Each day we must build up our stock of joy,
in the form which constitutes the highest and purest joy,
in the form of wonder.
--Father Maurice Zundel
I have told you this so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.
Today is officially the first day of my husband's and my 30th wedding anniversary. I have the vague impression that other people confine their anniversaries (of their births, their weddings, even Mother's Day) to merely one day, but fortunately I now have this blog wherein I can set the rest of the world straight.
Remember how Heaven will be eternal bliss as we gaze on the Face of of God, our Love, forever? And remember how our life of grace on earth is a foretaste of Heaven? (I know sometimes it doesn't taste like Heaven, but go with me on this one; St. Thomas tells us so, and he's not the only one.)
Well, my policy is becoming clearer to me: We must practice extending our celebrations by increasing the time we allow ourselves for wonder and joy. We wouldn't want Heaven to be a complete change of activity from what we do now, but we're all in such a rush and such a tizzy down here (myself very much included), that anniversaries of every kind may be our last chance to slow down and revel in the miracle of His plan.
Have I told you yet about my husband's famous line about our anniversary? It was 10 years ago, and if you do the math, you'll find that was on or around our 20th wedding anniversary. It was the beginning of summer (this week back then, in fact, so we're now actually celebrating the 10th anniversary of this priceless moment of husbandly courage and candor), and naturally I was beginning to plan how to milk our anniversary (which on the calendar comes in August) for all it was worth. So I said to my husband, the moment his school year ended, "Honey, this is the summer of our 20th anniversary! What shall we do to celebrate it?"
Let me defend him before I cast him into the abyss of Too Much Truth. It is likely that having been married to me for 20 years, he knew me well enough at that point to know my expectations for our special day (which I was considering our special summer) might be just a tad high. Not like, "Let's splurge and go out to dinner at a place where they give you two forks" high, but more like "Shall we take a world tour, or simply go to Europe and see every Saintly place the Continent has to offer?" high.
And so, because the best defense is a good offence, Tony looked at me, his beloved bride, and blurted out, "I'd rather go to the dentist than have our 20th anniversary."
Translate: "At least when you go to the dentist, you know there will be an end to the event." Or perhaps a more literal translation would be, "I love you darling, and I'd marry you all over again, but I'm already exhausted and I'm not ready to spend my whole summer celebrating when I know this is going to turn out badly. At least the dentist gives me a new toothbrush."
The upshot was that I laughed very hard, we started on a level playing field, and wonderfully enough, we came up with a list of fun activities for the whole summer - mostly local; none overseas - and had the best 20th anniversary time ever. And true to form, five years later when our 25th anniversary rolled around, my absent minded professor actually did (inadvertently) schedule a dentist appointment for our special day!
You can see my conundrum. It's our 30th, and the only obvious solution for a man with this attitude is a root canal. And yet that wouldn't be sporting: I'm all for togetherness, but I never said I'd rather go to the dentist than anything at all, let alone substitute it for our anniversary.
Luckily, I'm beginning to see that God's got this, like absolutely everything else. And so my wonder begins as this day dawns, May 15th and the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer, whose wife was a Saint too. Do you think it was for not whacking him over the head with a farm implement when he said he'd rather have a tooth pulled than celebrate their 20th?
In fact we didn't actually get married on this day, but it was the day we quickly decided upon when my husband proposed and I, after a momentary lapse during which my life flashed before my eyes and I consequently and uncharacteristically paused before speaking, and he said (the man is hilarious), "You can tell me tomorrow if you want," thus startling me out of my brief reverie so that I yelled (or sweetly responded, eyes downcast under dew-tipped lashes; I forget which): "Yes!" -- to marrying him, not to waiting until the next day.
As I recall, we then looked at each other in awe and wonder. Really.
I said, "Are you sure?" and he laughed and assured me he was sure.
We continued to gaze at each other in awe, and one of us (me?) said, "We can raise lots of children up to heaven!" and the other (that would be him) heartily agreed, both of us lost in the wonder of God's plan for our future. And then we wondered aloud together how soon we could possibly get married and came up with the first Saturday after school was over (then it was grad school, but school it always is for us) which happened in that year to be the Feast of St. Isidore the Farmer.
Which brings me at last to the subject of this post: Joy in God's plan. Which plan, I might add, is so often not ours. At least not our Plan A - you know, the plan we have so that God can replace it with Plan B.
Grammatically, "joy in God's plan" could mean at least two things: The plan of joy God has for us, or, on the other hand, the joy we take in the plan of God. Luckily for those of us bears with little brains, they amount to the same thing, for as Jesus told us two thousand years ago (and yesterday) through the Apostles at the Last Supper, His desire is that His own joy fill us so that our joy may be complete. And just to confirm that His intentions haven't changed, He tells us again today through Marcel something similar in their Conversations:
"Be joyful little brother, never give in to sadness" (404),
"You must always be joyful" (549),
and speaking of what St. Therese has told Marcel,
"She does not cease to remind you that, even in difficulties, you must never be sad but always joyful. I myself have just told you the same thing, assuring you that I continue to smile on you and to give you kisses . . . So, Marcel, be joyful and say again to me: 'Little Jesus, I love you. O little Jesus, come with me.' I love you very much, Marcel, I am very happy with you and when I see you joyful, I am happier still" (241).
