I know this may reach you a bit before The Day, but don't worry, it's just a foretaste of tomorrow, like tomorrow will be a foretaste of Heaven!
I've been wanting all week to get you ready for the deluge of roses that's on it's way, but God had other plans for me. Finally, this morning, I wrote up a nice long post for you, and what do you think happened? It poofed into thin air when I tried to post it! That was fine with me . . . I have kind of a deal with God. He lets me write my Musings here as Miss Marcel, and I don't mind when He poofs them. After all, He is the Divine Editor, and I'd hate to post something of which Heaven disapproved!
When I considered what I'd written that might have been unfit for a blog promoting Truth, Love, Peace, and Joy, I realized where I'd gone wrong. No, I don't think I'd better tell you the particulars, because if I did then we'd be right back where we started and I'd have to re-write again after God re-poofed again.
Better, then, to start afresh with something I think will prepare you for tomorrow AND be full of Truth, Love, Peace, and Joy!
I've been thinking of God's mercies and how very kind He is. It's just far beyond our ability to imagine, and yet so worth trying to understand. When I think of God's gifts, one of the finest I can think of to thank Him for is the gift of friendship, and when I think of friendship, the finest I can think of is friendship with the Saints. Don't worry - that doesn't leave you out, dear reader! I'm talking about the Saints in heaven and those on earth too! And if you don't think you're a Saint yet, well I won't contradict you - we all have a ways to go, but simply acknowledging our littleness and sitting at the feet of Therese and Marcel (who are on Mary's lap with little Jesus) is such a good start. What looks to others like lounging (certainly not like setting out on our possibly long journey to sanctity) was praised by Our Lord when He commended Mary Magdalene for sitting at His feet, so we're safe.
But to take the spotlight off of us and our holiness (and lack thereof!), it's nice to know the Saints in Heaven are thrilled to be our friends also. And one of the most marvelous ways they show their love to us is through sharing, in books they wrote and books written about them, what Jesus told them and did for them. He is so good, so kind, so tender, so loving (are you like me? Would you have this list of His true character traits go on and on and on? Me too!) - well He is so wonderful that we can never learn enough about Him. Thankfully, the Saints get us started on our eternal quest to know Him as He is in Himself (not as we sometimes mistake Him to be, or as we may have wrongly understood Him to be) - you know, kind, tender, loving, patient, gentle, and so on and so forth!
I recently came across two different references to St. Gertrude that do exactly this - help us form a true idea of how loving Jesus is (or at least make a start at the formation of such an idea). One of these things I found was something that Our Lord said to St. Gertrude and which I've loved for a very long time: the quote where He says that the most precious relics He's left on this earth are His words of Love to us, and we should cherish and treasure them. Yes! Such precious relics as:
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."
Or another favorite:
"I thank You, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, for what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to little children."
Along these lines (of the Father's revelation of the Son to the little ones), I had forgotten for years and years that the place I first found this saying of Jesus to St. Gertrude was - I found it there again last week and it knocked my socks off! - at the top of one of St. Therese's poems, where she'd written it out as a kind of epigraph! I'm so happy that Therese knew this saying too, and in fact was the one who told me about it!
Next I found (also in the last few days) a sweet book on Jesus' revelations to St. Gertrude. No, I'm not even going to tell you the title - it would only distract you from Marcel's Conversations (the book I'm always willing for you to buy another copy of!) and besides, you can trust me to give you the best part of the St. Gertrude book for free right here, right now, courtesy of Jesus' unfailing kindness.
Here, in fact, is the important message St. Gertrude has for us, or rather that Jesus has for us through St. Gertrude and her utter down-to-earthness. It seems that one day she was distressed "that she could not excite in her heart as ardent a desire as she wished for the glory of God." Sound familiar? Oh sure, she was smart enough to realize what she was missing and we're not usually quite so rightly oriented (when my prayer is going poorly, I usually start wondering what's for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on the time of day, rather than mourning my lack of spiritual desire in prayer), but still, we can all relate to not feeling as ardent as we'd like or think we should.
In Gertrude's case, though, guess what happened next? She "received an assurance from Heaven that He is fully satisfied when anyone, unable for more, has at least the will to feel a strong desire; and that in His sight this desire will be counted as though it were as great as one wished it to be."
Isn't that fabulous news?
It's especially helpful right now, at the tail end of our novena to St. Therese, because she loved to repeat that we can never have too much confidence in God (i.e., expect too much) because He is so mighty and so merciful, and in fact He will give us as much as we hope for (that is, as much as we desire). This part about Him giving us as much as we hope for or desire is not super helpful news to us if our hopes and dreams and desires are small and few and not as robust (let alone immense and infinite) as our sister Therese's were - and again, if that's the case with your desires as well as mine and even St. Gertrude's, don't panic. Help is on the way (the little way). Because putting together the reassurance Jesus gave to Gertrude with Therese's teaching that God is sure to fulfill our desires (which teaching came from St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, her holy parents in Carmel, so it's backed by 3 Doctors of the Church!), I've come up with a grand 11th hour plan for our novena. Are you ready?
Repeat after me:
"Jesus, I wish I had the desire of all the Saints for Your glory, for the triumph of Your Church over all evils, for the salvation of all souls on earth, especially those most lost, for the liberation of all souls in purgatory that they may fly immediately to You in Heaven, and for every other good thing I'm forgetting! Further, I wish I had the desire to be filled with Therese's confidence, and the desire for You to fill my soul and the souls of all those I love (and the souls of all those I don't love and all those I've never even heard of from the beginning of time until the end) with the absolute confidence and surrender that Therese wishes we had!"
How's that for an end-of-the-novena prayer!?
"Oh, and Jesus, please grant health, peace, joy, love, and salvation to all for whom I've promised to pray, all who have asked or will ask for my prayers, and all those who need my prayers. And then please don't forget to grant _______" (you can fill in that blank with any left out petitions, any especially dear to your heart, or just add: "everyone's requests in this novena!")
There. I think we've covered all our bases, or to use a more feasting type of image in preparation for tomorrow, I do think we've managed to frost the entire cake, and even give it a good dousing of sprinkles!
Do you know what I'm going to do now? I'm going to end this post with our simplest most wonderful prayer, and get it up in a jiffy so you can relax. All your prayers prayed and time left to take a nap! I could write more (forever, I want to say!) but I need to leave you time to read this before Our Big Day.
This will be the first Feast of Therese that we're celebrating together at Miss Marcel's Musings! What will happen? What kind of roses will our sister send us? I can't say - there are so many! So far I only know that today as I was preparing the post-that-poofed, I came across this little bit of joy to share with you now, I found it in an old book that had a description of the canonization process of Therese, and told:
"About this time [1912, as her process was being sent to Rome, the initial stages having been completed in Lisieux], the Servant of God [the future St. Therese but in 1912 merely "Servant of God" just like Marcel is these days!] announced to one of her privileged friends: 'I am about to let fall a torrent of roses.' Henceforth the heavenly rain descended in torrents, and that other promise to a client came true; 'No one will invoke me without obtaining an answer.'"
So . . . get out your umbrellas! I'm afraid I've set you up to be drenched! Ah, but what a delightful and life-giving water (rose water?)! Don't be afraid! I'm sure you have at least one or two sighs you can offer to Jesus in exchange for the roses He's given Therese to toss your way (given her to dump, really, as in truckloads, but "toss" sounds so much more elegant.)
And what a funny, dear Love is our Jesus, for all He asks in exchange is sighs! As He told Marcel (in Conversations, 387),
"What happiness for Me to be able to frolic in the midst of these sighs! I feel very much at ease and completely at peace . . ."
