Well actually, as he tells the story, Therese is the funny one . . . Here's how it goes:
From Conversations (430), 12 April 1946:
Marcel: Mother, today little Jesus speaks to me no more. I feel very sad. Yesterday, dear Mother, I had an insane wish to laugh. Do you know why? At supper time, during grace before the meal, I saw coming, I do not know from where, my sister Therese who tapped me on the shoulder, looked me full in the face with a comical expression, then, laughing, said to me: 'Little brother, so you are anxious? Come then, let me see this sadness which always troubles you so.' Then, grabbing my sighs in one of her hands, she threw them to the ground and said, smiling: 'These careworn sighs are of no use to little Jesus.' And that is all. I so wanted to laugh that it was impossible for me to say my grace.
My sister Therese concentrates a lot on cheering me up. Although she acts quite naturally, it is, nevertheless, very amusing; like the time when she covered one eye just to make me laugh. I am sure that, in the past, she was more mischievous than me and that is the reason why she succeeds in making me happy.
+ + +
Oh adorable little brother! I, too, am sure that Therese was very mischievous. But more mischievous than you? That I'm not so sure of! I do know that you both are darling, and now that you've joined our sister in Heaven, it must be that you, too, concentrate a lot on cheering us up. Because when I opened your book today (in my holy hour, no less), I had no idea what you would say. You started with your sadness, so you can guess I had no idea that laughter was coming next! Ah, but Therese throwing your careworn sighs to the ground - I love it! Please throw our careworn sighs to the ground too! And if you can, procure from us some fresh sighs - sighs of love! - so that little Jesus will have at least some use for the very little ways we know how to pray. We have so little, but with your help we can give Him a glance, a sigh, perhaps a smile even, but only if you concentrate on cheering us up a lot!
We love you, dear Jesus, and we beg You to cast Your sighs of love, Your glances, Your smiles upon us too. We await Your love! We even have five words to tell you so:
Draw me, we will run!
And if you, dear reader, came here looking for Marcel's Book Club, it's in the post below this one! I just couldn't resist sharing our brother's laughter and our sister's mischief with you today. May they, those two imps (not chimps! imps! though they are more fun than a barrel of monkeys!) bring a smile to your face today, and laughter to your heart!
As I write, I am surrounded by holiness. Marcel is right here at my elbow, wanting to do the typing himself, but I love typing, so I'm keeping him at arm's length! Therese is also near, and she's rolling her eyes, wondering how I'm going to fit the thousand and one things I want to say into one short Book Club meeting. But we're not alone - well, of course there YOU are too, dear reader, but even then we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. . .
I have on the table next to my little computer:
a. Story of a Soul, ICS edition translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D., so he's right here
b. The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, translated by John Beevers (the 1957 Image paperback, almost pocket sized, in fact not much larger than a fancy smart phone, but so much smarter, with grey crosses adorning the fun turquoise cover), so that brings John Beevers into our family circle
c. Saint Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower, "Definitive Edition, Authorized American Reproduction," published by P.J. Kenedy & Sons of New York sometime back in the day, imprimatur 1927. This is Fr. Thomas Taylor's fabulous volume which I like to call "the big green book" (though this edition is grey) because so many I've seen over the years have been big with a pine green cover. These books, no matter the color, were published starting in 1912 with the title Soeur Therese of Lisieux (after her canonization, they were titled Saint Therese of Lisieux) and contain so much good stuff! Besides our sister's memoir, they contain a selection of her prayers, poems, letters, and counsels to the novices, and my ultimate favorite section: her shower of roses.
So Father Taylor is here too, and with him Mother Agnes (Pauline, to whom these chapters we've been reading are addressed) because Fr. Taylor dedicates the book to "in the first place Saint Therese, the little white flower of Jesus, in heartfelt thanksgiving for many favours, especially her loving solicitude for the grotto at Carfin (Scotland); and secondly to her 'petite mere,' Mother Agnes of Jesus, in grateful memory of innumerable kindnesses extending over a period of twenty-five years." Wow!
Last but not least, there's one more person attending MBC tonight, and though she's trying to keep a low profile, I'm not letting her off the hook. It's Celine (Sister Genevieve in the convent), Therese's just older sister (just 3 years older, to be precise) who celebrated 60 years in Heaven a few days ago. Yep, that's right, on February 25th of this year it was 60 years since Celine entered eternal life - that was in 1959, two months shy of her 90th birthday and only 5 months before Marcel went to Heaven too!
I was hoping to write about Celine on her big day, but wouldn't you know she has much more power in Heaven than I do. She pulled some strings and kept me busy, so there was no post on her that day, not even a word. This amused me because I'd read that very morning about how she didn't like big celebrations in her honor. She had asked them not to make a fuss over her jubilee of religious profession in 1946 (50 years the spouse of Christ), but with me she didn't bother asking - she just prevented me!