Our dear Mother Mary, too, repeatedly tells us through Marcel in their Conversations:
"Your only occupation should be to love in joy. You can cry when you are sad and laugh when you are joyful, but your heart must love little Jesus always in joy" (284).
I guess the tears come first in frustration, which Our dear Lord shed too, twice at least we know from the Gospels. As one of my favorite sermons from my favorite Book of Sermons (which you can see by clicking HERE) has it: "Christ, Our Lord, was a prey to incidentals. He was a victim of incessant annoyances which left Him no peace. He could never carry out without interruptions what He planned to do."
Isn't that our life exactly?
And so, in God's eternal design, my husband and I didn't get married on this day thirty years ago, but a few months down the road. And the sequel has been just as funny: our "lots of children" we've been raising to heaven have been two unimaginably wonderful sons, not a dozen. And finally, as if to remind us that He's still full of surprises and His plan is still better than ours, the first jaunt of our summer this year, which was to begin yesterday and would have landed us today in a tropical paradise for the beginning of our anniversary festivities, was at the very last minute postponed. Not to mention the tropical paradise is seeing massive rain, with thunderstorms projected into the indeterminate future!
Again, the sequel is just as delightful. Because God's plan trumped ours, I ended up in church yesterday afternoon, rather than on a plane. Right there I was able to practice turning my tears into joy, although I admit it wasn't hard to rejoice at finding myself on solid ground in God's large house rather than in a cramped metal tube flying far above the earth but well below Heaven . . .
Furthermore, it was a particularly wonderful visit to church because it included an unexpected (but irresistible) confession with a holy and gentle priest (my confession, not his), and Mass with a Gospel reading that strung together a series of sparkling words straight from Our Lord's Heart, each brighter and more beautiful than the one before.
Soon I was so overwhelmed by God's love that I had to amuse myself with Marcel's trick of distracting himself so as not to get into trouble. I was in such awe at Jesus' words, the relics He's left us, that I was afraid I might swoon if I didn't change the subject. Okay, it did occur to me that all this holiness and intensity of devotion might be the effect of half a Coke I'd drunk an hour before, but after consulting with friends (one of whom was wondering if the cup of coffee she'd had earlier was responsible for her similar reaction to the Gospel) we decided no, what we were experiencing was really the thrill of Jesus' words of love. And it occurred to me that our usual distraction is just His infinite mercy keeping us from dying of love too soon, which would happen if we had any awareness of the depths and heights of His love for us. But when, despite our best efforts to spend Mass thinking of what we'll eat for lunch or dinner, the wonder of His infinite Love threatens to bowl us over, we can turn to Marcel for advice on how to stay upright. He knows a thing or two about staying focused, it turns out, and comically, it's not much different than where we started. Here is what he wrote to Brother Andrew in 22 May 1949:
"I am giving you this advice when you go into town: you must be very attentive, I mean do not be immersed in deep meditation, as happened to me several times to my misfortune. So, from now on, when I go to town on my bicycle, beforehand, when I go to the oratory to ask Jesus' blessing, I have to force myself to adopt a nonchalant air so as to avoid that the intimacy with which Jesus gives me His blessing does not make me feel its effect as far as the town. In acting this way, with an air of not having any intimacy with Jesus, my intention is to avoid being distracted, as happened more than once, as when I was already in town and I believed I was still sitting peacefully on my bench in the oratory . . . ! Because of that it happened to me once, and even many times that I had funny adventures on the road. I will tell you of one to help you to be on your guard.
"One afternoon, when I had gone to town, I do not know on what business, I was returning to the house and I could not have been happier! My mind was probably in the clouds - perhaps also because I was chatting too intimately with Jesus - and I pedaled without knowing too well where I was at. Suddenly, I saw vaguely in front of me some people who were walking four abreast in the middle of the road. You know well the width of this road which stretches from the coconut market to Hang Bot. However, they marched in ranks of four although there were only four of them. I had hardly noticed them, me being behind them, for they were going in the same direction as me. I was afraid. I wanted to ring the bell, but alas, there was not one. I hurried to apply the brakes, once again a problem! You know the state of the bicycles at the Thai-Ha community. I was really frightened, it was impossible for me to get out of it: If I turn to the right I fall on the track of the electric trams, if I turn to the left I hit the fourth person. I therefore cried out "Xe!" ["Motor!"], resigning myself to land on the tram lines; I had, unfortunately, not the time to do so, as my bicycle turned suddenly on the person who was marching near it. I fell to the ground. I do not know if I felt any pain, all I do know is that the lady I had struck did not stop whistling between her teeth to express her annoyance. I got up quickly, both bothered and a little unhappy, but I was able to contain myself immediately. It was not possible for me, a religious, to argue with a young woman in the street. Really that would have been-
"I remained calm, therefore, although I would have had reason to reproach them. I hurriedly apologized to the young lady asking her if she had been hurt. She replied by muttering in her teeth, reproaching me for this and that. Her three friends joined her to complain . . . I did have a little consolation: the three young ladies, in spite of everything, in speaking to me favored me with the title of sir. [In Vietnam this term was used for men over 40. Marcel was 21!] It was not too bad, after this adventure, to be called sir. I allowed them to get things off their chests and then remounted my bicycle. But the young ladies continued: has sir learnt to ride a bicycle? So is sir blind?
