Marcel looks joyful and grateful, and well he should. We received a warm welcome yesterday afternoon in St. Therese's dorm at Thomas Aquinas College where, armed with a first class relic of St. Therese herself, I spoke on Marcel to a group of wonderful young women.
Just as I was getting to the good part - beginning to read aloud a passage from Therese and Marcel's first meeting as Marcel wrote of it in his Autobiography - there was a loud kerfuffle down the hall. And then, those words so familiar to me from days of yore rang out: "Man in the dorm!" How it had taken them so long to announce Marcel's presence I don't know, but then someone must have informed the informers that we were invited guests, and Marcel was only with me in spirit. Because the noise died down, and I was able to continue with Marcel's account.
What Therese and I had wanted to be sure to share were her words to Marcel on God's perfect timing, and then her advice on how (if we rephrase it in the words of Marcel's father, St. Alphonsus) to converse easily and familiarly with God. I had copies of the second passage for the ladies to take with them, but I hadn't thought to give them a written version of that first beautiful quotation. Happily, I can remedy that here. Now that the ladies of TAC have made Marcel's acquaintance through our visit to them, I'm hoping they'll stop by sometime and visit us here as well. If they do, we'll have Therese's words waiting for them, as recorded by Marcel in his Autobiography (592). Therese had told Marcel:
"Yesterday . . . you grumbled again, saying; 'I wish I'd known you a bit sooner! And then, from how many illusory fears my life would have been liberated, how much more would I have tasted the charms of love!' But no, little brother, the dispositions of Providence are realized, necessarily, at a very precise moment which is not brought forward, even for a moment, nor does it allow an instant's delay. Who knows? If you have known me an hour sooner, perhaps you would not have found yesterday the source of grace which filled you with happiness. That is a mystery, and we can only believe in the mercy of God our Father who, in His wisdom, rules in the slightest detail the lives of each one of us. you don't have to complain any more, since I have always been your Therese, and you, Van, have been equally the little brother of Therese since the moment when we existed, both of us, in the thought of God. The ardour of your desires until now has led the good God to lead you to the truth. He experiences a great joy in seeing that you look only to follow Him and to learn the means of pleasing Him."
* * *
As I told the girls, I love these words from our sister Therese and I'm convinced they apply to everything that happens in our lives. How else can we understand such authoritative statements as, "The dispositions of Providence are realized, necessarily, at a very precise moment which is not brought forward, even for a moment, nor does it allow an instant's delay," and "We can only believe in the mercy of God our Father who, in His wisdom, rules in the slightest detail the lives of each one of us."
The essence of Therese's message as she expressed it here to little Van (and as she understood, lived, and taught it during her lifetime, and as she continues to teach it to hearts even to the present day) is that "We can only believe in the mercy of God," or as she used to say, "He is all love and mercy." I wouldn't want anyone else but God in charge of every slightest detail of my life. (Well, okay, sometimes I think it would be great if simply anyone else but me were in charge, but that's only on a really ditzy day.) Therese's point is that with God in charge, we don't have anything to worry about!
So as I say, I think this applies to everything in our lives - the least events to the greatest, as I illustrated with an example from my own life. That odd event of November 6, 1985, when a classmate seemed to be asking me out on a date. Even then it was momentous - my junior year in college and the first time a guy there asked me out. But it was also entirely random, and certainly seemed to hold no great harbinger for the future - more of a fascinating one-off or character study. Why in the world was TonyAndres (I knew him only well enough that his name needed both halves to be said together - he wasn't just "Tony" to me yet) seemingly asking me out?!
I said yes mostly out of curiosity. Had his friends put him up to it as a joke (well within the scope of the He-man-woman-hater's-club of his buddies)? Was he desperate to get off campus and knew I had a car? (Turned out he had a car too, an old root beer colored VW bug that would asphyxiate him and any passengers if the heater was running.) Or maybe he'd used up his funds and wanted me to pay for a movie (though it was hard to imagine he'd been calculating how to pay admission to "The Journey of Nattie Gann," a brand new Disney movie we decided on, both silently estimating that it couldn't possibly include embarrassing stuff).
As I mentioned to the girls yesterday, I said yes to TonyAndres almost on a lark. And the next thing I knew, we'd been married 30 years! I drew certain morals from this story which are better left unsaid here, but suffice it to say I have since found said sequence of events, most especially that sweet young man's question to me ("Are you doing anything later?") a remarkable instance of God's providence "realized, necessarily, at a very precise moment which is not brought forward, even for a moment, nor does it allow an instant's delay,"
I didn't have time to share with the girls everything I wanted to tell them. Most of it was about Marcel (what I didn't have time to say as well as what I did), but also, now that I'm on the subject, how amazing to remember why my future husband did ask me out that day. I only found out much later it was because he thought I looked sad. He was absolutely right, I was sad, about something I'd decided not to think about then, so I went to lunch and sat at the most innocuous table I could see: the table where he and his friends sat. They wouldn't mind my sitting there, but they wouldn't concern themselves with me. Little did I know God's mercy was afoot and He was just then preparing to change history!
I like to think that yesterday, bringing Marcel into the girls' dorm, we changed history too. It was a lovely group of about 20 of us at most, and while I can only repeat that there was so much more I would've liked to say, it was such a pleasure and privilege to make a beginning - to introduce them to Van and give them his picture, alongside our sister's.