Well that doesn't mean she wasn't dropping roses in my lap. On the vigil of her big day (the day of Jesus' first real kiss to her - the kiss that brought her to Heaven) she handed me a book on our Therese that hails originally from 1923 (though the edition she gave me is a reprint from 1971), a book I'd been thinking of transcribing from a digital file I have, and which I had a feeling would disappear any minute (digital files being oh so virtual and not very real in my book)!
Celine's gift to me was written by a certain Fr. Gabriel Martin, a contemporary of Therese's family (the Martins too, but no relation), who preached at the Carmel in Lisieux on the occasion of St. Therese's canonization. He founded a couple of religious orders in her honor, he was a friend of her sisters in the Carmel, and they asked him in the mid-1920's to PLEASE publish the book he'd written on Therese. He did publish it just as soon as she was beatified, and that book was the one I held in my hands Monday night! The beauty of it is that this edition (in English), was translated by the wonderful Sister Therese of the Child Jesus of the Kilmacud (County Dublin) Carmel, just like the book by Mother Agnes that I've been lucky enough to read lately.
I figure Celine knew I needed to know she loved me, even if she was keeping me from writing about her on her day! Thanks, Celine! I love you too!
Okay, then. Surrounded by the Saints, how about we get to Chapter Two of Story of a Soul?
+ + +
Chapter Two is very special to me because it contains the passage that Marcel was reading when he realized he could - and should, and would - ask St. Therese to be his big sister.
But here's the crazy thing I discovered in this reading.
The reason that inspired him to claim Therese as his sister is not in the ICS edition! Oops!
So back to the drawing board, or rather the history of St. Therese's writings. I've numbered things to try and keep them straight:
1. During the year 1895, Therese wrote her childhood memories, which form the largest section of her autobiography, at the request of her oldest sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and at the insistence of (therefore under obedience to) Mother Agnes (her second oldest sister, Pauline). Then in September of 1896, she wrote a letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart in response to Marie's request that she tell the secrets of her relationship with Jesus. Therese's response was a kind of cover letter to Marie, and then a longer letter addressed to Jesus. This double letter forms the shortest (but to me the most beautiful) section of what became her autobiography. Finally in 1897, the summer before she died, Therese was asked to write (again under obedience) the story of her life as a nun. She wrote these pages for Mother Marie de Gonzague who formally made the request, but it was Mother Agnes (not then "Mother" in the official sense, but the sisters who became Mother Superior always retained the title), who'd talked Mother Marie into asking Therese for these final recollections. Thus the whole Story of a Soul was the product of the inspirations given to Pauline (Mother Agnes) and Marie of the Sacred Heart. Praise God for His loving inspirations!
2. Although while she was writing these three different "documents," Therese had no intention that they would be seen by any one other than those who'd requested them (her two sisters and Mother Marie de G, and she didn't even think that all 3 would read all 3, if that makes sense), still as her "entrance into eternal life" approached, Therese was given a gift of prophecy, a kind of pulling back of the veil, that allowed her to anticipate the great good her writings, in the form of a single book, would do for souls after her death - because, as she said, they would show everyone the kindness of God. Then she told Mother Agnes, who was often at her side in the infirmary during her illness, "I give you carte blanche over my little writings. After I am gone, do the work quickly and quietly. The devil will want to stop this book because of the good it will do for souls, but you must not let him. You must publish this book, and in preparing the manuscript, feel free to change or add anything, just as if you were me!"
3. Mother Agnes changed, and rightly, many things, for one reason, because a huge number of the people about whom Therese wrote were still alive! There were things too personal, and possibly hurtful to some, to leave in, and there were other things Mother Agnes knew Therese would have written if she'd known the writings were meant for others, and then too there were things Therese asked, from her sickbed, Mother Agnes to add. Sure enough, Mother Agnes did her work well, quickly and quietly, and the edition the Carmel printed one year after Therese died - 2000 copies, paid for by Uncle Isidore Guerin, Therese's mother's (St. Zelie's) brother, changed the course of history! It made the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood an easy way to sanctity for millions, and is still doing so!
4. In the 1940's, Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus (he took that "of the Child Jesus" in honor of St. Therese), an important man in the Carmelite Order, asked the Carmel of Lisieux to restore, for the reading public and for the Church, the original text of Therese's manuscripts as they'd come from her pen. Exactamente! Mother Agnes, who'd been made "prioress for life" by Pius XI many decades before, asked pretty please could they wait a few more years. She was on her way out of this exile, God willing, so very tired now, having spent herself happily for Therese, but in her 80's by this time and not up to such a project. The permission to wait was granted, and before she died, Mother Agnes passed on their sainted sister's "carte blanche" to Celine/Sister Genevieve, who was to live 10 more years working for Therese (though she too was now in her 80's and suffered from the infirmities of old age). In this case the carte blanche was for restoration, and Celine's job was merely to oversee the work of a wonderful and determined Fr. Francoise, Carmelite friar assigned to the task . . . but her job, too, was to be the last living "sweet echo of Therese's soul" and keep the truth about Therese safe and sound. Over the years there had frequently been mis-interpretations of Therese's gentle doctrine, and her sisters always fought these distortions with authoritative and untiring Truth. Now it was left to Celine to keep the record straight to the end.