Those are words to cherish like relics! You see, you do have what He asks of you! With all the variety of sighs in your power (sighs of exhaustion, frustration, annoyance, exasperation - these may come most readily, or maybe I should speak for myself! but they are all easily and miraculously turned into sighs of love on their way to Jesus! not to mention sighs of relief that He is so pleased with you already - you don't need to change a thing!), it will be truly a feast day for Jesus as well as for Therese and for us!
And now, to keep my promise and send this post from my house and heart to yours, I must end. Technically, though, as I'm sending it from the home of some very dear friends (not from my own house), I ask Therese to pour out roses on them too, in thanks for their wifi and generosityI
But without another second of delay, here's our prayer and then be sure to smile your biggest smile - we're almost to October 1st, the day of roses!
Draw me, we shall run!
Ahn-train mwa, noo koo-roe(n) ah ta sweet!
Jesus, we love You a lot!
See you tomorrow! I can't wait!!!
So it turned out I couldn't resist moving past the brain comic . . . especially because here is little Therese, looking beautiful, staring off to one side, with a misleading expression that seems to say she has no big plans . . .
Nothing could be further from the truth! Her feast is coming up in a little more than a week . . . which means it's novena time! As this happens to be my favorite novena ever - that is, favorite novena prayer (which I will post here today for your ease of use) and favorite nine days of anticipation, I couldn't resist featuring Marcel's big sister (and ours) right here, front and center.
You see, our sister Therese loves LOVES loves to shower roses down upon us - upon those who ask and await them, and those who are unsuspecting (innocent bystanders minding their own business but we're praying for them!). And oh how I love roses! Heavenly ones, earthly ones, pictures of them, memories of them, and so on and so forth, as one of my best-roses-from-Therese-ever used to say in his Italian accent! (That was Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E. whom St. Therese sent me when I asked her for a rose from him on March 3, 2001. She's such a goof. She just kind of gave me him, as well as a letter from him. What love!)
Anyhow, we're at St. Padre Pio's day (or will be tomorrow, which may be when you see this!) and in his octave is Therese's novena and then her feast, on October 1st. So be assured that you are well prayed for by both of them, and by me. (I'm going to do the novena, and your intentions are covered! Join in if it's fun - no pressure, just roses no matter what you pray or don't pray these next 9 or 10 days!)
Here is the prayer I'll be saying which has all the elements I love (roses, heaven, now, confidence, God's great love for us, etc!) . . .
O Little Therese of the Child Jesus
Please pick for me a rose from the heavenly garden
and send it to me as a message of love.
O Little Flower of Jesus,
please ask God to grant the favors
I now place with confidence in your hands . . .
St. Therese, help me to always believe as you did,
in God’s great love for me,
so that I may imitate your “Little Way” each day.
and then, too, our dear tiny prayer (which would make a great novena all on its lonesome - which is not very lonesome since it draws the whole world with us to Jesus!) -
Draw me, we will run!
Get ready for roses!!!!!
With all the beautiful images, Saint quotes, pictures of flowers and sunsets and every lovely thing available to the girl with The Internet, there's almost no excuse for posting a photo of the brain, as I have just done. Well, okay, maybe not a photo exactly, but a comic likeness is bad enough.
On the other hand, how marvelous that the Baconian revolution (you know, the rejection of Metaphysics, the progress of scientific technology, and so on and so forth) has brought us to this pass. Or is it an impasse? (From the French! You can tell by that random silent "e" on the end that doesn't even make us say "im-pace.")
Because honestly, what is more fun than having a friend (and fellow Marcel-lover) zip an email to me that contains the suggestion which I've turned into the title of this post? This sounds like a rhetorical question, but I have an answer that may surprise you.
The only thing more fun than that (I can tell you thanks to the experience of the last few minutes) is putting "brain replacement comic" into Google, pressing enter, shifting over to the results in Google images, and realizing that modern life is not only utterly ridiculous, but has provided me once again, through web comics, with a much simpler solution than replacing the thoughts in my brain one by one. I can offer myself to science as a donor body for Marcel's brain!
Oh, except as soon as I articulate my new "brainstorm" here (ha!), a host of problems arises.
We'll simply stick with replacing everything in the brain, bit by bit, with Marcelisms.
(That was a sigh of love. Jesus is so good! He uses everything - old and new - in our brains, our hearts, our bodies, our souls - as fodder for Love.)
Back to the drawing board, which means doing our brain replacement the old fashioned way, flipping open Conversations to give you, here and now, today, at least one replacing thought for some old worn out one . . .
How about this (she says, preparing to randomly flip open The Best Book Ever After The Bible) . . .
Ah, perfect, a favorite (it helps that every page is full of favorites!) - from 26 April 1946, which was Easter Friday (Conversations, 529):
Marcel: Little Jesus, what's happening? Today, bearded Jesus has not yet received any news from either of us. Yesterday, the doctor examined me. He said I had nothing wrong with my heart, but I was very weak.
Jesus: Very good. From now on when you feel any pain in your heart, you will be able to lay the blame on me, do you understand? Since yesterday, Marcel, have you been very sad? And for what reason? .... What a pity! Marcel, you are truly very weak. Simply hearing the word suffering is almost enough to make you lose control. [Amen!] Little brother, before sending you any suffering, I want, first of all, to let you know how weak you are. You must realize that if you have not got the strength even to hear the word suffering uttered, still less do you have the strength to put up with suffering . . . Little brother, although this is so, you must accept suffering; but you cannot understand how much Love suffers even more than you, having to make you suffer. Oh Marcel! Although you are truly very weak, the sight of your weakness makes you more lovable in my eyes than any gestures of love that you show me would be able to. My intention is to teach you that you haven't got the strength to endure suffering, even for the time it takes to wink your eye. However, little brother, your strength is love; and this strength can even make you capable of accepting all my sufferings, with those of Mary and of all your brothers and sisters the saints, and to bear them with joy. Yes, it is really so, and you can see by that that there is no longer anything difficult for you. (Laughing.) You are really the happiest of men, Marcel, what more could you want? And it is so because you are the weakest of all . . .
+ + +
I think Jesus has pulled a fast one on us here, but scratch my head and consider though I might (I'm not saying I will do either of those things, having long since learned they will not help, I'm just saying even if I did), there is no way I will understand crazy Jesus any more than my brother Marcel did!
Now, of course, Marcel understands a lot more. I don't mean "Now of course," but Now . . . of course . . . because he's in Heaven, and as Jesus promised (all Jesus' promises come true - isn't that awesome??), he and Jesus can talk easily all the time. Well, there is the danger that Marcel is playing hide and seek, teasing Therese, and so has not learned all he might during his eternal time already spent in the Beatific Vision (not saying I know how that works, just stating the facts, Ma'am). . . But I don't think I'll worry. Our little brother's still got forever to learn the rest, and soon (in God's time, but most likely way in the future in our time) we'll be there with him. Won't that be a blast?
On another but related note (because we're talking Saints and Heaven and that easily leads to the liturgical calendar), this Sunday is Padre Pio's feast day. It will be hidden behind the Sunday, but there it will be nonetheless, the anniversary of the day good Saint Pio got to shoot to Heaven like the star he is.
I was thinking of writing, in Pio's sweet honor, a post called "Who's Afraid of Padre Pio?" - a rhetorical question if ever there was one, since everyone seems to be - afraid of him, that is. (Don't expect this brilliant post to appear any time soon. Naturally the brain comic, being sillier, won the day for Most Likely to Be Posted; instead I'll just slip in a couple paragraphs here to tell you how silly you are to be afraid of kind Pio.)
