Review by Michele Craig
During his last days on earth, as he was lying in a hospital bed dying from cancer, Daniel A. Lord, SJ decided to write a few letters…to our Lord. Editor Thomas Gavin, SJ explains. “While doing research for a biography of Father Lord, I came across an intimate, personal document that he wrote in a St. Louis hospital during his last retreat. On the second day of his retreat he was told that he had terminal cancer. He called this document Letters to My Lord, and that is exactly what they are – casual, intimate letters which spring from a deep faith and show an easy familiarity with the life of the spirit. The letters are a brief synopsis of his attitudes on life set in a framework of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. But nowhere is there a reference to his fatal disease, nowhere a trace of bitterness or resentment.”
What a surprise! I was expecting the letters to be some type of “guide to dying”! Something to comfort us all in our last days. Yet, in a way, Fr. Dan’s letters were a guide to dying because he recognized that dying is simply part of living, part of life. Father Thomas, the editor, says it best. “This book, Father Lord’s last, is his spiritual testament: a lyric on the many things that he loved, and a vow that even in his last days he had much work to begin. It is an affirmation of life- life here on earth and life everlasting- in the face of death. We are his heirs and debtors for having been left so rich and genial a vision of that kingdom to which we are all invited.”
On the first day of his retreat, Fr. Dan writes “You understand my feelings before I put them down on paper. Perhaps I understand them better because I do. You have given the grace that makes possible some minimal triumphs, yet you might like a report on them. You have watched with regret my wanton smashing of your plans and need no list of causalities. Yet would my apologies ring as true as I want them to read? And would I do less badly another time because I had confessed this time’s mistakes to a patient Lord?”
So begins Father Dan’s writings as a son to his father…Our Father. In another letter, Fr. Dan writes of his gratitude to our Lord. “Shall I take your time and paragraphs of my letter to thank you for being the kind of miraculous provider you are? Where shall we even start…with a catalogue of foods…or with a listing of drinks…with the furs and fabrics and leathers of our clothing…with the materials that await the hands of human builders? With the power of falling water or the healing qualities of quinine bark? With the wonderful thing that is human skin…”
Father Dan’s wonder and joy of life jump off of the pages! He moves from humility to gratitude to a son’s heartfelt love for his father in each letter. “At least, I am grateful. At least I am proud of my Father. At least, I can take my own advice to the sons of earth and say to my Father who is in Heaven, ‘I am grateful. Make me more grateful still.’ Your devoted son, Daniel “
This book is a treasure from start to finish- particularly the Epilogue which contains an article entitled Cancer Is My Friend, which was published on the day he died. It was an honor to read it while remembering the circumstances under which these letters were written!