In case you think it's all cupcakes and roses over here, I want you to know that in order to write this post today, I had to get past an extremely enthusiastic and absurdly affectionate poodle. Swimming with the sharks? Wrestling with alligators? Running with the bulls? Try blogging with the poodles, or even one poodle, and you'll find out what separates the men from the boys . . . or in this case, the women from the girls. But here I am, having lived to tell the tale, so praise God with me as we dive into Day 6.
We have lots of friends joining us up top, so before anything else I want to introduce them. To the average Catholic web-surfer they may look like a series of photos of St. Therese, but there's more than meets the eye, and in fact your picture may be among them. In the spirit of "I AM Heathcliff!" (a perennial favorite here), I'm pleased to introduce you to, from left to right, St. Therese, Marcel, a mystery guest, and Miss Marcel.
Yes, in a spirit of self-sacrifice, I'm identifying myself with the photo I can only call unfortunate. Do you know the story of the famous painting done of St. Teresa of Avila - the big Teresa? I don't think she was a fan of sitting for a portrait, but like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, she likely cut a deal with God to empty purgatory when, out of charity, she did so sit. What I know for sure is that she wasn't a fan of the end result. What historians might call our authentic portrait of her was so unflattering that she saw it and recoiled, exclaiming there was no way she was that ugly! I love knowing the Saints had to put up with the same frustrations we do - even the humiliation of being captured in an unphotogenic (or unportraitgenic) picture!
So forgive me, Therese, but I don't think that photo on the far right was photographer Celine's best effort. Nonetheless, as my sacrifice for today, I'll claim it. I'm putting you, sister, on the far left, then the second Therese, the littlest one - that would be Marcel, and skipping over what I think is a highly attractive photo (one of my favorites), I'll take last place (this sacrifice thus freeing me up for some random self-indulgence later in the day).
But who is the mystery guest with veil flung back and a dreamy look in her eyes? Why it's you, dear reader! You didn't think we could leave you out of our photo album here, did you? Now that we're praying for all your intentions, you're one of the fam, and we've got some great prayers today, so sit back and enjoy seeing how we corner Jesus and get Him, almighty God, to give us everything - and without any long and involved rhetoric, but using Therese's simple, childlike methods and then letting Him watch us play or sleep, depending on how much oomph we have with which to tackle the rest of the day. (Having tackled - or been tackled by - the poodle, I'm already exhausted!)
I think after the rubber chicken episode yesterday, we might want to pile up some prayers alongside our pile of intentions. Well not that many, but that powerful, I'm thinking. I've got 3 prayers lined up - one for each person of the Trinity - so let's get to it and then we can have dessert. I should probably clarify that for once I'm using "dessert" metaphorically - our dessert today will be a helping of Marcel's Autobiography, and it is so sweet, so "to die for," so elusively fabulous like Turkish Delight, that you won't be disappointed. Plus it pairs well with that H.D. limited edition caramel chocolate truffle ice cream we suggested the other day, and we highly recommend actual desserts to accompany our metaphorical ones. (Studies show that blogs visited by readers with treats in hand tend to have a high reader retention rate than those perused by untreated readers simultaneously driving and texting. Or rather, I'm confident these would be the results if researchers actually undertook such valuable studies.) But first, our Day 6 prayers.
The first is one of my favorite prayers EVER - among the simplest of prayers (just after "Help!"), and given to us first by God in that book I've already mentioned (earlier in this novena) as being able to teach us all we need to know about prayer. We might not have noticed by ourselves that this line from the Song of Songs is itself a prayer, and we very likely wouldn't have realized how very powerful a prayer it is, but thankfully St. Therese has passed along this little way before us, leaving her trademark rose petals (instead of breadcrumbs) for us to follow. This rose will prove not only fragrant and beautiful, but incredibly helpful to us because with it Therese teaches us how to charm the heart of the Father, offering to Him our every need with one simple sentence. Here is what she writes in Story of a Soul, very near the end:
"Since I have two brothers [her spiritually adopted missionary priest brothers, Fr. Adolphe Roulland and Maurice Belliere] and my little Sisters, the novices [among whom were her sister Celine and her dear protege Marie of the Trinity], if I wanted to ask for each soul what each one needed and go into detail about it, the days would not be long enough and I fear I would forget something important. For simple souls there must be no complicated ways; as I am of their number, one morning during my thanksgiving, Jesus gave me a simple means of accomplishing my mission.
"He made me understand these words of the Canticle of Canticles: "DRAW ME, WE SHALL RUN after you in the odor of your ointments." O Jesus, it is not even necessary to say: "When drawing me, draw the souls whom I love!" This simple statement: 'Draw me' suffices; I understand, Lord, that when a soul allows herself to be captivated by the odor of your ointments, she cannot run alone, all the souls whom she loves follow in her train; this is done without constraint, without effort, it is a natural consequence of her attraction for You. Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, O Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of Your Love, draws with her all the treasures she possesses. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine . . ."
