love, hope, joy, trust, sorrow, longing) spoken from the heart with words chosen with care.
  • complete thoughts that leave room for a response.
  • lines that allow vulnerability (or vulnerabilities to be shared).
  • a dash of playful humour.
  • timely words and timeless words.
  • an artful use of space. Space can convey silence or rest wherein one expresses the inexpressible, the ineffable.
  • the inclusion of a (small) personal item: a photo, a swatch of fabric, a pressed flower petal... .
  • as mentioned above, a hint of perfume or cologne.
  • a quote from a comment made by your friend or lover or family member that gifts someone with the knowledge that you listen to them and that you treasure their words, which is to say you treasure him or her.
  • as mentioned above, fine paper.
  • notice of a forthcoming (good) surprise without being told exactly what the surprise entails (... e.g., your showing up on someone's doorstep unannounced).
  • the inclusion of an original poem, however beautifully and/or awkwardly written it might be.

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