British author Nick Bantock wrote,
“Letter writing is an excellent way of slowing
down this lunatic helter-skelter universe
long enough to gather one’s thoughts.”
In an age of tweeting, texting and
emailing, the art of letter writing is fast becoming
an endangered species.
When I prepare a young couple for
marriage, I give a difficult and sometimes
daunting assignment. I ask the
young man and woman to write each
other a personal and heartfelt letter,
following some surprising and basic
guidelines. I ask that the couple write
from the depths of the heart, and not
share the content of the letter at this
time with the future husband or wife. I
also ask the couple to ponder deeply a
number of questions while preparing to
commit thoughts and feelings to print:
- What does your fiancé or fiancée mean to you?
- How did you meet?
- What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
- How would you describe your future spouse to a complete stranger?
- What qualities do you have in common?
- What new gifts has your future spouse drawn out of you?
- What place does Christ have in your relationship?
- What spiritual steps will you take to ensure that your marriage will endure the good times and bad times now veiled before your eyes?
- How will a sacramental understanding of marriage enrich your relationship?
- What are you doing to ensure that prayer is part of your daily lives, individually and as a couple?
- How will you actively engage yourselves in the life of the parish?
- How will you ensure that your marriage continues for the rest of your life?
Upon receiving these beautifully written
expressions of love and faith, I fold
them into the wedding homily.
The couple’s words are always deep,
meaningful and moving. Sometime they
hear this profound expression of faith and
affection from their loved one for the first
The Church’s theology of
marriage is built upon
the vision that the
sacrament of matrimony
by expressing their
consent before the Church.” (CCC 1623)
This exercise of letter writing, coupled
with sound catechesis, helps couples to
prayerfully contemplate and personally
embrace the Church’s vision that marriage
is mutual, sacramental, faithful and lifelong.
It also aids couples early in wedded life
to invite Christ to become the heart and
soul of their household.
Following the birth of children, I make
a similar request of new parents seeking
baptism from the Church. I ask them to
write a letter to their child, the contents of
which I use in the body of the baptism
homily. This practice, too, builds upon the
Church’s insight that parents are the “nurturers
of the life that God has entrusted to
them.” (CCC 1251)
The sacrament of baptism is described
as “the gateway to life in the spirit, and the
door which gives access to the other sacraments.”
(CCC 1213) This simple letter
writing exercise helps parents to open the
doors of the Church to their child.
In the parents’ letter to their little one, I
ask them to consider:
- Giving gratitude to God for this precious gift of new life.
- Expressing their hopes and desires for the child in the ways of faith.
- Prayerfully probing the rich meaning of baptism as expressed in the Catholic Catechism and in the catechetical materials provided by the parish.
- What role their home parish will play in supporting their responsibility as the first teachers of the faith.
- Contemplating how they will live out the promises of baptism that they will make during the baptismal liturgy.
- Asking what role the godparents will have in the faith life of their child.
- Prayerfully pondering how they will introduce their child personally to Jesus Christ.
The sacrament of baptism frees us from
original sin and incorporates us into the living
Body of Christ. The parents’ preparation
through prayer, catechesis and letter
writing helps them to understand and celebrate
their baby’s new life given through
water and the Spirit.
Following the celebration of baptism, I
tell the parents to seal their letter in an envelope
and place it in the family Bible or
Then, years later, on their child’s day of
confirmation, the parents invite their son or
daughter to read the same baptism letter
aloud, and listen to the powerful words
their parents wrote so long ago. What a
great way for the son or daughter to personally
confirm and embrace the promises
of baptism made by their parents years earlier.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican
Council described the Catholic household
as “the domestic Church in which the parents
are the first heralds of faith.”
The exercise of letter writing at key
sacramental moments helps a couple to
create a firm spiritual foundation for one
another and for their children.
The Book of Joshua says it well: “But
as for me and my household, we will serve
Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 28, No. 1, January 20, 2012.