And again, a few pages later in this "Manuscript C" (written for her Mother Superior) that became the final pages of her Story of a Soul, Therese writes:
"Mother, I think it is necessary to give a few more explanations on the passage in the Canticle of Canticles: 'Draw me, we shall run,' for what I wanted to say appears to me little understood. 'No man can come after me, unless the FATHER who sent me draw him,' Jesus has said. Again, through beautiful parables, and often even without using this means so well known to the people, He teaches us that it is enough to knock and it will be opened, to seek in order to find, and to hold out one's hand humbly to receive what is asked for. He also says that everything we ask the Father in His name, He will grant it. No doubt, it is because of this teaching that the Holy Spirit, before Jesus' birth, dictated this prophetic prayer: 'Draw me, we shall run.'
"What is it then to ask to be 'Drawn' if not to be united in an intimate way to the object which captivates our heart? If fire and iron had the use of reason, and if the latter said to the other: 'Draw me,' would it not prove that it desires to be identified with the fire in such a way that the fire penetrate and drink it up with its burning substance and seem to become one with it? Dear Mother, this is my prayer. I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of His love, to unite me so closely to Him that He live and act in me. I feel that the more the fire of love burns within my heart, the more I shall say 'Draw me,' the more also the souls who will approach me (poor little piece of iron, useless if I withdraw from the divine furnace), the more these souls will run swiftly in the odor of the ointments of their Beloved, for a soul that is burning with love cannot remain inactive. No doubt, she will remain at Jesus' feet as did Mary Magdalene, and she will listen to His sweet and burning words. Appearing to do nothing, she will give much more than Martha who torments herself with many things and wants her sister to imitate her. It is not Martha's works that Jesus finds fault with; His divine Mother submitted humbly to these works all through her life since she had to prepare the meals of the Holy Family. It is only the restlessness of His ardent hostess that He willed to correct."
Therese continues in the last few paragraphs she managed to write (the final lines written in pencil, for she was no longer strong enough to hold a pen) in praise of prayer and then in a brief explanation of the odor of the ointments of the Beloved. I would quote it all to you, only then we'd be reading about prayer instead of saying ours. Don't worry, this will be short and not only painless, but even delightful. Here, then:
Draw us, we shall run!
Can you imagine the results of this simple prayer? Besides Jesus promising (7 times, I once counted) that He and the Father would give us whatever we ask in His name, we have His word, as Therese reminds us too, that if we hold out our hand, He will fill it, He will grant our requests, He will not be able to resist the pleadings of His little ones.
But regarding promises, I have one to keep, the one about a Trinity of prayers today. Our second is in honor of the Son and addressed to Him, and taken from the intercessions the Church has given us in morning prayer for Wednesday of Week III, which happens, fortuitously enough, to be today (as I'm writing. Due to the timeless nature of the Internet, you may be reading this on Saturday of Week IV in the year 2057 - if so, aren't you glad you're here, instead of looking for a used hovercraft online? Those ads are likely old news, whereas at Miss Marcel's Musings we specialize in eternal offers of happiness and sporty rides to the destination of the Saints - never dated or outmoded).
What I like about this particular intercession from the Divine Office is that it encompasses everything we need, or very nearly everything. So without further introduction:
Jesus, look with mercy on the flock you have gathered together in Your name,
- Let no one whom the Father has given You perish.
We might add (so let's): "And do gather everyone together into Your flock, in Your sweet name."
No use forgetting anyone! This is not the Novena of Novenas for nothing, nor even for merely some things. But before I wax eloquent about everything (or as Snoopy would have it, wax Eloquent, but that's a story for another day), let's move on to our third prayer. I'm getting really hungry for dessert, and that delightful dish, Marcel, is waiting for us, so let's run!
This third prayer needs a qualification for little souls: Do not be afraid. This is an awesome prayer, one that "holds the secret of sanctity" according to the great Belgian Cardinal of yore, Desire Joseph Mercier who advised saying it daily.
[A formatting note: Please forgive me for giving up on accent marks here - I'm always pronouncing Therese as "Teh - rez" and the Cardinal's first name has a couple accent marks too, for those who know how to insert them into a blog post, such that I think we'd say "Dez-er-ay" (if we were on a first name basis). If we call him Cardinal Mercier that will solve our problem, but privately I'm sure he'd be happy to have use his middle name. We could call him Joe - he's just that near and dear to us.]
