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Blog Post #42: Letters From the Saints!

By Carol Kurivial | September 14, 2020

Saints | Letter Writing | Lost Art Form | Lessons | Lasting Legacy

Many of mine are in the middle drawer of my nightstand. I guess I felt that location would keep them close to my heart and at the ready for all the times I would need inspiration.

Where do you keep yours? Most of us have them. Or, at least, I like to think we do.

I’m talking about letters. And not just any letter, but the ones that are sent to us by the precious people in our lives...the ones we just can’t seem to let go of because of who sent it, what they mean to us, the time in which they wrote it, or the powerful line or two that we never want to forget.

A year or so ago I found a letter my mom wrote me when I was about nine years old and attending Dominican Camp for Girls on Kelley’s Island for two weeks. I was homesick and she was encouraging me to stay the course. And just a few days ago I found a letter that a dear college friend had written due to a conflict she had with my wedding shower date. It, too, touched my heart as I remembered our treasured friendship. I still have letters my Grandma Jones sent me and nearly every love letter my husband wrote me in college during our dating years when phone calls were expensive and sparse, and communicating entailed more than pressing a few buttons on a cell phone. 

Letters are a lost art form, which makes them all the more treasured. And not only are they an art form, but they oftentimes make you laugh, make you cry, or leave you clinging to a piece of sage advice here, or a nugget of wisdom there. 

The Saints have written many such letters and I wonder how many of us have taken advantage of their profound offerings? Oh, sure, they might not have actually addressed the letter to us personally, but so what! No one says we can’t benefit from others’ letters. 

Catherine of Siena, for example, wrote over 382 letters. She used a lot of metaphors, profound, yet practical language, and was impressively aware of her audience (which was vast and included politicians, royalty, disciples, and even her confessor). She had this to say to Pope Gregory XI, “...take heart and don’t be afraid, for God’s providential help will always be with you. Don’t be surprised even though you see a great deal of opposition, and see that human help is failing us, and that those who should be helping us most disappoint us and act against us. Don’t be afraid, but even more self-confident; don’t give up or restrain your sweet holy desire, but let it be more enkindled with each day that passes.”

She could say the same to each of us today! Yes?

Ignatius of Loyola was another avid letter writer and is said to have written over 7,000 letters. One of those letters was all about the care we should take in writing our letters. He was apparently adamant about the importance of rewriting, rereading, revising, and proofreading in letter writing. I’m laughing as I’m typing this and hoping my children will eventually read this blog and cut me a little slack about their memories of my proofreading of their school papers. I was infamous for the retort, “Do NOT give me anything you haven’t proofread yourself at least three times!” Kristen says it was five, but I think she’s exaggerating! (I DO clearly remember once throwing a paper back at her because it presented as if “it had been written by a second grader!” She was a high schooler at the time!) Maybe that’s one reason I’m so fond of Ignatian Spirituality. He and I were on the same page as it applies to rewriting, rereading, revising and proofreading! But, the truth is, he had MUCH more to say about matters far more important than revising and proofing, and if you check out some of his letters, you won’t be disappointed!

There are many others to choose from, of course! A dear couple from the church we attend once gifted me with a book about St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She, too, wrote a plethora of letters. I remember being surprised, but also relieved, to read in the book that she was often deeply troubled and tormented about her faith and even went through many seasons of doubt about God. Yes, this great saint who was a true crusader for the sick, dying and deeply marginalized, struggled! Proof came in the form of her many letters that clearly pointed to her deep and dark night of the soul journey through life. Another great read, if you’re interested, is “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.” It’s a compilation of her letters written to colleagues and superiors over a period of 66 years. (Incidentally, she always wanted her letters to be destroyed. The Vatican ordered that they be preserved as potential relics of a potential saint and I’m thankful they did. After all, St. Mother Teresa had some pretty incredible things to say that any and all humans can benefit from reading.) 

Hopefully, something from this blog has inspired you to do some of your own digging into the worth and wisdom of letters from saints! Trust me, these people don’t get canonized for no good reason!

It has been said that, “Writing letters is the purest form of friendship humans can possibly express. We capture ourselves in a moment, and then we give that moment to someone else.” (Anonymous) 

That’s what the saints did, and that’s what we need to do as well. It’s all about capturing significant moments from significant people via letters...and being blessed by those moments...even all these decades (and even centuries) later!


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