Things went well, the the authorized critical (exact) edition of Therese's manuscript came out, and these days you'd be hard pressed to find someone championing Mother Agnes' "original" edition. Hard pressed, but if you're looking for that someone to champion Mother Agnes' work, you've found that someone in me! I love that we have the "real" writings of Therese, but I also love that we have the writings as Therese might have wanted them (that is, as Mother Agnes transmitted them).
So last night before bed, and then again in the middle of the night when I woke (what fun could life be without those middle of the night trysts with Jesus and our brothers and sisters the saints, who apparently, though they are at rest, never sleep?!), I finally had a chance to compare some of my different volumes, some of my different translations and editions of Story of a Soul, and having just read Chapter Two, I was ready to find out wherein the old and new versions differed.
First surprise (for me) - that turquoise pocket-sized edition translated by good John Beevers for Image (Doubleday Catholic imprint) back in the 50's - turns out, as far as I can tell, to be the "original" written by St. Therese! All this time I'd been thinking it was Mother Agnes' edition, but looking at it more carefully, I think it's Therese's alone!
Second surprise, which wasn't too surprising since I'd been suspecting it all week - it was Mother Agnes' version (which I found in my Thomas Taylor/"green book" translation from the 1920's) which held the key to Marcel's request to Therese, "You will be my sister now. Please?"
You see, Marcel, when he read Story of a Soul for the first time in October of 1942, was necessarily reading Mother Agnes' version. That was the only edition then available - no matter the translation, and I'm guessing Marcel read it in Vietnamese. (And this parentheses is entirely incidental but oh so charming: did you know that the first English translation was made by a Polish priest in 1901, just 3 years after Story of a Soul came out, and just 4 years after Therese left exile for Heaven? How wonderful! God bless that dear priest!)
Well when he started reading Story of a Soul (Marcel, that is, not the good Polish priest), our brother immediately felt its influence. God began immediately to reveal to him the union He had planned from all eternity for their two souls - Therese and Marcel's. I've quoted the pages from Marcel's Autobiography in previous posts, and they are simply beautiful!
Marcel raced through the book; he must have, because a few weeks later or less, he was re-reading it. Maybe even re-re-reading it! He tells us that he especially loved these early chapters wherein Therese recounts her childhood memories. And I'll tell you frankly, they are not my favorite chapters (though I do love them, I don't love them anywhere near as much as I love the later chapters), but I think I know why they were so precious to Marcel. Well yes, he tells us, so that helps me with my insight! But the deal is, he's just a boy when he's reading this book, and what stuns him is to find a soul so much like his own, with a childhood so much like his own. God painted the same picture in both their lives: first an idyllic childhood surrounded by love. Then an abrupt change when love was to some extent withdrawn and traumatic events wounded these two children's little, loving hearts.
For Therese, it was the death of her mother at age 4 that changed everything.
For Marcel, it was his going off to become a priest (at age 6 or 7, the little rascal!) that changed all.
But both had remarkably strong memories of early cloudless days, and then both endured suffering - grievous suffering - while still knowing the love of God in this second phase of their lives.
Marcel was himself still a child when he read Story of a Soul, so he loved Therese's stories of her childhood. Especially, though, he mentions reading one fine day about how Therese - though she usually followed Celine in everything - did not follow Celine in choosing a second mother.
After their mother Zelie's death, and hearing the poignant remark of Louise, the maid ("poor girls, now they have no mother!"), Celine chose for her second mother Marie (their eldest sister, who was also Therese's godmother and therefore a natural choice for Therese too - first, because Celine chose her, second, because Marie was eldest so most like a mama, and third, because she was already Therese's godmother). Therese, surprisingly, struck out on her own and chose Pauline for her second mother. But what does her original text say? What did Therese write for Pauline (Mother Agnes) about this choice? We read in Fr. Clarke's translation (ICS edition) of Story of a Soul:
"Accustomed to following Celine's example, I turned instead to you, Mother, and as though the future had torn aside its veil, I threw myself into your arms, crying: 'Well, as for me, it's Pauline who will be my Mama!'"
But wait! Just listen to what Marcel (then named simply Van) says in his Autobiography (586). His two friends, Tam and Hien, were teasing him because Sister Tin had agreed to be their big sister, but she'd rejected Van, even though this whole project of getting a big sister had been his idea! Marcel writes:
"But the squirrel [this is Van] absorbed in his book The Story of a Soul, did not pay any attention, and was in no way saddened. He suddenly let out a cry of satisfaction since the disappointment he had just experienced had brought to him an incredible opportunity. I had just reached in my reading the passage in which Therese wrote: 'Always accustomed to follow Celine, I should have done well to imitate her in such a good action, but I thought that Pauline might, perhaps, be unhappy and feel neglected at not having a little girl; and then, looking at you tenderly and leaning my little head on your breast I said in my turn, "For me, my mother's going to be Pauline."' At that moment I clearly understood Therese's words, and I did as she did, saying to myself: 'Right now Therese is expecting a little brother, but no one has chosen her to be their sister so it is not right to make her suffer in this way.' So I got up, and went to the church and kneeling down at Saint Therese's statue, I said to her with a sincere heart, 'For me it is Therese who will be my sister.' As soon as I had said those words, my soul was invaded with such a current of happiness that I remained stunned by it and was incapable of thinking for myself. I was dominated entirely by a supernatural force which flooded my soul with unspeakable happiness."
