Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Letters From Fr. Kinsella, S.J."

I have had the writing bug in me for quite awhile now, but being an amateur I have always had difficulty in (1) getting started and (2) putting my thoughts into a format that folks would enjoy reading. Most of my friends know that I have been very blessed to be educated at Jesuit schools. From St. Ignatius High School, where I first developed my tastes for the classics and was introduced to Chesterton, to Loyola University Chicago, where I continued my classical studies and was introduced to the rich heritage of the Catholic intellectual life--especially the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the writings of Belloc, and the academic tradition of the Jesuits. Integral to this education was my purposeful seeking out of the Jesuit professors in their 70's and 80's and above. These were the most brilliant men in the world. They could hold court with any of the reigning Oxford dons and they would also be just as interested--if not more so--with daily life of a housewife taking care of multiple children. Sadly, most of my professors are now gone. There are only 2 left--both in their eighties--and still teaching at the university. I can say with a fair degree of certitude that I likely learned more through conversations with them than through formal classes.

In this spirit, I have chosen one of these men, Fr. John Kinsella, S.J., Professor of Law (Requiescat in pace), as the inspiration for a series of "letters to a young man" that I am writing. Though Fr. Kinsella is the name I am using, the particular literary device of a "priest-letter writer" is an amalgam of all the old Jesuit professors that I have had and also (Ellen, you'll like this) Prof. Charlie Rice. One of the reasons that I have chosen these gentlemen is that they have maintained the faith throughout most of a very turbulent century, and they have that rare blend of common sense and humility which is severely lacking today.

I will be periodically submitting these "letters" for comment and critique by our friends and colleagues here. I hope that they will be both entertaining and substantive and I look forward to your comments--if you hate it don't be sparing in the criticism!

(This letter is handwritten, it is just typed here for ease of reading.)

July 31, 20--
The Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola

Dear Joe,

It was good seeing you and the family several weeks ago. It sounds like you are quite busy with conditioning for your upcoming football season and getting ready for your junior year. Today is a very special day for us Jesuits as it is the Feast of St. Ignatius. I arose and offered Mass early, as is my custom. Our house has an old chapel with multiple altars where the Fathers may offer their private Masses. I prefer the stillness of the early morning hours when all is quiet and I can most prayerfully unite my heart and mind to Our Lord’s sacrifice. Today I offered Mass for my fellow Jesuits and also for you and the family.

While I have email, I thought that I would write you this letter as it seems to be becoming a lost art. In our technological age, where everything can be done at a moment’s notice, a handwritten letter seems to be a rarity. I recently read a wonderful piece by Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian--I suspect your father may have read some of his stuff--on letter writing. I think it is a wonderful piece and I wrote down several of his passages that really struck me. (Incidentally, I will try to obtain a copy for you and send it to you as I’m sure that you will enjoy it.) Anyway, Kalpakgian writes:

As the world becomes more impersonal and dehumanizing, a personal letter cheers and warms the heart and humanizes daily life. Life is not just business or work but play and delight, and a friendly letter serves no utilitarian purpose but is an activity enjoyable for its own sake.” (New Oxford Review, “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” Sept. 2004)

How true this is! Today, the world seems to be lost in efficiency. A latent attitude that seems to prevail is, “if it takes time, it is not being done right.” Hence our fast food culture. We Americans are famous for our desire for instant gratification. Kalpakgian continues:

Personal letters reassure people that they are unique, not merely social security numbers or anonymous customers. Someone found the time and took the interest and gave priority to the importance of communicating to a friend, relative, or loved one; someone realized the importance of the little things that beautify and civilize daily existence; someone still knows and practices the virtue of graciousness. A friendly letter testifies to the goodness of the human heart.

The arrival of a letter, however, not only rejoices the spirit of the recipient but also expands the heart of the writer. The art of letter writing involves imagining the presence of the other person. The writer must recall everything about the person being addressed -- his character, temperament, sensibility, interests, and background -- and imagine being in his company and holding a conversation with him. Letter writing cultivates in the correspondent the art of pleasing another person by engaging in common topics of interest, displaying a sense of humor, offering wise advice, acknowledging gratitude, or expressing love. Letter writing requires effort, concentration, and thought, even though it can be lighthearted, whimsical, and informal. One must find something to say that is substantive, engaging, or entertaining. In short, letter writing cultivates contemplation, an essential higher mental activity that transcends the mere exchange of information. (NOR, “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” Sept. 2004)

Kalpakgian says it so well! In my day, letter writing was a common thing. It was always exciting to receive a letter from a friend and especially when it was unexpected. I still have some personal handwritten letters from the past that I have saved--some from loved ones, others from very holy men that have meant a lot to me. Anyway, I write these thoughts to you because I prefer to communicate in this way. You remind me a lot of myself when I was younger and I hope that you would consider coming to me should you need anything. I won’t lie to you. I sincerely hope that you consider being a Jesuit one day. I know that you have a girlfriend (didn’t you call her a “knockout?” I would tend to agree.), but you can’t blame me for bringing it up! Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon. Do well on the football field--I hear you guys have a tough schedule this year. Don’t forget to focus on your studies when the term begins as well. Please give my regards to all the family.

In Domino,

Fr. Kinsella


Archbishop Lamy said...

Although letters are a leisurely form of communication, they do create a sense of expectation.

I hope to see the next installment of the correspondence soon!

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