My friend Michael Rossmann, SJ, wrote the foreword for a newly published book, Letters to My Lord, written in 1954 by Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ. The little book is a re-publication of spiritual letters written in the middle of the last century, which I find curious. Why these letters, from this particular priest, at this moment in our post-Christian culture?
Learning a little about Fr. Lord helped me understand why. To be honest, I knew nothing about him before I read this book. I had never heard of him, though he is a significant figure--rather a giant of the twentieth century, it seems, and a harbinger of the New Evangelization.
The book's publisher, Ave Maria Press, offers some insight to those who know as little as I did about Fr. Lord:
So I read the letters. And, as Michael Rossmann states in his foreword, "thank God I found this book."
Fr. Lord is everywhere praising God, even when his heart is questioning or fearful. His instinct to praise uplifts and encourages me.
He chooses letters as his medium because he loves words with a passion almost equal to his love for Jesus, the Word of God. Here's how Fr. Lord describes the moment when he realizes how fitting it is to write a letter to God, though it had never occurred to him before:
An extremely practical man, he also admits that writing letters might help him enter into prayer more easily:
The mere fact that Fr. Lord writes any letter at all testifies to faith: he knows Someone receives his letters. God does exist. God listens. God provides. The best of all parents, God draws near to Fr. Lord, and to us all, and satisfies our deep "desire to be known," as Fr. Lord puts it.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
- On motherhood: "My mother (another one of your major blessings for which I could well spend time right here and now in an act of thanksgiving) used to say that the happiest time of her life when I was about four. The age of reason was still ahead. But infancy had passed. I could talk. I could companion her on her junkets to the market. I could kneel beside her, however unintelligently, at church. Her greatest joy was when I held tight to her hand and trotted along at her side. Her heart was moved by the implicit confidence with which I clung to her fingers. She could look down to see my eyes turned up to her in complete trust. I was very much aware of her importance to me."
- On freedom: "Then into the world appears of a sudden the strange, mysterious, capricious, largely unpredictable creature who is man. I am an amazing creature, dear Lord, and I say that in bewilderment, not in pride. I have a thousand laws in my nature by which I breathe and grow and feel and walk and breed and die. And I have a lawlessness that can see the law and trample on it, recognize my own greatest good and reject it, look on the truth and prefer the lie, know my happiness and choose my sorrow, read the signposts along the road to success and tear them down as I turn to the dark, forbidding, repellent path to failure."
- On sin: "You never made two oak leaves look the same. No sand crystals are identical. No two oysters or clams or jellyfish are exactly alike. . . . But when man comes to the thing he does most successfully and constantly--sin--what a tiresome, monotonous job he turns out. He becomes almost like a machine, stamping out innumerable gadgets each undistinguishable from the other."
- On vocation: "We came to wait, as time went on, for the moment when 'vocation' would call us . . . or your voice would remain silent. Some lucky ones among us might hear you say, 'Come, follow me!" For the rest, life would be lived in the realization that you had not called us. We were not among the many who were called or the few who were chosen. It took me a long time to understand the simple truth that you call to us every moment of our lives. I was much older before I began to hear your voice all around me. . . . You called me and spoke to me and whispered to me and if I listened, life could be lived under the direct guidance of your voice."
Please read Letters to My Lord. Read it slowly, piecemeal, bit by bit. Read it with a friend, or a spouse, or a child. Discuss the nuggets you find. And then, when you feel prompted to put your own pen to paper, thank God for having made it so delightful to pray in this way.