Wait. What? This is magnificent! This, too, has changed the course of history! But where is this passage of which Marcel speaks? It wasn't like that in Fr. Clarke's very faithful translation of the original manuscripts............
Out comes Fr. Taylor's earlier edition, faithful in its own right - to the book originally sanctioned by Therese, edited by Mother Agnes, published by the Lisieux Carmel, and the source of Therese's Little Way for every reader up to the 1950's. Let's read Fr. Taylor's translation for a moment. Same passage, beginning of Chapter Two:
"Accustomed to imitate Celine, I should undoubtedly have followed her example but that I feared you might be pained, and feel yourself forsaken if you too had not a little daughter. So I looked at you affectionately, and hiding my head on your breast exclaimed in my turn: 'And Pauline will be my mother!'"
Therese once said that if she could have lived longer (and had the opportunity for more study), she'd have liked to learn the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) in order to read the Scriptures in their original versions.
I could never relate to this remark and sentiment, much as I admire it. Myself, I'm so thrilled to have a dozen Bibles around me and read the various translations the Holy Spirit has (the way I see it) inspired! This holds true too for my pathetic efforts at learning French (which consist of buying or collecting various "Learn French" materials but end there) because how much more fun to surround myself with every possible edition and English translation of our sister's writings and go from there!
In this case I am happier than a clam (I hope clams are very, very happy) to have discovered that, just as I suspected, Mother Agnes' work on Therese's book was invaluable. Those changes and additions that some later scholars detest (they're scholars, so they can't help it; we don't need to mind them, only we will cherish what they despise so that no fragment is lost!) are the very morsels that so delighted earlier readers and followers of Therese's Little Way. I'm sure in their many conversations, Therese had told Mother Agnes, perhaps again and again, how that scene played out after their mother's death, what inspired her, what exactly motivated Therese in choosing Pauline for her second mother.
Mother Agnes then, when in the year following Therese's departure she had to prepare Story of a Soul in its very first edition (having no inkling, I would imagine, how many more editions in every known language would follow!) was not making things up. Rather, in her grief mingled with joy, in her astonishment at the shower of roses Therese was already beginning to send from heaven, Mother Agnes simply added, under the inspiration of her sister and the Holy Spirit, what she intimately knew to be the fullness of what Therese had experienced. And these words that Mother Agnes added were the very ones that inspired Marcel to take Therese as his sister, which in turn prompted her to speak to him and acknowledge him as her little brother!
Tomorrow begins March, and by the time this is posted, it will be March for many readers already. Will we meet sooner than the last day of the month for Chapter Three? I sure hope we'll meet long before then, but as to discussing Chapter Three, well I wouldn't be surprised if that was about a month off!
But first, might I mention one more thing? Or maybe just two more things that I love about Chapter Two?
First, I love when Therese tells about her first confession and that Pauline instructed her "it was not to a man but to God I was about to tell my sins; I was very much convinced of this truth. I made my confession in a great spirit of faith, even asking you if I had to tell Father Ducellier I loved him with all my heart as it was to God in person I was speaking."
How adorable! But it brings up a good and important point that has helped me many times through the years. As little St. Jacinta said, we should always (with God's help!) approach the sacrament of confession with great joy and trust. We are going to meet Jesus' mercy! We are going to make Him so happy because we're entering that stream of mercy that is always flowing from His pierced side. This is wonderful! And it is also very true that we are confessing our sins to God. But I must add that I've found it often helpful to remember that just as the Church is human as well as Divine, so we are confessing to man as well as to God.
So if, perchance, you catch a priest having a crummy day and you hear him say to you something in the confessional that doesn't ring quite with the gentleness of Jesus - let's say you confess something small and the priest gets impatient with you, or some such - well, don't worry about it at all! Just remember that you're not confessing to God, you're confessing to man! Of course you are confessing to God too, and it is God who's embracing you and shedding mercy like roses all about you, but you're also confessing to a priest with human failings, so in case you hear a gruff response, don't worry a single bit!
And finally, I want to comment on a passage in Chapter Two that moved me very much as I read it the other night. Therese mentions at the beginning of the chapter how she felt when gazing upon her mother's seemingly huge coffin. Then she writes, "Fifteen years later, I was to stand before another coffin, Mother Genevieve's. It was similar in size. I imagined myself back once again in the days of my childhood and all those memories flooded into my mind. True, it was the same Therese who looked, but she'd grown up and the coffin appeared smaller. I had no need to raise my head to see and, in fact, no longer raised it but to contemplate heaven which to me was filled with joy. All my trials had come to an end and the winter of my soul had passed on forever."