If you don't already know, I must tell you that Padre Pio is one of the most tender-hearted and compassionate of the Saints, and only got gruff and goatish when women tried to cut pieces of his habit off for relics (I sure would have!), or when people lied in the confessional (now really - how silly is that? It's one thing to be confused or stupid in the confessional, we all can be confused and stupid, and no need to worry, it's how we're made, but lying? How silly!) These were hardened sinners, though, and Padre Pio was great at melting their hearts by giving them What For. Then they'd often return, meek as lambs, and in the place of the Good Shepherd, Padre Pio could become friends with them, giving in to his true desire to be a father and friend to whomever wanted his solicitude and paternal care.
I'm going to ask him to help us all - everyone in the entire world! - to love the sacrament of confession, to not be scared of it, to know Jesus who is All Gentle is waiting to receive us with tender mercy and immeasurable Joy!
I have to confess (since we're speaking of confession) that I once lied in the confessional. Well almost. I made my confession and after "I'm sorry for these and all my sins," our pastor asked how old I was (I was "behind the screen" so he only could hear my young sounding voice). I told him a round number, then tried to correct it to the right number, got it wrong, and tried again. You know what? Just like Jesus, who enjoys laughing with us and finds us adorable, the pastor wasn't concerned about my mix-up. He just wanted a ballpark number so he could figure out what to say to this seeming 14 year old girl who was confessing once again that she'd been unkind to her husband and children!
But enough of confessions. I think we'll call it a day so we can celebrate St. Matthew's Feast before it's over. Plus, we've got so much straw in our brains to replace with the true gold of Marcelisms, that we don't want to overdo it right at the start. Do feel free to scroll down or page back (I just found out there is a "previous" and sometimes a "next" at the bottom of the ten posts a page our Miss Marcel's Musings offers. Fancy that!) to replace as much of everything in your brain with Marcelisms as you can possibly manage (with your angel's help). But don't hurt yourself!
And let's not forget our best replacement so far, our little prayer to dear Jesus, our Savior and our Spouse:
Draw me, we will run!
or as we like to say in our best imitation of French:
Ahn-train mwa! Noo koo-roe(n) ah tah sweet!
p.s. Novena to St. Therese - ask for roses! tons and tons! - begins tomorrow or the next day, depending on whether you like to end the day before The Feast or on The Day of The Feast. You could repeat our little prayer (in any language you choose!) each day for a very little novena, or scroll down and page back to read a post-a-day for a very silly novena. Whatever kind of novena you say, or even if you don't say one at all (some of us still working on our 54 day Divine Mercy Chaplet novena to end on JPII day, October 22nd), know that I'll be praying for all your intentions, so prepare yourself to be drenched with roses!
Did you know that Marcel was the last of St. Therese's siblings to die? It's true - though he only survived her 4 sisters by a few months. The last of them to die was Celine, to whom we owe the gorgeous image of the Holy Face above (painted by her in prayer, following a copy of the Holy Face from the Shroud of Turin, which had just recently been photographed for the first time not long after Therese's death, and a copy of the negative image given to Celine).
Celine died on February 25, 1959, just two months shy of her 90th birthday. Marcel died July 10, 1959, just five months later (when he was 31). I don't know that Marcel knew that Celine was still alive until that late date, but he does speak in Conversations of Pauline (their second eldest sister) remaining on earth even at the time of his profession in 1946. He says to our Blessed Mother at (734), in regard to the graces he'll request on his profession day (which was only two days away):
"Incidentally, Mother, I will also ask for a grace for Pauline, the sister of my sister Therese. The other day I heard bearded Jesus say that Pauline is still alive. Yes, I will ask a special grace of little Jesus' choosing for her. I learned also that one of our Fathers had met her, that he had chatted with her, that she is now eighty-four years old, which makes her more than five times my age. She told this Father that she had a great desire to go to heaven quickly to join her little sister, but that her wish had not yet been granted.
"Mother, between your Pauline and your little Marcel, let us see which of the two will go to heaven first. Your Marcel is still young and very quick at running; he will certainly arrive close to you before your Pauline who is already elderly and without doubt walks very slowly. Yes, allow me to go up first, and then I will tell my sister Therese and little Jesus to bring your Pauline to paradise very quickly. Yes, Mother, that would be good. So, tell little Jesus to take me to heaven with you before Pauline, so that she can read what my sister Therese has taught me and see if it is correct. Mary, my Mother, I will certainly go to heaven before your Pauline. Tell little Jesus to take me to heaven first, and then I will help him to bring your Pauline. It is probable that, having suffered a great deal, she is now tired and can only walk with difficulty. Perhaps, also, little Jesus and my sister Therese are not capable of carrying her by themselves and they will have to wait until I am there to help them. Mother, tell little Jesus again to take me to heaven . . . .
"Oh! Pauline, Pauline, my sister, be patient a little while longer. When I rest on the heart of our divine Spouse, I will unite myself to little Jesus and to your little sister Therese of the Child Jesus, in order to lead you to our eternal Spouse."
* * *
Well, how do you like that?
Not only did Pauline zip ahead of him into little Jesus' arms (she died July 28, 1952), but so did Celine!
Ah, but then they, with their sisters Marie (who had gone to Jesus on January 19, 1940, a month before she'd have turned 80) and Leonie (who had been a Visitation Sister for 41 years and was born into eternal life on June 16, 1941, aged 78), did not forget little Marcel!
In all fairness to our little brother, in his conversation with Mary, he did interject (after the business of his offer to help feeble, aged Pauline into heaven) "Ah! I forgot, the soul cannot get old, Mother." But he continues, "Whatever, it is absolutely necessary that little Jesus sees that your Marcel is in heaven first; then we will make your Pauline come up . . ."
Alas, His ways are not our ways,, and were not Marcel's in this matter of who gets to live in bliss forever first. As I mentioned, Marcel was the last of Therese's siblings to leave earth for Paradise, but how it delights me that Celine did not leave him in exile long. I almost hear Jesus explaining to Marcel, the minute they met Face to face: "But little brother, your sisters had been importuning me for so very, very long . . . it would have been unkind for me to make them wait longer so that you could enter first. Think of John and Peter at my Resurrection. It is only right and just that the younger, though he speeds to the site first, waits outside for the elder to enter."
I'm thinking of all this today because while to other people it is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, for us here at Miss Marcel's Musings it's also the anniversary of Celine's entrance into Carmel. Finally! She gave Therese quite a scare, considering, as she did, joining their spiritual director Fr. Pichon as a missionary in Canada. Poor Canada! I'm sorry you didn't win Celine for your soil, but the whole Church needed her in Lisieux where she could soak in Therese's teaching for three more years after her entrance into Carmel (until Therese flew the coop for heavenly shores). And then we needed her even more to spend her remaining 62 years toiling beside Mother Agnes (Pauline) on our little sister's behalf and sharing everything Therese with the rest of us!
Ah but in the light of this dark night - not even the light of eternity, but simply the light of the passing centuries - how time flies! It's already 124 years since, on this day in 1894, Celine entered Carmel at last.
Congratulations, Celine! Happy entrance day! Will you give Marcel a kiss for us? And your sisters, too, but with an especially big smacker to that littlest one who has charmed us so completely! Ah, but most especially, oh sweet echo of Therese's soul, caress our Mother Mary's cheek for us, and then tickle little Jesus in our names!
