The first reading for today’s mass (Thursday) was from St. Paul’s letter to Philemon, and I was struck by the verse in which Paul makes the point that he is writing this letter by his own hand. I suppose, by that, he meant that normally he would have dictated his letters to Luke or to some other scribe, but that he wanted this letter to be more personal. It made me think of how, back in the day, I used to be quite a prolific letter writer, by my own hand, to family and friends, but then I acquired, in turn, a typewriter; a word processor; a computer and, finally, a mobile phone, so that, now, writing by my own hand has become almost a thing of the past.
Even writing personal letters has become a thing of the past, having mostly given way to texts and emails. Long gone are the days of going to W.H. Smiths to buy Basildon Bond notepaper and envelopes – blue, cream or white – and enjoying the feel of a good Parker pen in my hand; letting the words flow from the heart, to the head, to the pen, and then on to the paper, before affixing the stamp, popping it into the post box, and then patiently waiting. How long would it take to get there? How would what I had written be received by the family member or friend to whom it was addressed? How long would it take the other person to reply? When would I receive the reply? What would their news be? There was something of value in that, I believe, in the grace of waiting, of not expecting everything to happen instantly, in the anticipation, the expectation, and then the joy of receiving the response.
I also used to take great care to ensure that my writing was neat and legible but now, whenever I do write by my own hand, I get a shock to seek how much I struggle to make it out myself, never mind expecting anybody else to make it out. In the early days of my religious life and priesthood, and for quite some years afterwards, I would write out my homilies, mission sermons, retreat talks and class lectures to students, by my own hand. Even though it took much longer, I always felt that there was a greater connection between what I was trying to say, and what I felt was important to say, when I put it down longhand, and that there was a disconnect, something less satisfactory, when I did this by more mechanical means. I was also less inclined to make mistakes. I remember the first portable typewriter that I acquired, which I am ashamed to say was not an Olivetti, even though I happily worked for Olivetti for 5 years, during the development of the golf ball typewriter; but, I went instead for a Brother with a black and white ribbon, the white being a corrector ribbon because I knew I was prone to errors, as indeed I still am, especially when composing texts on the mobile phone. Reluctantly, over the years, I gave way to more modern means of communication, but I was always the last of my peers to surrender, and I still have the feeling that something has been lost in the process, and that I remain a bit of a luddite with regard to technology.
St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, wrote thousands of letters in his time, many hundreds of which remain, and have been gathered into a three-volume collection. At one stage his handwriting was submitted for graphological analysis, without the handwriting expert knowing who they were analysing, and these are some of the things that were said: “The writer thinks with his emotions, more than reason; is determined, compassionate, expressive and has a responsive personality; open-minded, with a high degree of perception; is intuitive; difficult to understand at times because logic is disregarded and the heart of the matter is taken out of sequence; careful, loyal; very introspective; sometimes melancholic; experiences some mental conflict regarding his own self dignity; is analytical, sensitive, and secretive, in that he reserves facts and keeps confidences… a man you could depend on”
From what we know of St. Paul of the Cross, that is very accurate. It would be a pity if graphology also became a thing of the past because people no longer write by their own hand.
Back in Bishopbriggs all are well, thanks be to God, with nothing to report. So, as always,
protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, protect others, and protect Christ in your lives.