Later in the book Therese will tell us about the circumstances surrounding Mother Genevieve's death (I think she will, that is! If I'm remembering correctly!). But what really filled me with tender joy and gratitude was the way in which Therese could write about the time of Mother Genevieve's death as a time when "All my trials had come to an end and the winter of my soul had passed on forever."
You see, after that time Therese would suffer her trial of faith and the physical pains of tuberculosis. And yet these were nothing compared to the sufferings she went through as a child! I have often quoted the words of Isaiah's Chapter 40 to those I love who are suffering and trying to climb out of the Pit: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her slavery is at an end, her guilt is expiated, she has paid double for all her sins."
I don't say this because I know they won't suffer again. In fact, being in the human condition, I know they will suffer again! But I also know that there is suffering, and there is suffering. And there can be (can have been) a time when our trials have come to an end and the winter of our souls has passed on forever - even in this life, even when some other trials still await us.
Which leads me to conclude that we don't need to be afraid! Now that we know Marcel and Therese, now that they have taught us more and more of God's limitless love and infinitely solicitous and tender compassion for us, now that they've taken our hands to lead us along the Little Way with them, we will never suffer again in the wintery way we once did! We aren't alone anymore! Therese said it of herself in this passage I've quoted, and she knew whereof she spoke. So feel free to tell God that you'll accept everything from His hand, but let's let bygones be bygones and old winters be old winters! (Yes, this winter may still be with you, but let's put the winters of our souls behind us for good!)
Those are my thoughts, my two (or twenty-two) cents, and I've had such fun telling them to you! I hope you enjoyed Chapter Two, and if you haven't had a chance to read it yet - well, good thing I didn't spoil it by commenting on it to the last word!
And to close with a last word here? Let's sign off with a prayer, using it to place all our trust in Jesus, our True Love.
Draw me, we will run!
Little Jesus, we love You so much! Stay with us until the day You bring us to Heaven!
And now . . . Happy March!
Can you believe February is almost over?? That means we only have 2 more days for Chapter Two of Story of a Soul. Are you in? I am, but boy do I feel like the heroine of The Paradise Project (you can check out the kindle version by clicking title preceding parentheses1) - I can make a misadventure out of any adventure! Marcel's Book Club, our own little Paradise Project, is only in month two, and already (like in month one) I'm scrambling.
No matter, this is the Little Way after all, and I don't know if you are as creative as I am in this realm, but I find that (the Little Way) such a great excuse for just about all my faux pas. Even the one I just made (isn't there a plural of faux pas? No time to even google it!)! If that seems to be taking the easy way out - well that's the idea!
The important thing is (and I'll fight for this to the end) to have fun while we're being good, and that we can manage even under deadline. Not to mention keeping promises (another important thing), and since I had said in our last post (just below this one) that I'd give you more of the new (old) book that's recently and delightfully come my way, well, first things first. There's plenty of time tomorrow and the next day for our meeting of Marcel's Book Club, and it's only fair I give you slackers a heads up so you can start reading Chapter Two asap (and don't worry - I say "slacker" with only great tenderness and a big smile. I'm a slacker too!). Right after you finish reading this post, maybe!
Which means I'd better keep this post short, so neither you nor I have time to forget we're supposed to be reading the very lovely and original text that started it all. Though this is Marcel's Book Club, so forgetting is absolutely an option!
What I'm going to write about today (before I forget this goal and promise too) is from At the School of St. Therese written by Mother Agnes in the style of a dialogue between the Little Soul (that would be ours) and Therese. As with any good book, I want to transcribe every word for you here, but seeing as we only have a couple days in which to post this, then read Chapter Two of our Great Book, then meet back for another posting of Marcel's Book Club, my guardian angel is urging me to not give him a heart attack (yes, I know technically that makes no sense since angels don't have bodies - but think about it - how could an angel be heartless?), and so he suggests this one most wondrous passage . . . It falls under the subtitle "How we must interpret the counsel 'not to shed tears before God.'" Here goes, then:
The Little Soul: You also said that in our sorrows, 'We must not weep before the good God.' Yet on certain days it seems to me that little children have no other means to regain courage, than to pour out their little troubles before their father or mother. I even thought that to tell Our Lord what saddens us is giving Him a proof of love and confidence . . . With a friend like Jesus, must not everything be shared, sorrows as well as joys? Otherwise, it seems to me that our close intimacy with Him might be diminished.
[Isn't this just the best? Marcel is the little soul, now I see that! Well the book was written either before he was born or when he was rather a young child, but you can see how Therese, in the midst of the bliss and plentiful knowledge of the Beatific Vision, sees all with God's sight, and inspires Mother Agnes with Marcel's own - later! - words.]