We don't dare pray that He take us sooner rather than later (or later rather than sooner). We've learned our lesson. If Marcel couldn't convince Him to hasten the hour of their union, how much less likely is it that we shall rush or delay Him?
Whatever, as Marcel would say. We're here for You, little Jesus, until such time as You whisk us There with You.
And meanwhile, we repeat our little prayer (which in our littleness is sometimes all we can manage, along with our little - and big! - frequent sighs and occasional glances of love . . .)
Draw me, sweet Jesus! And we shall all run together to You!
or in the phonetic accents of our sweet Martin sisters:
Ahn-train mwa! Noo koo-roe(n) ah tah sweet!
There now; we've made all heaven laugh. Isn't that a good day's work?
+ + +
P.S. I wrote this post in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament at my Friday holy hour. There at church, I witnessed a miracle (and don't even try, because you'll never guess)!
As I entered church and walked forward up the aisle, the carpet - all the way up to Jesus on the altar - was sparkling, as well it should. There was glitter everywhere! Not like on a craft table when the 5-year-olds are done, but like the angels had gotten into the place - subtle, but sparkling, sparkling, all the way to Him!
I just want to say for the record: I didn't do it! Oh, but I highly approve! And I pray that Our sweet Jesus and His angels, including the Martin sisters and our dear Marcel, send just such sparkling delight into your day too!
[Disclaimer: the lack of accent marks in all French words that follow is not to be blamed on anyone but Miss Marcel. She's lazy, that's all there is to it, or she'd figure out how to insert them . . .]
I must confess my own attempts to learn French look a lot like Sally's. Not that I'm as motivated by controversy as she is; I'm more a fan of conversation - or Conversations, to speak exactement. Still, "forget it" sums up nicely (precisement, that is) my reaction to the hard work, the rolling up of sleeves, the mental elbow grease (did you even know your brain had elbows?) that might be involved in learning French the Grown-Up Way.
And yet, and yet . . . as many times as I throw in the towel when it comes to learning French (any way), Jesus, Therese, and Marcel (not to mention la Sainte Vierge, ma mere Cherie), come upon me sans towel and hand it back. I'm like Therese's child at the foot of the stairs, only I get tired and decide I'll try napping full length on the floor rather than continuously lifting my tired little foot. Don't worry; no one leaves me on the floor for very long, and the poodle keeps me from being lonely!
Do you know Therese's image of the child at the bottom of the stairs? She compares us to the little one who keeps raising a foot to climb up because Mama is somewhere on the second floor . . . but we're so little, our sweet foot can't even reach that first step! Nonetheless, we cry out continuously, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" as we raise our foot again and again, all the while getting nowhere. Soon enough we're scooped up, taken into Mama's arms and carried to the second floor; or perhaps cuddled and snuggled right where we are.
This is Infinite Tenderness at work, or, in other words, the Limitless Delicacy and Compassion of God, who loves us beyond telling.
When I say "beyond telling," I mean that literally, and yet whether it's Isaiah, John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, John of the Cross, or Therese, Marcel, and Miss Marcel - which of us can actually help using whatever language is at hand (poetic, theological, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, or Valley Girl) to sing His praises?
St. Therese wrote to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart (in a passage from what's now known as "Manuscript B" in Story of a Soul), "I am going to stammer some words even though I feel it is quite impossible for the human tongue to express things that the human heart can hardly understand."
A couple of pages later she says, "I feel how powerless I am to express in human language the secrets of heaven, and after writing page upon page I find that I have not yet begun. There are so many horizons, so many nuances of infinite variety that only the palette of the Celestial Painter will be able to furnish me after the night of this life with the colors capable of depicting the marvels He reveals to the eye of my soul."
I have a suspicion that once she got to Heaven, hugged Jesus a while, and then said, "Okay, let's get to work!", once He set her up with the palette and colors she'd been longing for, Therese found she was still unable to express to us on earth ALL she wanted to say. How could she do what even Jesus cannot? Listen to the Celestial Painter Himself lamenting to Marcel:
"The words I am addressing to you here are far from expressing all the love that I bear for souls. I do not know what human language to employ to translate the full intimacy of this love. The intimate words that I address as well to other souls, I borrow from the language that people ordinarily use to express their feelings. If I used the intimate language that is more suitable for me to use when speaking to you, you would understand nothing. Indeed, my child, humanly speaking, my words are the expression of the deepest love; but I, I regard them as being only a simple glance of my love. My child, I do not know what words to use to succeed in making you understand more." (Conversations, 39)
This might be all well and good if we could bring ourselves to say, "Oh, wow, Jesus loves us so much - even more than He can express!" and leave it at that, but a problem immediately arises:
When you love someone, you want to know everything.
In the words of our brother St. Thomas Aquinas, "The lover is not content with a superficial knowledge of the beloved, but strives to know from the inside all particular things that belong to the beloved, so as to penetrate to his inmost being."
Or again, as our brother St. John of the Cross put it: "This is the property of love: to seek out all the good things of the Beloved."
How do we get to know Jesus, then? If all human language falls short of expressing His love for us, how can we seek out every nook and cranny of His Personality, His virtues, His sweet Self?
Our Love gives us a clue when He tells Marcel that He uses many apostles to carry His message, so that there will be one for every type of person. When I discovered Marcel, I discovered the apostle meant for me (and many other little souls), the one Jesus called the "second Therese" because (among other resemblances to his sister) Marcel is so little that he's a perfect object of and vehicle for God's merciful love.
My approach to knowing Jesus better, then, is to keep reading and re-reading His conversations with Marcel, mining the treasure hidden in Marcel's pages, and when the mood strikes me, branching out into other rich veins - namely, Marcel's Autobiography, his Correspondence, his Other Writings. There's plenty here to last me a lifetime, though I see the same lesson borne out once again - it's more than I can digest, yet still never enough!
Which may be the reason I continue to nurture my desire to wake up one morning suddenly knowing French. It hasn't happened yet, but I do have fun messing about with our sister's native language, knowing it brings me a step closer to even more Marcel (the several drafts of his Autobiography that are not "definitive" and thus not in English, though I think Father Boucher translated them into French; I've had a glimpse of them in one of the two Marcel DVDs you can find on amazon.com).
But it's not just me. I feel like Jesus, too, is enticing me with the beauty and romance of the French language. Take our signature prayer, for instance. Some time ago I wrote a post on how Therese, in the last pages of Story of a Soul, calls on Jesus in the words of the Song of Songs. "Draw me, we shall run!" in order to pray for all those she loves, for everyone, really, with the simplicity of a child and without worrying about naming every name or cataloging every need.
When Marcel gave me a French Bible a few weeks back, I was inspired to find that sentence in the Song of Songs. So now we can say it in French, like Therese did ( for our part, quietly, lest a Frenchman hear us and faint dead away, since we haven't yet learned how to pronounce it properly).
Oh, but I've been holding out on you . . . I have good news!
The other night we spent a wonderful evening (with delicious food too) at the home of dear friends who'd invited us and two other couples to celebrate Our Lady's Birthday.
Lo and behold, one half of one of the other couples KNOWS FRENCH!
Thus it occurred to me in the middle of the dinner party to ask him how to say our signature prayer (in French), and he's such a kind man that he not only told me how to say it (which knowledge lasted - in me - about the length of time it took for his correctly pronounced French words to travel into my right ear, cross my not too large brain, and tumble out my left ear), but since he was patient as well as kind, he then helped me to write it down phonetically.