"As for me, back down to earth, I questioned myself to determine the cause of this amusing adventure. I remember very well that my eyes were wide open. I would never dare close my eyes as the little girl of Lisieux once did. But, nevertheless I hit someone whilst riding the bicycle on the road. Although I reflected a lot all the way back to the house, I could not find any explanation. It is only later that I remembered this: in passing in front of the church in Hang-Bot, inadvertently I took off my hat to salute Jesus in a very intimate manner, so that, throughout the journey, my mind was wandering all over the place . . . ! I did not stop reproaching Jesus, and after that I paid great attention. But alas! My Brother, there remains the rest of the journey to finish. Sometimes, even if I pay attention, it happens that my mind wanders here and there." (Correspondence)
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Oh dearest little brother, Marcel! You are so wonderful that you fill me with joy! Even when you are advising me how not to die of love (not any old death of love, but dying by getting into an accident while multi-tasking by driving and chatting with Jesus, for instance), you leave me in doubt as to whether your mind "wandering all over the place" was like mine, occupied with trivia, or like our sister's, absorbed often in God. And even when you are absorbed in God, what could be more imitable and delightful than your conversations with Him, wherein He reveals to you His burning love, and you reveal to Him your oh so understandable, if seemingly trivial, concerns.
Jesus: Little Marcel, do you love me?
Marcel: Yes, I love you.
Jesus: But how do you love me?
Marcel: I love you so much that it is impossible for me to express it.
Jesus: In that case, you must never worry. When I say something to you, you must listen straight away.
Marcel: But, little Jesus, why does Brother Mark behave so harshly towards me? Do not forget that I can place the fault at your feet since it is you who live in Brother Mark; it is you who allow him to make me suffer. . . (Conversations, 351)
You can see why my joy and wonder return again and again to Marcel. Who but our nutty little brother could get away with blaming Jesus for everything?! What a wonderful example for us to follow! But remember to save such intimate blaming for a time when you are not driving, or you may find yourself blaming Him face to Face!
As to yesterday's Gospel and my need to distract myself from Jesus' words there, well I knew I'd be driving home afterward, so that can be my excuse for not wanting to die of love just then. Not to mention that we haven't finished raising son #2, nor the disappointment my husband would feel if I were not here to badger him into a series of remarkable anniversary adventures.
I'm sure you too have many reasons to stay on this earth a while longer: people who need you, who love you, for whom this earth would be too far from Heaven if you went away too soon. Careful, then, with the words that follow. I've been waiting for years to share them with you, and I will end with them today, on the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer (and by implication, his adorable saintly wife, Maria). They are words all straight from Jesus - the first set spoken to us through St. Gertrude the Great, and the rest at the Last Supper and in yesterday's Gospel.
"My daughter, seek those words of mine which most exude love. Write them down, and then, keeping them preciously like relics, take care to reread them often . . . Be assured, then, that the most precious relics of mine on earth are my words of love, the words which have come from my most sweet Heart." (words of Our Lord to St. Gertrude)
Is it any surprise that my most precious possession is my copy of Marcel's Conversations with Jesus?
"Jesus said to His disciples, 'As the Father loves Me, so I also love you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is My commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from My Father. It was not you who chose Me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. This I command you: love one another.'" (Jn 15:9-17)
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God's plans for my yesterday prevailed in spades, and as per His custom, brought me great joy. When I went online to rearrange my plans to fit His, I found that Marcel had snuck back onto Catholic Exchange, HERE. I was enraptured, once again, by Jesus' words. As if that wasn't enough, my French connection informed me that if I went HERE and HERE, I would find the two best gifts (anniversary, Mother's Day, St. Isidore the Farmer Day gifts - any excuse will do) ever - a pair of DVDs on Marcel! They are now available in the U.S. for $20 each with free shipping, and one of them includes the nearly hour long recording of Fr. Antonio Boucher, Marcel's novice master, spiritual director, and "Bearded Jesus," speaking of his dear little Marcel. This was taped only 15 days before Fr. Boucher went to meet Marcel and Jesus in Heaven! I couldn't have concluded this post without telling you of this bounty and sharing it with you through the wonders of the clickable internet. I hope I have refilled your stock of joy for today, and I hope that wherever you go next, you will take the intimacy of Jesus' love with you. But remember: drive safely!
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