Which brings me to a conundrum that was thereby solved. It's puzzled me for a long time now why Marcel is so often referred to as Van. I know his name as a boy was Van, but since he received the name Marcel when he entered the Redemptorists at age 16, and since Marcel is the name he's called by Jesus, Mary, and Therese in Conversations, that's what I call him, how I think of him, and I've been confused as to why those who know him well almost always call him by the name of his early boyhood, that is, Van.
Yesterday in introducing my BFF Marcel to these wonderful young women, I began with a little about myself, then gave a short bio of Therese, and finally got to the heart of my heart: our little brother. But lo and behold (can I say it often enough?) our time being limited (dash it all! I do insist you can find me easily, once we're all in heaven, because I'll be the one in the corner of Mary's lap talking about Marcel to my heart's content while holding his hand. He'll want to go off and play, and that will be fine as long as I can keep nattering away eternally about him and Jesus and how terrifically funny the two of them are!) . . . But as I was saying, our time being limited, I didn't get much farther than telling about Van meeting Therese for the first time - and he was Van then! So it dawned on me: what must happen often is that those who fall for Marcel Van meet him first as Van, and it sticks.
Which brings me to perhaps my greatest omission yesterday. Let's hope it wasn't a sin of omission, more just a lapse in judgment or oversight, but you who know her through this blog will be shocked to hear that Miss Marcel failed to highlight, underline, italicize, bolden, CAP, or even simply say that Conversations is THE BOOK to go to for further adventures with Marcel. (Wow, I almost called him Van there - it's habit-forming!) You'll be glad to know I was myself enough to say, more than once, that Conversations is my favorite book ever (the Bible excepted, but as it's more a whole Divine Library, or rather one extended love letter, we put it in a class by itself). But as some of us stayed to visit after the talk, the kind young woman who'd arranged for the talk asked, "Is it necessary to read the books in order? Or could you," and here she paused, unsure whether she should be so daring, but then continued, "start with Volume Two?"
Talk about winning my heart! Yes, oh yes, you can start with Volume Two! How remiss of me not to mention that you ought to start with Volume Two! Not that I'm here to tell anyone what to do, but if I were allowed one universal commandment (to add to the 10 which I'm sure are enough, God having made them whole and complete, even if He had to send them to us nitwits twice), it would be:
11. Start with Conversations.
or, to make it sound more official:
11. Thou Shalt start with Conversations.
Which of course is way too scary sounding, so let's just go back to "Yes, oh yes! Please do start with Conversations!"
Taking my quotations from Marcel's Autobiography, I was reminded of how marvelous that book is, but that's after I skip the first two thirds and dive in at Therese's entrance. Sorry, Marcel, but you and Therese are a team, and entertaining as you are before she joins you, life is too short - like my visit with the girls yesterday - and Conversations too chock-full of love and wisdom for me to spend much time in any of your books besides my ultimate fave.
If I had to say, briefly, just what it is about Conversations that sings out to me with such an irresistible and ever-rewarding love song, I'd say it's the gentleness and compassion of Jesus combined with His assurance that every word He speaks to Marcel is meant for us too. As He said November 4, 1945:
"All the words that I have spoken to you from the beginning until the last one I speak to you in the future - know that it is not to you alone that I am speaking, but to all souls. You see by this that I communicate with all of them. And if, like you, they are sincere in their relationship with Me, then I am speaking also to them. It is not necessary that you understand this. Do not be afraid, therefore, if later somebody says that I spoke only to you . . ."
Thank You Jesus! Thank you Marcel! Thank you JR and the ladies of St. Therese, St. Monica's, St. Bernard's, and Thomas Aquinas College!
On a final note, both in the talk and here, I got to speak of one of my teachers and heroes, Fr. Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S. J. Perhaps "Men [plural] in the dorm" would have been more appropriate, for I also brought with me Fr. McGovern (and Dr. McArthur who wrote his Foreword). Today being St. Francis Xavier's feast day, and Fr. McGovern's sermon on him being one of my favorites in Selected Sermons of Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J., I brought copies of the book for the girls dorms, and highly recommended him to them.
While writing this post, I was wishing there was a way I could include that sermon here, too, for the Feast of St. Therese's co-patron of the missions, and I definitely wished I'd urged the good folks at Catholic Exchange to re-publish Xavier's sermon there (they'd posted it on this, his Feast, 4 years ago), but once again I realized my limits.
Hooray for God, who has no limits! The Holy Spirit was again on the move and inspired CE to put up Fr. McGovern's Xavier sermon HERE, and nobody needed my urging - not with God Himself on the job! Or perhaps it was Marcel on the job, thanking me and the girls for the fun time we had in the dorm, making him the guest of honor. He and I think it's so very nutty and truly wonderful that our sister Therese, who only made one excursion (a pilgrimage to Rome) outside her two small French towns during her lifetime is "on a par" with the great St. Francis Xavier as patron of the missions. May the two of them (three counting Marcel, and we can't leave him out if Therese is in) obtain from the Blessed Trinity many more holy and zealous missionaries for the Church, and every blessing upon the missions and those dedicated to the conversion and care of souls. For our part, we'll add our little prayer:
Draw me, we will run!
Thank You, little Jesus, for everything!
Our Lady, Our Mother, pray for us!
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