I'll save our prayer and its French pronunciation for the end of our post, because what came next was funny, and I wouldn't want you to miss it.
My French Canadian American friend (for such were his qualifications) asked me, "So why do you want to say this in French?"
I told him about Marcel, but then when I remembered (and told him) mid-way through the explanation that Marcel spoke Vietnamese, we were both perplexed. I held back, feeling it wouldn't sound uber intelligent (that's German; I'm practically multi-lingual, really, but French is harder to pronounce and doesn't have a taxi service named after it) to blurt out, "I want to pray in the language of my brother Marcel." It especially wouldn't have sounded smart since we'd just established that Marcel spoke Vietnamese! Believe it or not (and it's not too hard to believe), by this point I couldn't remember why I wanted to be able to pray in French.
I needn't have been concerned to sound ultra sophisticated.
A little later, my friend began speaking Vietnamese (not that I know Vietnamese, but it sounded Asian), which prompted his wife to interrupt.
"Why are you speaking Chinese?" she asked.
"I'm not. I'm speaking Vietnamese," he said to her with a straight face and a bit of a patronizing air, indicating she was quite dopey to confuse the two languages.
At this point, gullible though I am, I was pretty sure he was faking it. But his wife, her face even straighter than his, replied:
"Oh. I knew you knew Chinese, but I didn't know you know Vietnamese."
We asked how he might possibly know Chinese. He told us his knowledge of Chinese had first surfaced when he spent time with a relative's Chinese husband.
"The man claimed to know Chinese," he said, "so I spoke Chinese to him, but he couldn't understand a word I said." He shook his head as if he still couldn't believe the guy's hubris. "But you know, I don't think he knew Chinese, because I couldn't understand a word he said either!"
You can see why my explanation of why I needed to learn French was easily forgotten. Although I did very much appreciate that my polyglot friend (that means friend shaped like a polygon and knowing lots of languages) consoled me for my inability to learn French without studying and encouraged me to continue to hope for infused knowledge.
"I can see," he said, "that your good will is not lacking."
Though the food was fabulous and the friendship delightful, I think that compliment about my good will was the high point of my evening. Hope springs eternal, and in the face of such human gentleness and understanding, what can we not hope for from God?
Only much later did I remember why I want to learn French. Home again, I saw my French Bible. Yes, that was it. Marcel gave me the French Bible a few weeks ago, I found Therese's wonderful prayer in the Song of Songs, and since she'd prayed it in French, I thought we might too, etc., etc.
There's another reason I want to learn French, though, a reason which occurred to me in conjunction with one more complaint Therese made about her inability to express the fullness of her experience of God's love. She wrote to her cousin Marie Guerin:
"Sometimes I seek another word to express 'Love,' but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (as St. Augustine says) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: "TO LOVE."
The really nutty thing is that I think Therese may have changed her mind on that one, because with the help of Marcel's French Bible and the French dictionary she gave me, I've discovered a whole range of meanings of love which translate into a deeper insight into our Beloved.
You see, when I was looking at the beginning of the Song of Songs in French, I came across "Car ta tendresse vaut mieux que la vin." That means, it turns out, "Because your love is better than wine." And if you know people who love wine as much as some of my people do, you'll realize what high praise that is!
What struck me especially, though, was the word "tendresse."
One reason for my undiminished hope to "learn" French without putting any discipline into its acquisition is the wondrous gift of cognates. These are words in French that look and maybe sound like (and translate into) very similar English words.
Did I mention I've been listening to French Canadian radio lately? I don't know if it's helping me learn French, but I enjoy it. I feel closer to Therese, and it's tons of fun when the commentators laugh at some joke that could've been a depressing observation, for all I knew, until they giggled at each other's cleverness. All right, then, I say, and join in the laughter.
If you've been listening to the same French Canadian station, I need to point out that "Chicago" is not what I mean by a cognate. Did you hear that one? The other day our new French speaking Canadian friends were rattling on with their nasal intonations and their rolled r's, when suddenly I heard in the midst of the stream of French-sounding (but otherwise unintelligible) French, "Chicago." In the next sentence, the commentator repeated it: "Chicago," pronounced just like I'd pronounce it. I realized right then that I knew more French than I've been giving myself credit for, but let me reiterate that "Chicago" is not what we mean by a cognate.
A cognate is more like "infinie" - which is simply "infinite" in English.
You can see, then, that when I read in the Song of Songs, "tendresse," I had this little cognate moment. Doesn't it look a lot like "tenderness"?
Ah, but tenderness is a word that Therese used when she spoke and prayed in English! Well no, actually, I should say it's a word she used when Fr. John Clarke so generously translated her French into my English. But immediately I wondered: When Therese said "tenderness" in English (a la Fr. John Clarke), was it actually "tendresse" in French?
I needed to check our sister's "Acte d'offrande a l'amour misericordieux," so I looked in the back of my Histoire d'une Ame (which my amazing mom brought me back from amazing France when she'd been to amazing Lisieux some 17 years ago - I remember the year because she asked St. Therese to give me a baby, and my baby will be 16 in a couple of weeks. He was due on Therese's feast, as though she wanted to make sure we knew he was her gift, though his after-the-fact birthday turned out to be Padre Pio's day, a week later).
And so, opening yet another relatively (to me) unreadable French book (only unreadable so far; I repeat that I aspire to be like the Spanish nun who miraculously knew French when she, with good will, opened this same book), I found that sure enough, the case was just as I'd cognated.
In the "Act proper" the last few paragraphs at the end of the prayer, Therese requests (when she's speaking English), "Consume me unceasingly, allowing the flood tides of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul . . ."
Can you guess the French for "infinite tenderness"?
Sure as shootin, it's "tendresse infinie"!
Therese is asking for His love (which is better than wine, that same "tendresse") to sweep her off her feet! To stop being pent up within Him because no one will receive it ("He came unto His own, and His own received Him not," as we hear especially at Christmas), and to whoosh like a torrent into her heart. She will satiate His thirst, she and her legion of little souls also ready to accept His infinite love, and He will satiate - dare I say it in the first person plural? - our thirst for Him. He is so good!
But what does our translating dictionary say about this sweet phrase?
"Infinie" - "Infinite, boundless, endless . . . "
And our dear "tendresse"? This is the key that unlocks the door to new vistas and further horizons.
"Tendresse" - "Tenderness, fondness, love, sensibility, kindness, affection, delicacy . . . (and in the plural - and how can what is infinite not be in the plural?) . . . caresses, endearments."
Doesn't that sound like everything Jesus despaired of saying?
Really, He only needed to say it in French!
But since Marcel didn't know French very much better than I do, Jesus in His infinite tenderness, fondness, love, sensibility, kindness, affection, and delicacy spoke in Vietnamese to our little brother.
Ah Love! You are so solicitous!
Still, I can't help but wonder if You aren't waiting for me to grow up and learn French so You can speak to me in this language of tendresse . . . .
But then I remember that it's all a whim of Yours, and thanks to Jack, my best access to you - through Marcel - doesn't require my knowing any French at all. Tendresse infinie is there in every word You say to us through Marcel. In English. On every single page.
Take today for instance. I was kinda worried (having forgotten for a moment that Your tenderness, love, delicacy, and so on and so forth, are infinite) that maybe this desire for infused French was pushing the envelope of Your kindness. Mightn't You begin to lose patience with me? (I am SO grateful for St. Paul's list of the virtues of love. Your patience? That would have to be infinite too!)
What to do? As in any crisis, I now know to turn to Marcel.