Therese: Do not be uneasy, the words which trouble you were a somewhat special counsel . . . There are cases indeed in which to dwell inwardly on our little daily sufferings, to brood over them before God, may encompass the soul in the net of sadness: then it is good for her to spread her wings and fly - thus losing sight of herself. But on the contrary, in other circumstances, it would be a lack of simplicity towards God not to unburden ourselves before Him of the weight which oppresses us. See, He Himself advises it, I nearly said orders us to do so, in His Gospel: 'Come to Me all you that labour and are burdened and I will refresh you.' Moreover, believe me, He is so good, that to comfort a soul is always the sweetest consolation of His Heart.
Little Soul: Oh, Saint Therese, what an amount of good you do me! . . . Yes, you show me the Divine characteristics such as I always secretly imagined them to be, without daring to believe that my thoughts were right.
Therese: It is because she knew it well that the holy foundress of my Carmel in Lisieux, Mother Genevieve, sometimes said to sorely tried souls: 'Go and confide in the good God . . . complain to Him . . . He loves complainings . . .'
+ + +
So there you are! I'm going to end now because I bet you have just as many loving complaints as I do! Not to add to your to do list, but I think Marcel must be laughing, this is so much fun!
1. complain to Jesus (lovingly and just see if it doesn't end in laughter!)
2. read Chapter Two of Story of a Soul
3. come back to Miss Marcel's Musings soon for MBC, February edition!
oh, and let's not forget to pray!
4. pray our little prayer together
Ready? We can check off that box in a jiffy:
Draw me, we will run!
Wasn't that easy? I'm hoping our little way through Chapter Two is just as simple and delightful. See you here again soon! And don't forget to enjoy the last moments of February - it's not every month that can be so short, so cold, and so useful for getting us to pour out our complaining hearts to little Jesus!
Today is the feast of Saints Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima! They are the youngest non-martyred canonized Saints! Congrats, little sister and brother! And thank you so much for loving Jesus and Mary so well!
Under the icon of Jacinta and Francisco you can see Marcel looking at us (Therese is in the background and their expressions are similar) - and he's saying, "Really? So I can NEVER be the youngest canonized non-martyr Saint?" Well, sorry, Marcel, but I think others besides the little Fatima Shepherds have come before you who had already ruled you out as youngest - like how about your sister Therese? She was only 24 when she exited stage left, which means even if you get canonized, you won't beat her record (let alone J and F's).
But actually, I may have mis-interpreted Marcel's look. On second thought, I imagine he's saying, "The third paragraph? You're leaving our readers in suspense about the mystery photo until the THIRD paragraph?"
My goodness our little brother is testy today! Yes, my manners are atrocious, and I have left you in suspense too long, and I won't let Marcel's impatience stop me from getting to the point at last (in the fourth paragraph, I might add): That lovely woman in the photo on the right is none other than Pauline, Therese's second eldest sister, first of the Martin girls to enter the convent, and eventually Mother Agnes of Jesus, named to that post (after she'd held it a couple of times) "for life" by one of the Popes who realized it was silly not to let the one who formed St. Therese be the former of the Lisieux Carmel and the top dog (or, rather, top nun) in charge of the Carmel's work spreading the word on the Little Flower.
So . . . what is Pauline doing perched atop our post today? She has a surprise for us - okay, she's as bad as Marcel (which makes her smile; everyone in Heaven loves being compared to Marcel!), interrupting me before I've even had a chance to say what her surprise is. But she wants you to know that her surprise is not really hers, but from Our Lady of Joyful Surprises and her little shepherds, whose day is today (this is the day, in 1920, that Jacinta went to heaven; Francisco preceded her by several months, going to heaven first of the three seers, on April 4, 1919. Poor Lucia! She had to wait until just a few years ago to join them, in March of 2005 when she was 97!).
I can't contradict Pauline on this because I know she's right. With our morning prayers, my son and I invoke Our Lady under one or other of her titles, and our favorite seems to be "Our Lady of Joyful Surprises." We're always ready for any number of joyful surprises, and Our Lady is wonderful at fulfilling our hopes.
This morning, once again, we invoked her, and true to form, she came through in a big way. And today's surprise, which I was tempted to attribute to Pauline, is at least written by Pauline, when she was Mother Agnes and helping spread Therese's message of Spiritual Childhood from the Lisieux Carmel to the four corners of the world. It's a big world, but the message spread quickly, and one of my most delightful activities is capturing echoes of the original shout-outs the Carmel sang to the glory of God.
The first such echo I struggled to hear many years ago was sung by Celine (written by her, technically) and it led me to meet John Wu and his friend (who became mine), Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., an Italian missionary who called little Therese "his guiding star." Eventually they led me to Celine's (anonymously published) book, The Spirit of St. Therese. If memory serves me, I ordered it, once I'd tracked it down, from Wales!
Another echo I've enjoyed re-capturing recently was sung (written) by Celine and Pauline together (Sister Genevieve and Mother Agnes, I mean, but both incognito, as the sisters always are in the Carmel). It's the Little Catechism of the Act of Oblation, very highly recommended, currently in print with Sophia Institute Press.