And Cardinal Mercier's prayer? I originally saw it many years ago, but in the last few months it's been popping up everywhere in my life and with great frequency. I can only surmise that the Holy Spirit, to whom this is addressed, wants me to share it with the whole world, so I'll do that now. And if any of it sounds too big for a little soul, just close your eyes as you run - I won't lead you astray. Take a deep breath, and one . . . two . . . three . . . GO!
O Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul . . .
I adore You.
Tell me what to do,
Give me Your orders.
I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me
and to accept all that You permit to happen to me.
Let me only know Your will.
Did I just get you to promise something you might later regret?
No way, Jose (for rhyming purposes, that's Hose-ay), but when all else fails, Don't think, just do.
Not like Nike (ny-kee), but like the Saints!
And now that we've asked Jesus to draw us, and we can be confident that soon everyone will be running (even those who haven't been running with us already, those who have no idea we're over here holding secret meetings, praying for them behind their backs, poor dears), now that we've asked Jesus to permit no one to be lost, and we've given ourselves up to the Holy Spirit's sublime plans, let's have dessert!
Not just any dessert, mind you - we've said 3 whole prayers which makes this practically a Feast, so let's share what looks to be a Vietnamese layer cake with lemon curd filling, chocolate-raspberry butter cream frosting (fresh raspberries lavishly adorning the top and the base), and lots of layers in your favorite flavors, which may happen to be a medley of dark chocolates, I'm guessing, but for more adventurous types let's add anything their heart and palate desires. . . I can't say exactly how many layers, or if the Vietnamese (other than Marcel and his entourage) have any previous acquaintance with this cake. Let's peek under the cover hiding this delectable confection and see!
(We now take a momentary break for those without an actual cake already sliced and plated before them to raid their secret chocolate stash. This is almost as good as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and neither that nor this should be read without appropriate comestibles at hand.)
I have often freely acknowledged my attachment to Conversations. No question that's my favorite of Marcel's book, and really my favorite book ever. BUT I would be depriving you of so much if I didn't dip into Marcel's Autobiography too. It's absolutely a sign that ONLY GOD WILL SATISFY US (not to yell at you, but to highlight the main point) - what's a sign? That I could possibly have any desire for other books when I still haven't scratched the surface of Marcel's. Not that I want to scratch Marcel (tickle him, absolutely, but not scratch). I just have to laugh that I'm worried about my book budget when merely opening the Autobiography this morning was enough to remind me that I have the field, the treasure buried therein, the pearl, and Jesus Himself right here in FOUR (count them! Autobiography, Conversations, Correspondence, Other Writings) books which are worth more than the whole library of Alexandria (not to mention all the libraries in the world, if they don't contain these four that I have with me constantly.)
But enough about me and my silliness. (Yes, this morning my husband did tell me that I was sillier than the poodle. Wow. If he's right, I'm in a class of my own, a class of unprecedented silliness, with only Marcel-Jesus and Jesus-Marcel to compete for top honors!) It's time to cut the cake, as it were; time to taste the light but rich autobiographical offerings of Marcel - and there are no calories! And yet it's more nourishing than a 7 course meal, more delightful than Bananas Foster!
I will say before we start: This is where to start. I mean, if you have the chance, do read the Autobiography (even more than I can give you here), but Do listen to Ralph (not Elizabeth) and Don't start at the beginning. If you don't know who Ralph and Elizabeth are, you have another treat in store, to wit, The Paradise Project, which will not only teach you how to read a book (with great laughter, hopefully, and occasional accidental snorts, and again, chocolate at hand) but will also show you that there is great and wholesome literature still being written - as a friend and reader wrote to me only yesterday: you can give it to your children to read without any reservations! Nothing to skip, only pages to read twice - once to yourself, and the second time out loud, when the other people in the room want to know what's so funny.
BUT, while you can click on the title above, order your copy, and get back here without missing a word, the whole reason I brought Ralph into this was because he instructs Elizabeth as I will instruct you: Do Not start (Marcel's Autobiography in this case) at the beginning. If you are a rebel or one who hates to be told what to do (and not to do), then I'm happy if I've forced your hand. Start at the beginning of the Autobiography and I won't really worry about you. But for those who know that (a) they often don't get past page 19 or a new book - I think that is the actual statistical average for most people, and this time I'm not kidding! I know too it's about my statistical average - or (b) they'd rather read the best part first or (c) they prefer tears of joy to tears of sadness . . . . I suggest starting at (562) of the Autobiography, at the section titled "The little way of childhood." That's where I started when I first found this magnificent book, that's around where I'll start today for our dessert, and that's where I think you'll find the heart of the book (and Marcel). It's like the seasoned Carmelites telling those interested in starting St. John of the Cross: start with the Spiritual Canticle, then the Living Flame of Love, and only then go back to the Dark Night of the Soul and Ascent of Mount Carmel. (And if you really want to be happy quickly, leave all his books aside and start with his poetry, like you might be starting Marcel by reading excerpts here . . . but there comes a day when you're ready for the whole big fat book or Complete Works, and then, we can only suggest you start with the chocolate that's likely to be your favorite, rather than with that one you always accidentally take from the assorted "nuts and chews" box, and then are stuck with.)