(I have not yet resorted to putting his number - say a combo of numbers from Convos - on my son's emergency contact info blanks in forms we fill out for his activities, but we're almost there.)
So this morning when I opened Your infinitely tender Conversations, Marcel was asking You to tell him what "Victim of Love" means. What a perfect passage to begin a day on which I'd be writing about our sister's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love (which she invites us to pray with her), in which she asks You to pour out Your infinite tenderness into our hearts (i.e. let us be Your victims of Love).
You told Marcel:
"They are victims who, through love, offer themselves to Love. These victims leave to Love complete liberty to accomplish His desires in them but of themselves, they do nothing to expend themselves; it is Love, that is to say the Holy Spirit, who acts spontaneously in them . . ."
I'm so relieved you sent a kind French Canadian to assure me that my good will is not lacking! That, in combination with today's passage, amounts to a hall pass (or permission to write about You here rather than pretend to study French like a grown-up elsewhere), and I'll take it!
But speaking of the kindness of French Canadians, it's time (if not far past time) to get down to the phonetic pronunciation of our prayer.
The main trick, as I understand it, is to pretend you're saying it all like you'd say "croissant" if you were French. Nasally. The whole thing through your nose, if you can manage it. A bit of a roll on the "r," and then we've got to watch out for the closing consonants. If followed by an "e" you say the last consonant. No "e," then no last closing sound. And an "n" on the end is going to have quite a nasally quality, and followed by an "s" be not quite fully sounded, But don't worry about anything - we'll spell it all out now.
First, just as written:
Draw me, we shall run!
See, that wasn't hard, was it? Did you get the nasal effect?
Oh drat. That was easy because it was English.
All right then. Courage, children. Here's the French version:
Entraine-moi! nous courrons a ta suite!
And now, with a little help from our polygon of many languages:
(and don't forget to roll the "r"s)
Ahn-train - mwah!
New koo-roe(n) ah tah sweet!
Oh my goodness! We did it! I think that earned us a chocolate lava cake, or some peanuts at least!
But best of all, we made Therese and Marcel laugh! Can you hear them?
Not that it was terribly awful or anything. They think we're awesome; they just like to laugh, that's all.
And if you want a good guffaw, you should hear their American accents! They've run off again, those imps, before we can laugh at them too, but no matter. They'll be back soon, and meanwhile, in English once more just to be sure Jesus understands us:
Draw me, we will run!
We love you, Jesus . . . A LOT!
Today we're a day early instead of a day late! I'm not so sure about that extra dollar, but who needs money when we have such a rich feast to celebrate?
That's right - it's the Vigil of Our Lady's birthday! But guess what else we get to celebrate tomorrow? It will be the 128th anniversary of St. Therese's Carmelite profession (when she said her vows and became one with Jesus! Kind of like her wedding day!) and not only that . . . September 8th is also the day Marcel made his Redemptorist profession! He was so super duper excited that his vows were the same day as his big little sister's! He knew that meant something special - and I think he's going to be so surprised that we remembered to celebrate with them both and Mary!
He had a surprise for me just now, too, and it's so much fun - you'll never ever guess! Well, I couldn't for the life of me remember when Marcel's profession was (now that he told me, I'm laughing that I couldn't figure it out. I know the year(s) in which he wrote Conversations, and I know his profession was toward the end of the book - can you figure it out?) If you really want to break your head with me, we can do a math problem. It goes like this:
If Marcel's profession (day of becoming one with Jesus!) was 72 years ago tomorrow, what year would it have been? (been in? wow, this is a hard problem. I don't even know how to write down the problem grammatically, and since I had to do a math problem to get the answer which is now the question - like Jeopardy? - we could be in big trouble here!)
Well no, I don't really want you to break your head, silly! Because none other than our best bud Jack Keogan has the answer for us (without any math! Thanks, Jack!) at his wonderful Marcel website. How do I know? (I mean that he has the answer . . . well, yes, and how I know that is actually the same way I know the answer to our problem/question!) It's not as complicated as I'm making it out to be. But I do have a knack for making the simple complex. Here's what happened:
I googled "St. Therese chronology" (that last is a big word meaning timeline or something of the sort) and that led me to "Important Dates in the Life of St. Therese" (thank you, Society of the Little Flower!) which got me the info that her profession, which I knew was on September 8 (tomorrow!!) was in 1890.
Since what's good for the goose is good for the gander, I figured I'd just try asking the google elves if they knew Marcel Van's profession date. I sure didn't expect them to know it, but they know Jack, and Jack knows, because there on his website is the most delightful photo (which I'll post below this post) of Fr. Antonio Boucher - yes, bearded Jesus himself! - and our brother Marcel on the very day we're celebrating tomorrow!!! And the caption (which is how I knew all this) says:
"Father Boucher with Brother Marcel on the occasion of his first profession at Hanoi, September 8, 1946"
And in case you want to celebrate with Jack (for free! thus no need for that extra dollar that would go with the extra day if only we'd been more frugal at the grocer's before this little online fest), you can go see his website and say a prayer for this man to whom we owe so much. Need I say why, again? Of course I must! We are little Miss and Master Marcels - no memories here! Well, Jack translated Marcel into English for us! That's why we owe him a Rosary at least, but I'm sure he'll settle for an Ave . . . . Let's see, if 50 of us say an Ave, that's practically a whole set of Rosary mysteries! Hey, I know! Let's make up a pretend Rosary for Jack, Therese, Marcel, and Mary (and little Jesus of course)!
1st Mystery - Mary's birth!
2nd Mystery - the Annunciation (Jesus becomes Incarnate!!!!!! for us!!!!!)
3rd Mystery - Therese's Carmelite profession (leading to the Little Way!)
4th Mystery - Marcel's Redemptorist profession (he & Jesus are one!!!)
5th Mystery - Jack Keogan translates Marcel into English for us!
Yup, I left out a big mystery, I know. "We find Marcel"!!!!!!
How did we get so lucky?
God is just that good, so grab your favorite yummy treat (or your 2nd favorite if that's near at hand; and if you have your choice, I happen to know that Therese is partial to eclairs) and join the party! It's not merely a birthday, after all - not even such an incredibly special birthday as Mary's!
(And you're not going to believe this, but yes, I did find some banana Moon Pies for as cheap as they could possibly be - I'm guessing they'll expire soon, so I'd better eat them quick....Marcel is laughing so hard I'm afraid he's going to get a stomach ache - kind of like the one I'm bound to get if I eat these Moon Pies!)
Oops, I almost forgot to get you a portal to Jack's Marcel Van Association website. There, did you sit it flickering in the very name? It's HERE too. Click away, and give Marcel a kiss for me, and don't forget the Ave for Jack and his family - wow, I can't even think where we'd be without him and his crazy, spontaneous, "Hey, I'll translate Marcel's Autobiography," about 16 years ago . . . . little did he know how many lives he'd change! So cheers to Jack, cheers to Marcel and Therese, cheers to Mary, and most of all, cheers to little Jesus Who loves us so much that He keeps giving us the Best Gifts in the Whole Wide World! (No, not the Moon Pies! His dear spouses, Therese and Marcel, and His Mother for ours: Mary!)
In case an Ave feels beyond your powers (or memory!), here's our prayer (bilingually!) and then Marcel and Fr. Boucher below the prayer so you can kiss them here too before you go see them at Jack's place. Happy Birthday, Mary! Happy One-with-Jesus-Day, Therese and Marcel! We love you!!!
Draw me (sweep me off my feet, Jesus!); we shall run!
Entraine-moi! nous courrons a ta suite!