But most recently I've been wandering in the hills and vales looking for (hearkening for an echo of) At the School of St. Therese from the pen of Mother Agnes/Pauline. It's taken a few months, but thanks to the love of Our Lady of Joyful Surprises and the mischief of little Jacinta and Francisco, this latest treasure, this rose of incalculable beauty and heavenly fragrance, this dear slim volume came to me today on a kind of informal inter-library loan from a Los Angeles Protestant seminary to my local public small town library just five minutes from my home. Thank You, Jesus! Please bless all who brought this book to me!
I didn't know this book existed until a few months ago. That is, though this book has existed (in English) for 81 years, I only found out about it a few months ago. I've been confident since then that God would provide, but now that it's here, this sweet manna from the Heavenly Father in my own hands, I can do no less than share it with you. I'm so excited about what I've read (yes, I gobbled it up straightaway, and yet I know there will be baskets-full left over after I distribute it) that I must write some passages for you here, especially because not only is it out of print (the book, not the manna it contains), but hard to find even for something out of print.
Where shall we begin? At the beginning, since that would be simplest. And simplicity is our story today! Mother Agnes (Pauline) begins by telling us:
"In the life of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, simplicity was the rule. To think otherwise would be to change the very encouraging character which God had willed to give to His little Servant expressly to win to His Divine Love the little souls who would follow her."
Oh my goodness! Heavens above!
Immediately when I read that bit, I thought of our little brother Marcel. But let me try and restrain myself for a moment and quote a smidgen more:
"Her life should be simple to serve as a model for little souls." (Depositions of the Carmelites of Lisieux at the Process of Canonization)
And now I must tell you the subtitle of this wondrous volume: "Her True Spirit explained by Herself and supported by the writings of Doctors and Theologians of Holy Church."
So here, then, where I left off quoting, we get our first Doctor adding his own two cents, namely St. Francis de Sales (one of my favorites!):
"Simplicity banishes from the soul that solicitous care which so needlessly urges many to seek out various exercises and means to enable them, as they say, to love God, and which makes it impossible for them to be at peace if they are not doing all that the saints did. Poor souls! They torment themselves about finding out the art of loving God, not knowing that there is none except to love Him. They think that there is a certain art needed to acquire this love, which is really only to be found in simplicity."
Well shiver me timbers and knock me over with a feather! This is Marcel to the core, and what's so delightful is that Our Lady of Joyful Surprises had already surprised me (before the call about the book's arrival) with a passage in Conversations that had taught me (or re-taught me, since I'm always forgetting) the kind of simplicity that I was soon to read about in Pauline's pages.
This morning I'd flipped open to 5 Mother 1946. There Marcel tells Mother Mary how he and Therese and little Jesus were having fun and renamed May, "Mother." Our brother also tells us about how he planned his prayer time in the chapel so he could stay awake, how Therese and Jesus helped him, and so on, until suddenly, he writes (599),
"But once again I was distracted, thinking of the Vietminh and Vietnam. I wanted to have many rifles and aeroplanes to fight the communists and prevent them from reigning over Vietnam, my country. Mother, I even asked little Jesus to grant me what I wanted, but He was content to answer me: 'The best weapon for safe-guarding the interests of your country and to snatch it from the hands of the communists, is prayer. Do not stop looking towards Me, little brother, and that will be enough. Each of your glances with this intention is enough to make me understand the situation of Vietnam, your country.' My sister told me the same thing."
And then, Mary agrees: "And I, my child, I tell you the same thing also. The only means to save your country from communism is prayer. This is very easy; it requires neither cunning, nor rifles, nor ammunition. A glance, a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus is enough; it is like a game within reach of everyone."
This was exactly what I needed to hear! May I beg you to join me in prayer? That is, in a glance, a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus (or Mary)? My intention is like Marcel's, for my own dear country. Or, rather, for my own dear small town! There are forces of darkness threatening us, and without going into details, I can say briefly (for there are so many more important things to write to you about!!) that I've been realizing the power of prayer. If you ever hear anyone say that prayer can't or doesn't change anything, just smile or laugh (and definitely don't slap the speaker, tempting though it may be), because clearly the one holding this view is confused. But I've realized that in every situation (like with my town or with such an attitude toward prayer), the only recourse I have, finally, the most powerful recourse for all of us to change anything, is . . . yes, prayer!
There was our brother Marcel, worrying about a very reasonable and big worry: Vietnam being taken over by the communists! But was he supposed to worry? Nope. Was he supposed to get guns and fight? Nope. Was he supposed to print underground newspapers or arrange for radio broadcasts or go to political rallies? Nope! Some people were perhaps called to do those things, but Marcel is one of Jesus' favorites, as he is one of ours, and so Jesus gave him the straight dope: Prayer. That's it. And not big, long, complicated, exhausting prayer. A sigh, a glance, a smile. Wow! This is great news!
Just like St. Therese!
