One of the ways we can do some of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, taught to us by Jesus in the Gospels (see Matthew 25: 31-45), is by letters, emails, and phone calls. Whether we are unable to see someone in person because of the distance, weather, or health problems, or in the present circumstances, because of government restrictions on visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, we can still let people know we care about them by keeping in touch. If we can’t visit someone we know who is sick or imprisoned, we can call or send a letter or an email.
We can do the work of mercy of burying the dead by enrolling the person who died in a Mass association and sending a card to the person’s family. We can counsel the doubtful and instruct people who lack knowledge about what we believe by responding to any questions someone may ask us in a letter, email or phone call about the Catholic faith or by explaining the Church’s doctrines to someone who doesn’t understand or accept certain teachings. We can comfort the sorrowful by sending a card or letter and letting the person know that we are always available to talk.
Under some circumstances, we can admonish sinners. For example, if we have a close relationship with someone, and we learn the person is committing a serious sin, we can encourage him or her to live in a virtuous way during a telephone conversation. Letters, emails, and phone calls are also a way to evangelize. We can share our faith in simple ways such as wishing someone a happy feast day of a saint or by talking about a good Catholic book we read recently.
Our letters and phone calls can support people who are feeling lonely, afraid, or anxious. Older people living alone and people in nursing homes can feel isolated from their community and appreciate hearing from friends and family members. When contacting senior friends and relatives, we should consider whether they have any vision problems. It may be better to call them or send a typed letter or email in large print. We need to be understanding of people who cannot respond to our letters and phone calls. Some older people and people with chronic illnesses often cannot reply to a letter or call us because they do not feel well enough or have poor vision. Nevertheless, they are happy to receive our cards and letters, and talk to us on the phone.
Letters, emails, and phone calls benefit the person who writes or calls as much as the recipient. There are times we need to talk to someone or tell about our recent experiences in writing. I have enjoyed writing letters and cards since I was at least seven years old. I prefer letters to emails because letters include not only the words, but the handwriting of the person who wrote them. I save many of the letters and cards I receive. Seeing them reminds me of my friendships with the people who sent them and makes me feel very grateful to God for my friends.
Letters are a wonderful form of writing that enable you to share your thoughts and experiences with the letters’ recipients. In some ways, a letter is like a journal entry that is meant to be read by someone; a letter is also like speaking to someone, with words that are written instead of spoken aloud. In addition to letters, I like to send cards: birthday cards, thank you notes, priest anniversary cards, get well cards, congratulation cards for new babies, Christmas cards, Easter cards, and cards just to say “hello” and to let the person know that I am praying for him or her. It gives me joy to send letters to my friends and to know that they will read what I wrote.
I am happy if I learn that my card or letter was helpful to someone. For example, a priest I am friends with who lives in a nursing home in another state, told me a few months ago that receiving my cards helped him to feel better when he was sick. I also enjoy talking on the phone. It is good to hear a friend’s or relative’s voice, to learn about what he or she is doing, and to share my news. With some friends, I even have interesting discussions about ideas and culture. While a text message may be useful for conveying a brief message, it is not a substitute for conversation. When public Mass was suspended in recent months because of the coronavirus, many priests continued to minister to their parishioners by calling them, as well as praying for them. One young priest I am friends with, who was appointed as pastor to two parishes in March, called every person in both parishes during the time that public Mass was suspended in our diocese.
Although keeping in touch is not a substitute for seeing someone in person, our letters, emails, and phone calls will let our family and friends know that we care about them and can also be another way of doing some of the works of mercy. There is a long tradition in the Catholic Church of sending letters. Many saints through the centuries, including St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, and St. John Henry Newman had an apostolate of letter writing, and provided spiritual direction through their letters. We can continue that tradition of encouraging others through our written words and phone conversations.