Well, no, not Mother Teresa. And no, not JPII . . . I mean yeah, those two are both extremely wise, but neither of them's the wise guy I'm talkin' 'bout . . Still I couldn't resist posting the pic because it's St. Mother Teresa's Feast Day today! I think it should be National Smile-at-Someone Day, don't you? Mother Teresa was a big proponent of smiling; it's amazing how you can brighten someone's day (or someone can brighten yours) with random acts of smiling. So live dangerously - smile! - and see what kind of joy happens around you . . .
Meanwhile (while you're figuring out who to unnerve, I mean cheer up, by your unexpected smile), do you mind if we hearken back a few days?
It used to be Monday, September 3rd, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, and that was the day the wise guys walked into my musings, almost like they were walking into a bar. (Can't you hear it? "These two wise guys walk into a bar . . ."). I've been trying to ignore them ever since, but you know how wise guys are. They just can't resist one more crack, even when you ask them to keep it down over there.
You see, I'm supposed to be working on a big project with St. Therese's letters, and in fact I am working on it, I promise, just not right this second. I need to finish the project before Saturday - before Friday night, even - and God willing (and the Holy Spirit assisting), I will, but oh my goodness how other things do distract one. You know, eating, sleeping, watching old episodes of Maverick (with James Garner). Not to mention occasional conversations with the husband and the son and various other important people in my life.
Well, I thought the best way to carve out a little extra time for the LTP (Letters of Therese Project) would be to stop musing, but that was like an open invitation to Marcel to jump on the bed (I like to work in my bedroom where there's also a comfy couch and lots of lights). Truth be told, he's always more of a comfort (like the couch) than a distraction . . . and when I've been wondering (frequently) how I could manage to finish by my deadline, our little brother is there to remind me that of course I can't. But God can!
Here's my plan, then.
I'd like you to say a little prayer for me (for the LTP), and I'll say a little prayer for you (for whatever's on your plate - even if it's only the little prayer for me!) . . . Ready? Set . . . Go!
+ + +
I said an "Angel of God" prayer for you. That way my angel and yours can confab, give each other angelic hugs and greetings, and both assist you with whatever you need (each angel is so powerful; I'm sure two will definitely take care of everything!)....and now, let's talk about the wise guys, and then, I'll get back to work. (If you ever wonder if writing a blog is work, I couldn't tell you. This is not a blog so much as a party, and I do enjoy parties, especially if there are cupcakes and really comfortable chairs . . . comfort seems to be a theme around here lately, and as to the cupcakes - it is a big feast, and man can't live on smiles alone. Or at least woman can't!)
Monday I got to go to Mass, and that meant I read my Magnificat about St. Gregory the Great. The priest said in his sermon that Gregory was a Benedictine, and my missal quoted good Greg as saying, "Study, I beg you, and each day meditate on the words of your Creator." That went beautifully because there I was, a captive audience so to speak, and the Psalm (119) at Mass really gave me pause.
"How I love Your law, O Lord!
It is my mediation all the day."
My husband and I are third order Carmelites, and the Carmelite Rule, called The Rule of St. Albert (shared by both Discalced and O.Carms, and by friars, nuns, and laity) instructs us to do just that: to meditate on God's law day and night. Next the Psalm said:
"Your command has made me wiser than my enemies,
for it is forever with me."
Isn't that cool? But here's the part that really got my goat:
"I have more understanding than all my teachers
when your decrees are my meditation."
Straight off I thought of little Therese. She's a Doctor of the Church, just like St. Gregory the Great! Isn't that wild? She had little formal education, lived a rather restricted life-in-exile (she makes up for it now, crisscrossing the globe constantly with her roses), and died at 24. But she's just as much a Doctor of the Church as any of the others . . .
One of my favorite lines from Therese (like with Marcel, there are something like 3, 742 quotes from her that rank among my favorites) came when she was with her sister Celine. They were both also religious sisters (nuns) in the Lisieux Carmel, and standing in front of the convent library one day, St. Therese said:
"Oh, I would have been sorry to have read all those books!"
Celine asked, "Why? This would have been quite an acquisition. I would understand your regretting to read them, but not to have already read them."
To which Therese responded, "If I had read them, I would have broken my head, and I would have wasted precious time that I could have employed very simply in loving God."
Now given that my greatest love after my husband and Marcel is books, you may be surprised that I think this quotation is wonderful. But keep in mind that Therese also said the way we become Saints is by doing God's will and being whatever He's made us to be. He's made me to be a book lover, and I love this vocation! But I also delight in Therese being so simple that she had her small library of favorites (unlike my huge library of favorites): the Gospels before all the rest, then St. John of the Cross, The Imitation of Christ (which does nothing for me), and a very few others. She had no desire for other books - to read or to have read. As for me, I love new books - I mean "new to me" books (preferably old ones, but I'm not a snob).
Yet Therese is making progress in simplifying my tastes. I can now list my favorites, thusly:
1. The Bible
3. The Divine Office
But you know if I was honest I'd stand before many libraries and praise God for keeping me from all kinds of vices (or even just sad introspection) with the joy of having read (or merely read the spines of) many, and have many more left to read . . . Ah! lovely self-forgetfulness, and even more than that the wondrous awareness of His love, that comes with good reading (fiction and non-fiction alike).
But perhaps I digress . . . so let's get back to Therese and our Psalm because here's where it gets interesting. (Frankly I've been interested so far and hope you have too, but here's where it gets SUPER interesting!)
That Psalm said, "I have more understanding than all my teachers when Your decrees are my meditation."
Surely however many books Therese did or didn't read, she was pretty occupied from early childhood with meditating on God's decrees. And so I was musing during Mass on Monday about how truly she did receive more understanding than all her teachers - I mean more understanding even than many of the greatest teachers in the Church, like Thomas a Kempis!
I have a quote on my fridge (lots of them - quotes, not fridges - but this one pertains) from Wisdom 3:9. There the Holy Spirit tells us:
"They that trust in Him shall understand the truth."
St. Therese sure trusted in Him! That's one of her hallmarks: her enormous trust, her bold daring, her unassailable confidence. And she's the living proof of the truth of that verse because having trusted, she understood so much truth, or to put it more simply, she so understood Jesus who is the Truth.
Naturally (and impishly, not being Miss Marcel for nothing), I started wondering during Monday's Mass if little Therese had more understanding than St. Gregory the Great. I thought that would be funny, and I guessed she just might . . .
And then, as He's so wont to do, dear Jesus answered my wonder with a resounding YES! For here is what Magnificat shared with me for the meditation after Mass, from St. Greg himself:
"Listen to what Solomon in his wisdom says: 'Do vigorously everything your hand can do, because there will be no work or plan or wisdom or knowledge in the lower world, to which you are hurrying.' Since we do not know the time of our coming death and we cannot work after death, it remains for us to seize the time granted us before death."
I don't know if you're thinking what I'm thinking, but don't worry, I'll tell you what I'm thinking!
First off, I think I'd better restrain myself from arguing with Solomon or arguing that Therese is wiser than Solomon. (Of course she is, but we're not about arguing here - we're all for peace, love, and sweet understanding!)
Solomon is making a point about "the lower world." He might be referring to the place where everyone went after death before Jesus came on Holy Saturday to lead His flock to a better (and higher) place. He might be referring to what we'd still call "the lower world," the place we call H, E, double toothpicks. (This is a family party, so we'll avoid anything approaching bad words :). But whichever way we interpret "the lower world," it's safe to say he's not talking about Heaven.
