I have this painting above my kitchen table, where it hangs waiting to draw me deep into prayer every morning over my Lucky Charms or pop-tarts.
Alright, I don't actually eat Lucky charms or pop-tarts anymore (what a loss!), and the painting across from me is not the original - that hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid, but I have a very nice replica, for which I'm grateful and which I do sometimes gaze upon while eating my oatmeal or eggs. More often than not I forget to gaze, but when I remember, the beauty of this image only deepens and never grows stale.
Recently I realized that besides being the most exquisite illustration I've ever seen of Jesus and His cousin John the Baptist, Murillo's painting also does a remarkable job of portraying Little Jesus and little Marcel. Like John the Baptist, Marcel talked about sandals, but perhaps more significantly, like St. John the Baptist our dear Marcel received the Life Giving Water from Jesus in order to share it with us and prepare us for His coming to our hearts.
What is striking me today, though, on this Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist and day-after-the-birth of JK and MME (see yesterday's post for a fuller celebration of THAT solemnity - wow, what a great day in history it was that brought us those two Marcel-lovers!), is a sentence of St. John's that perfectly announces and summarizes the Little Way.
"He must increase and I must decrease." (John 3:30)
Lest we be overcome by my perspicacity (brilliance, insight, wisdom) in connecting this quote with the Little Way, let me just mention that after I put in the Scripture reference (retrieved from Bible Gateway through google), I re-read the sentence and found I'd written, "He must decrease and I must increase." That does about sum up both my mastery of Scripture and the blonde ditziness that helps me spend much of my day in laughter! But happily we are men and not angels, and that means we get as many second chances as we need and can cram into said days.
If we can get Marcel to stop laughing, we'll continue with our Scriptural exegesis. I was so ready to be deep with you today! But our dear little brother has my number and wants to make sure I walk the talk, as well as talking the walk down our little tiny way.
Isn't that it, though? He must increase and I must decrease. If we reverse the order (not the meaning), we get us decreasing - acknowledging and admitting our weakness, littleness, and powerlessness with St. Paul, St. Therese, and dear Marcel, in order that He can increase - filling our souls and our lives with Himself: our weakness attracting His power, our littleness making more room in our souls for His greatness, our inability to make ourselves holy and successful drawing down His mercy and His Love beyond all telling.
Zechariah magnified the Lord after hearing Mary's Magnificat and seeing the fulfillment of God's prophecies in his and Elizabeth's son, born this day to become the forerunner of the Christ, the answer to the prayers of all Israel as well as the answer to the prayers Zechariah and Elizabeth had uttered so fervently many years (decades even) before.
We finished a delightful novena yesterday. It was delightful because Marcel led us along his sister's Little Way and shed laughter as well as roses over our prayers. I've been hearing about how many of the prayers were answered nearly instantly. Then last night a friend wrote to let me know she'd enjoyed the novena to the full, and she added, with great faith and hope, "Lots of intentions on our end. Some, we will no doubt never know the outcome this side of eternity." How true!
I love, love, love Zechariah's reaction to the angel's announcement that Elizabeth would bear a son. "You're a day late and a dollar short, buddy," is my modern translation (the MMRV - Miss Marcel's Revised Version). Did he even remember his prayer of yesteryear? I know that I, too, would have been (would be, for miracles still happen) less than thrilled to find out that what was so desirable in youth (many arrows in the quiver) is suddenly to be fulfilled (and one child is infinitely more than none, so no need for God or His angels to offer triplets, for the elderly to be taken aback) - fulfilled when one has long ago accepted God's Plan B and rearranged one's life accordingly. And now - NOW, after all this time! - now He sends an angel with Plan C??!!
You gotta love history - so full of God's interventions, just when we were getting complacent with our lot. But that complacency has a price, and it is the loss of our youthful hope and idealism. As Pope Saint John Paul II never tired of reminding us: this hope and idealism is a treasure not to be squandered or lost! He had such a gift for extending the age of "youth" into what used to be considered middle age, almost. (The invitation to world youth day is extended to "youth" aged 16 - 35.) And with good reason, as Jesus never tires of teaching us through Marcel and Therese, as He taught us not too long after He was little Jesus playing with His cousin John (later "the Baptist") - in His justly famous words: "Unless you become like little children . . . "
Unless we become like children . . . what?
Pretty dire consequences, let me tell you!