Whew. Will I ever let you pick up your fork and have that first satisfying taste of the Autobiography? Yes. Right now. We begin with Marcel at his page (562). It is October 1942. Marcel is a boy of 14, and after many years of suffering and a circuitous path, he is now in a good minor seminary.
The little way of childhood
My dear Father, having arrived at this point in my story, I feel the necessity to interrupt things to make you aware of an unexpected discovery on the way to perfection. It is God Himself who is the origin of the discovery and who has guaranteed its success . . . In spite of my great desire to attain holiness, I was certain that I would never succeed, since to be a saint it was necessary to fast, give oneself the discipline, carry a stone round one's neck, wear chains and a hair shirt, put up with the cold, scabies, etc. . . . ! My God, if that's how it is, I give up! since, as I understand it after having read many lives of the saints, sanctity can be summarized quite simply in these external practices, with for good measure, prolonged ecstasies, nights spent in prayer . . .etc. All of these things being too much for me, I was in despair, faced with these conditions which were so hard to accomplish, and I came to the conclusion that my desire for sanctity was for me pure madness; a serious temptation which I had firmly to rule out. I don't know why, but the more I chased away this temptation the more it plagued me. The more I tried to flee it the more it returned with greater insistence. I had to beg the Blessed Virgin often to free me from this troublesome idea. It was obvious to me that sainthood was impossible.
Compatible with my personal idea, I would have wished that my life of sanctity could conform to the thought of Saint Augustine: 'Love and do what you wish.' Yes, I would have wished that all my actions, all my gestures were devoted to the service of God, so as to reach right up to Him who is absolute perfection. But how can I dare to run such a risk, since I have not yet succeeded in finding an officially recognized guide to approve as acceptable my notion of sanctity? I have even scoured the entire series of the lives of the saints without finding a single one who was joyful, who laughed and could be mischievous like me. From their early childhood they showed an aptitude to put up with hunger and to spend long hours in prayer. And as for the saints who had first of all led a sinful life to be converted afterwards, they practiced frightening corporal penances. I was looking, therefore, for a saint of my imagination but where then was he hidden, as I could not find him anywhere? I dare not invent a new way myself. So what was there to do?
* * *
Oh, Marcel! We are so lucky to have you! Without you, we too would have had to invent a saint of our imaginations - but our imaginations could never have come up with a saint as little and charming, as imitable and adorable, as funny and friendly as you are! Only God could make you for us, just as only He could make Therese for you. Give Him so many kisses for us! Tell Him we thank Him for all the stars in the heavens, all the Saints in glory, but more than any of them, we thank Him for you, little brother!
And now, dear reader, I'm going to do a terrible thing. I'm going to stop transcribing the Autobiography so that I can get lunch for myself and my son. Believe me, I'd much rather munch Marcel (metaphorically) than eat any food this earth has to offer. To console myself, I think I'll get us steak burritos (I told you I live in Mexican food land), and I promise to do my best to get back here bright and early tomorrow to tell you how things turn out for our little brother. Or do you mind if I tell you now? I don't want either you or Marcel to be left hanging - don't worry, he will find Therese soon and then everything will come up roses! Even as I write this, even as you read this, he has already found her and doesn't mind us saying with Jesus, "Time's up. Go and rest," or in my case, "Go to Garden Market." Besides, we've said 4 prayers now - one for each person of the Trinity, and one for Marcel. That's a lot of praying for little souls, and we've got to keep up our strength. We're in the home stretch: only 3 more days to go in our novena. We can pick up tomorrow exactly where we left off today. No, not with burritos, silly - but with the Autobiography. It only gets better, so see you later, alligator!
And now I'm going to do something I never like to do, but my hand is forced by Marcel. I'm going to publish this without finishing my proofreading, so please forgive any typos (and feel free to Contact Me and point them out if you like!)...but great news to those who love Marcel (and how could any of us help it?) - today I recorded an interview with the kind and professional Michael Lichens, editor of Catholic Exchange. He will make it into a podcast we hope will appear up at Catholic Exchange next week - a podcast about MARCEL! I'll let you know when it's online, and meanwhile, thank you and God bless you, Michael L! And God bless us all, as we move forward however imperfectly with our novena of love and laughter.
I've written books and articles and even a novel. Now it's time to try a blog! For more about me personally, go to the home page and you'll get the whole scoop! If you want to send me an email, feel free to click "Contact Me" below.