Good St. Greg, though (or Great St. Greg, to give him the fullness of his proper title), does seem to be talking about Heaven when he says:
"Since we do not know the time of our coming death and we cannot work after death, it remains for us to seize the time granted us before death."
If you're like me and Marcel and cringe at the word "work" just slightly less (okay lots less, but a cringe is a cringe nonetheless) than when you hear the word "suffering" (sorry! I shouldn't have said it!) - well I have good news for you!!!
I am pleased to announce a great reason to smile on National-Smile-whether-they've-earned-it-or-not Day: St. Therese has something very liberating to teach us about work, here and hereafter.
I'm going to number her teachings, since they come to us through more favorite quotes. All of them, like the previous quote from her, are taken from her Last Conversations.
And no, do't go buy a copy of LC. If you feel that buying compulsion overtake you, by all means buy another copy of Conversations. That will make you smile, and Marcel, and Therese, and me too! If you don't have a copy yet, it's about time. If you already have one, well unless it or you can bilocate, it will be helpful to have another copy for the upstairs/downstairs/bathroom/bedroom/dining room/car . . .fill in the place where your first copy usually isn't.
I'll give you everything you need from LC (the book you're not worrying about buying because I'll give you the best right here :), and we'll start now with Therese's little doctrine of work:
1. Our first quote was spoken by Therese to Mother Agnes (her sister Pauline). Therese is in her last months and Mother Agnes is wisely writing down every word that Therese says, so on August 11, 1897, Mother Agnes writes down the following (and I must interject here that Mother Agnes/Pauline is awesome!! where would we be without her? largely without Therese, and that would be like "the lower world" so let's not even think about it). Therese says:
"I've always found, Mother, that you put too much ardour into your work."
I will only stop to comment that this is a holy maxim that could lead us to heaven (a la St. Alphonsus' advice on his feast a month ago or so). Therese is often quoted (misquoted? mis-empasized, might be a better way to put it) to the effect that we'll become saints by doing small things perfectly.
Nope, I don't think so. Doing small things with great love - that's a motto St. Mother Teresa followed her namesake in living and promoting - and insofar as doing something with great love is to do it like God would, then sure, that's a happy save and we can say that then we'd be doing small things perfectly (i.e. with love). But if we're thinking that putting our whole heart, mind, and soul into earthly labor (or spiritual labors while on earth) to get it JUST RIGHT (i.e. our usual definition of perfect) - like perfectionism with a holy twist - I say nope, that's not the point!
Love is our point!
Childlike trust that while we do our job (nursing? not the sick, but drinking the spiritual milk of Holy Mother Church, like when we read Marcel's Conversations. Sleeping? yes, that is our job too, like a baby!), God will make sure everything else gets done (um, like the LTP.....yes, Jesus, I trust in You!)
2. Lest you think I'm making this up (if only! This could be a good get-rich-quick scheme. I could patent it or trademark it: "The Little Way" with a copyright sign after it!), here is what our little Doctor said when Mother Agnes asked her to explain what she meant by "remaining a little child before God." (This is from August 6, 1897, Feast of the Transfiguration.)
"It is to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father; it is to be disquieted about nothing, and not to be set on gaining our living. Even among the poor, they give the child what is necessary, but as soon as he grows up, his father no longer wants to feed him and says: 'Work now, you can take care of yourself.'
"It was so as not to hear this that I never wanted to grow up, feeling that I was incapable of making my living, the eternal life of heaven. I've always remained little, therefore, having no other occupation but to gather flowers, the flowers of love and sacrifice, and of offering them to God in order to please Him.
"To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of His little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God's treasure. Finally, it is not to become discouraged over one's faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves very much."
3. Pauline (Mother Agnes) isn't the only one of Therese's sisters to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude and love. Here is something Celine (Sr. Genevieve) copied for us during Therese's last July in exile:
"Another time, I said to her: Since you want to go to Saigon, perhaps when you are in heaven, I shall go in your place to complete your work, and the two of us will do a perfect work."
[Yes, Therese was already interested in Vietnam long before Marcel was born there in 1928. She had hoped to go (had her health permitted) to a Carmel in Saigon or Hanoi! And note how Celine is talking about doing a "perfect work." Let's see what Therese has to say to that!]
Therese replied: "Ah! if you ever go over there, don't think it's to complete something. There is no need of this. Everything is good, everything is perfect, accomplished, it is love alone that counts. If you go there, this will be a whim of Jesus, nothing else. Don't think this would be a useful work, it would be a whim of Jesus."
Do you know what I'm thinking now? I'm thinking it's time to eat lots of ice cream and chocolate lava cakes (as well as those elusive cupcakes I'm craving today) because I want to get really huge, with enormous arms so that I can tattoo that whole entire last paragraph on my forearm! Doesn't that sound like a great idea? Except shoot, tattoos are so permanent. How about magic marker? I think so. Just need to add a little bulk to that forearm! Enough said. This last paragraph is so utterly adorable and WISE that it leaves me as close to speechless as anything could in this land of exile!
4. Getting closer to our final and most wonderful demonstration that St. Therese, the littlest Doctor, learned more than her teachers (St. Greg most likely being one of them, since she learned much from her father, St. Louis Martin, reading Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year to the family, and my guess is that St. Gregory was in Dom Gueranger's great work with the other big Doctors), here is another word from Therese to Celine (written down by Mother Agnes on September 2, 1897 - three days ago, as it were, though 121 years ago, and a month before Therese died) -
Sister Genevieve said to her: "When I think they are still awaiting you at the Carmel of Saigon!"
Knowing she was dying, Therese replied simply:
"I shall go; I shall go very soon; if you only knew how quickly I will make my journey!"
5. Ah, yes, Therese had plans for her "rest" when she attained the shore of everlasting Life. And here is where we see that, without the least shadow of a doubt, His decrees having been her meditation during her short life on earth, she learned far more than all her teachers . . . While St. Gregory reasonably exhorts us to seize this day to work because certainly we cannot work after death, Therese was enlightened to see it differently. On July 17, 1897, at 2:00 in the morning, she coughed up blood and then told her Mother Agnes:
"I feel that I'm about to enter into my rest. But I feel especially that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love Him, of giving my little way to souls. If God answers my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. This isn't impossible, since from the bosom of the beatific vision, the angels watch over us."
You see that it must have been my angel who inspired me to suggest I send him to you to greet your angel and help you say a prayer for my Letters of Therese Project. Surely I've spent more time musing here than I intended, and yet, and yet . . . How marvelous are God's works! How sorry a state we'd be in if we spent our time working on Saints' Projects without spending our time with the Saints, admiring God's work in them!
I hope you know that I think St. Gregory the Great is awesome.
I just happen to think St. Therese is awesomer.
And when we come to the question of our brother Marcel, well, you know what I think, I think.
I think with great joy and even more admiration at the mysterious ways of the good God that Marcel is the awesomest!
And now, lest I never return to my work on those letters (which I'll have to remember to approach with less ardour and more confidence!), I'll cease and desist musing here with you. For the moment! As you can tell, I find your company irresistible, dear reader. Thank you for sitting with me at the feet of our novice mistress and sister Therese. Don't forget to say a little prayer for me and the work to which I'm returning, and if you want, you can roll it into our signature prayer:
Draw me (sweep me off my feet, Jesus!); we shall run!
Or in the language of Therese, though without much idea of quite how to say it; any French speakers out there, feel free to Contact Me and I'll share your pronunciation at our next party. Meanwhile, happily saying this badly and with great love, all together now:
Entraine-moi! nous courrons a ta suite!
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