Unless we become like little children, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Little children have many qualities: some endearing, some quite frustrating for the grown-ups who care for them. The characteristic that comes to my mind now is both endearing and frustrating, but overall charming and even capable of inspiring T.V. shows from "Kids say the Darndest Things!" to "America's Funniest Home Videos," and now that we've shifted our attention from the T.V. screen to the computer screen, this characteristic of children has inspired hundreds (or more like tens of thousands) of hilarious home-made YouTube offerings.
To put it plainly, little children put it plainly.
They are direct. They say or express in whatever way is available to them whatever is on their minds, in their hearts, or before their minds and hearts have much to express, whatever their tiny bodies are feeling.
From gurgles, smiles, and laughter to the less attractive crying, spitting up, and tantrums, little children don't leave much to our imaginations when it comes to how they're doing. It's a kind of all-or-nothing, filled with passion and complete honesty. Which is how Jesus taught Marcel to be with Him. To be honest, to express what was new (or old) in his life, to tell Him everything, simply.
Such immediate and direct contact with God is at least one way for us to be like little children and thus obtain the Kingdom of Heaven. As my older son pointed out to me last night, this kind of holy daring and demanding posture also fits perfectly with Jesus' teaching (which I applied to Padre Pio the other day) that the violent take the Kingdom of Heaven by force. I've met nothing more violent than a famished baby desperate to nurse, or a toddler (or me!) with low blood sugar. The solution is so simple! Feed the baby and ourselves, or in the spiritual realm (as well as the physical) let's be sure to call on Jesus as soon as we realize we're in need, hungry for something even when we don't know what it is we are hungry for. He will know it is Himself, and feed us accordingly.
Which would be a sublime thought (and reality) to wrap up this post, only Marcel, obedient to his Teacher's admonition to express himself, is now clamoring for our attention. He wants to be part of the action, and he wants to tell us something now in honor of the Solemnity.
One quick prayer to the Holy Spirit later, and this is what Marcel has for us today. I opened Conversations at random, letting our little brother choose the page, and he is giving us the passage around (434) with Jesus speaking as follows:
"Little brother . . . the only difference between the souls of children and the angels in heaven is that the souls of children are united to a body and so, consequently, they have natural defects. But in spite of that, a child's soul is pure like that of the angels in heaven. Because of that children always possess in themselves the Trinity and continually taste natural joys that the Trinity lavish on them . . . There is no need for me to expand on this subject; I will simply say that the soul of a child is a perfectly pure temple inhabited by the Holy Trinity . . . Marcel, listen to what I am saying to you. The world is very stupid. When the hearts of children have become like a temple where the goodness of the Trinity dwells here below, goodness which has the power to draw to the world the benevolent glance of the Trinity, the world works to destroy these temples of divine goodness and make them disappear because of scandal.
"O world, without Love, you would already be destroyed and reduced to cinders . . . O world, God now wishes to transform you by way of Love; you must live in Love . . . However, to accomplish that, many prayers will be necessary, since the world still rebels against Love."
Thank you, Marcel, for sharing Jesus' words with us. Did it help you, little brother, to hear Truth say that thanks to our bodies, unlike the angels we can always expect to have natural defects? It sure helped me! I'm thinking that we need to be patient with ourselves and each other. Even when we are (unbeknownst to us, invisible to the naked eye) making progress along our Little Way and living more tightly clasped in the arms of Jesus, we shouldn't be surprised that we still get irritable or feel the need to complain. Jesus was not too impatient with your worries about your sandals, your soutane, the heat in your room, and so on and so forth, and He understands our little colicky moments as well.
Then, too, we can try to be patient with each other - with the children big or little that Jesus has brought into our lives. As St. Ephrem said (or so it says on my fridge), we must be kind to each other for we are all fighting a great battle.
And Jesus tells us we must pray. Marcel, I'm so glad (and relieved) that you and Therese have shared with us such helpful hints on prayer. I used to fear that I was displeasing Jesus by not saying more prayers, for longer, and in a less comfortable position . . . but you teach us (as Jesus and Mary and Therese taught you) that there are many ways to pray, and even our breathing and our sleeping are prayers. What good news!
