by Father Mark Goldasich
It’s only by God’s good grace that I didn’t spill hot coffee all over myself the other morning.
I had just booted up the computer and opened my e-mail program. The first one I saw had arrived overnight and was from an address that I knew well, but hadn’t seen in my inbox for a very long time. Because I was so excited to get to it, I almost dumped my mug of steaming caffeine all over me — and the keyboard.
The e-mail came from a longtime (and now long ago) friend, whom I’d lost track of after college. A few years ago, through the wonders of e-mail (and the college’s alumni association), we were able to reestablish contact. Then, as life often does, things got hectic and we lost touch again. Occasionally, I would send out an email to my friend, but I’d heard nothing back until this past Tuesday morning. The subject line read: “I found an old E-mail from you and wondered if you are still out there???” I can’t describe how delighted I felt to hear from this friend once again.
Isn’t it fascinating how powerful letters from friends and family can be, whether electronic ones or the good old-fashioned handwritten types? They bring a smile to the face and a warm feeling to the heart. They are a lifeline of caring between the sender and the receiver.
On page 16 of this week’s Leaven, you’ll read about Pope Benedict XVI of- ficially opening a jubilee year honoring St. Paul, on the occasion of the 2,000th year (roughly) since his birth. As you know, St. Paul was a prolific letter writer. There are 13 letters in the New Testament attributed to him, although Scripture scholars acknowledge that he probably didn’t actually write all of them. The ones that most scholars agree were written by Paul are 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians and Romans.
In fact, Paul’s letters are the oldest part of the New Testament; many of them predate the Gospels. These letters give us an incredible peek into the life and issues of the earliest Christians. More than that, though, his letters give us a glimpse of Paul himself.
On most Sundays, the second reading at Mass comes from a letter of St. Paul. Unfortunately, I get the sense as I celebrate the Mass each weekend that people tend to “space out” during the second reading. Part of the problem may be that Paul’s letters can be very dense at times and the English translations are sometimes not terribly smooth.
An easy way to begin our jubilee year of Paul is to make it a priority to listen carefully each weekend to that second reading. In fact, it’s a good idea to read the passage to yourself before Mass. That way you’ll have some idea of what’s coming, and it might make the proclamation during Mass more understandable. Also, most Bibles have an introductory article before each of Paul’s letters. Take the time to read that introduction at home sometime, as it will help to put things into context.
Secondly, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’d like to propose a unique way of honoring St. Paul in this special jubilee year: Let’s write letters ourselves.
Although electronic ones do “count,” I’d encourage you to focus particularly on the good old handwritten variety. Yes, it takes longer, costs at least 42 cents, and is probably an inefficient way to communicate nowadays. But because it’s so rare anymore to receive a letter by mail, it will be all the more precious. It will truly stand out and be remembered and treasured. My goal is to write one letter by hand a month (although I’m hoping to do more than that).
Furthermore, I’m going to push myself to answer personal e-mails in a more timely fashion. (That probably only requires that I not surf the Web as much and devote that time instead to writing back to others.)
Let’s pay tribute to this great letter writer of the New Testament by keeping in touch with those we love and respect. In doing so, may we discover what St. Paul understood so well: Letter writing isn’t just a way to communicate, it’s a wonderful way to pray as well.