Ah, here is another passage the book has practically flipped itself open to show us. Thank you, dear book of Conversations! Thank you, dear guardian angel! Thank you, especially, dear Blessed Mother, for these words to Marcel and to us:
"My second little Therese, listen to me; each time I speak to you, I can only suggest the same thing: prayer. Prayer of the will, prayer of works, prayer of feeling. Do not forget that there are many means which can help you to pray without tiring yourself. You must not be afraid of prayer. The first Therese of the Child Jesus has taught you the easiest method of prayer, which does not require any words. Since you are very small, continue to follow this method just as she taught you. Little Marcel, my child, pray a great deal for my apostles. Prayer is the weapon and the food that will later serve my favoured children. I wish to have a great supply of it in reserve that I will keep at their disposal. When you turn your glance in my direction, remember what I am saying to you now; that will be a very easy manner of praying that you will be able to use many times a day. My child, continue to follow the method that your sister Therese has taught you; I am only reminding you of it now so that you may remember it more easily." (261)
Now here is a funny thing. I could not for the life of me remember what the first Therese taught Marcel about prayer. And then Our Lady, our loving Mother, gave us this clue: the glance!
Ah, the powerful glance that pierces heaven, the very description by Therese that Holy Mother Church chose to answer the question "What is prayer?" in her universal catechism. The glance of love! Yes!
Gazing at my picture of beautiful little Jesus while I eat breakfast (and now I'm thinking I may be excused for indulging in a pop-tart, if I can find one, on such an important solemnity for children), I am already saying a prayer! How good God is. How He understands the poverty of His dear children!
And then there is the other simple prayer the first Therese taught us recently. I think we'll use it as our signature prayer here at MMM.
Have you ever heard of a signature scent? That's a special perfume a woman wears, one that complements her natural loveliness and allows the people close to her to associate her with the beauty of a particular smell. When I was a little girl, my mom always dabbed her wrists and neck and behind her ears with L'aire du Temps. I knew she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she'd lean down to kiss me at night I'd breathe in her signature scent and say a little prayer thanking God for giving me such a beautiful mommy. Wouldn't you know that even though I don't think she has worn L'Air du Temps for a long time, she's more wonderful than ever?
I just found out two very interesting things from my friend Google. First, you can buy L'Air du Temps at Sears and Walmart. I have an $11 gift card from Sears, and there's a Walmart not too far away. Perhaps I'll soon be smelling like a beautiful mommy!
Next, it is true what they say about Google translate. I looked up L'Air du Temps there a moment ago and they told me it means "the weather." Even to a non-French speaking blonde, that sounds suspiciously simple for three (four if you count the truncated 'le' at the outset) words . . . but our friend Wikipedia has a more satisfying explanation. There I found, "L'air du temps is a French expression that roughly translates to 'the current trend' or 'fashionable at the moment.'"
Which would explain why my mom later moved on to Giorgio, Chloe, and other timely fragrances. But regardless of how time (and thus the current trends and what's fashionable at the moment) flies, her earlier signature scent has stayed with me. Children are very impressionable, as Jesus was saying in His words to us a moment ago.
And so, I think we kids here at MMM should adopt a signature prayer, a kind of club motto or mantra, our Semper Fi and battle cry all wrapped into one short phrase. A signature signature, if you will, with which we can heed Jesus and Mary's urging for us to pray a great deal, but without fear and without tiring ourselves.
My goodness we have a lot to thank St. John the Baptist for - he pointed out Jesus, the little Way, and now he's helped us find the words to print on our penon (long, narrow flag, often triangular or swallow-tailed, late 14c., from Old French; penon "feathers of an arrow; streamer, flag, banner," from penne "feather," from Latin penna "feather"), like the one he's holding in Murillo's portrait above. And here it is, just before we sign off:
Draw me, we will run!
St. John the Baptist, pray for us!
St. Zechariah and St. Elizabeth, pray for us!
Blessed Mother, remind us to glance at you frequently, and answer our every look with your motherly embrace and sweet compassion.
Little Therese, teach us to pray as you taught our brother Marcel to pray.
And Marcel, thank you for being so much fun! Kiss little Jesus for us, a lot!
If there's anything I love more than sparkly things, it's people using them (or the thought of them) to climb to even more sparkly things! Another friend of Marcel (and friend of mine, and mother of my friend Tim, who is also a great pal of Marcel's) let me know she had something fun - and sparkly - over at her place HERE. See if you don't agree that ruby red slippers are right up there with glass slippers as THE most wonderful footwear! But ruby slippers are only the beginning . . .
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