And here is Mother Agnes, one of those handful of lucky souls who were closest to Therese and knew her from the inside out and the outside in. And what does Mother Agnes want us to know first? The beauty of it is she's not going to want us to know so much that she needs to write a long book. The whole longed for tome that fell into my hands (finally!) today is only 80 pages long. If you lop off the prayers at the back, just 78 pages! Small pages! With long footnotes from the Doctors and Theologians (which are, mainly: Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary and St. Gertrude, St. Francis de Sales, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Ephrem, St Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Alphonsus, St Peter Julian Eymard, St. Claude de la Colombiere, Jean Pierre Caussade, Father Grou, and a few others).
And the first of the few things about Therese that Mother Agnes wants us to know is: her simplicity. Just like Marcel's!
And now, speaking of simpicity, I'm going to publish this post before it disappears (my computer is threatening to reboot), and then, in all simplicity, we can continue another day soon!
Before I go, as always, let's offer our little very powerful prayer together:
Draw me, we will run!
And remember - no more worrying, about anything, anymore, ever!
If you notice the date below the title above, or if you check this blog relentlessly for the good news (finally!) of a new post, you may be wondering if I'm a day late here...But let me assure you that after pondering the timeless nature of this blog, the eternal excellence of Marcel's (and Therese's) message (which is really simply the eternal truth of the Gospel), I've decided not to let a little thing like time-as-we-know-it stop me from presenting to you our Valentine Message.
Above you will see not-exactly-Marcel, but a Vietnamese boy very like him, dressed in traditional Tet (Feb. 1st) garb and holding a letter for you. It's a love letter of course!
In Marcel's Conversations we read that little Jesus was sleeping and leaving the chatting to Marcel, Therese, and our dear Mother Mary during the early months of 1946, starting His divine silence after a short conversation with Marcel on January 2nd. At about (241) Jesus says:
"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."
Ah, I love that prayer! "O petit Jesu, viens avec moi!" And then to know that He is kissing us, smiling upon us, happy with us, and even happier when He sees us joyful! This is a new message to me every day, and the reason I never get tired of Marcel (perish the thought!) and his wonderful Conversations with Jesus, Mary, and Therese.
Well, to finish up this thought before starting another (finish up, that is, this thought of Jesus' sleeping, which began soon after these last reassuring words I've quoted), I should add that Marcel had the idea that Jesus would sleep until Tet, February 1st. In fact Jesus slept longer, and Marcel was such a brave little brick about it! In my world if Jesus sleeps longer than a day, I'm rudely waking Him up. I'd like to tell Him that I will offer up His silence (don't worry, it is not audible messages I'm missing, but just His little kisses), but frankly I'm just too little!
But what exactly is "Tet"? Good thing we have the internet to answer all our deepest questions! (Okay, just kidding - it's good for answering our shallow questions; for the deep ones, turn to our Mother the Church!)
Tet is the Vietnamese New Year, and like all New Year's Days the world over, a day of celebration, but in particular in Vietnam, their most important holiday festival! I just discovered that the date changes from year to year - so in 1946 Tet was on February 1st, and this year it was February 5th. No wonder I got a special heart in the mail, inscribed with our signature prayer on one side (Draw me, we will run!!!) and another line from Song of Songs on the other. I had thought it was an early Valentine, but it was for Tet!
This explains too why my husband made some hilarious remark, just pre-Valentine's Day, about me giving him cash for our American holiday. Cash? How perplexing. But now I get it! On Tet, the adults give red envelopes with cash in them to the children in exchange for New Year greetings! Silly husband! I am not really the grown-up around here! No wonder it worked the other way! (He did not give me cash, but rather roses and the like, as is our U.S. custom for Feb. 14th).
And that explains too why our faux-Marcel in the photo above looks so happy with his red envelope!
Our own Marcel (the real one) never had much money (received or to give), so he gave and continues to give us words and kisses, wishes that little Jesus will kiss us too, and prayers to that effect. How wonderful! How much better than plain old money!
And did I tell you that Tet is celebrated for a few days up to even a week? I say let's stretch it this year to 10 days, to encompass today! Happy Tet! Since Jesus is always making everything new, let's have another Happy New Year now, in honor of Marcel and Vietnam and miracles every day!
Here is a miracle that came to me last night, which explains also why the Holy Spirit prevented my posting Valentine's greetings of love and more love on The Day itself. I needed the extra bit of info to share with you too.
Did you know that P.G. Wodehouse, funniest writer ever, sweet lamb, good egg, and darling ducky of Bertie and Jeeves fame (that is, he wrote of them, and frequently) died . . . Well, you may know he died, although with St. Therese we prefer to say "entered eternal life," and I found out last night that was in 1975 . . . but did you know Plum died/entered real life on February 14th?
How delightful! How fitting! I don't think our good Pelham had much clue about the fullness of truth, but the part of truth revealed to him was certainly immortalized in his kindness to others and his ability to make us laugh! Late last night I started reading the beginning of a sort-of-memoir he wrote called "Over Seventy" (published in the U.S. as "I Like America"), and I was laughing and smiling until it almost hurt - but not quite, because PGW never hurts, He, like Jesus (though in an infinitely lesser though still treasured way), only heals!
Well Plum (the name his dear ones called him), I am asking Marcel to give you a big, loud kiss today! He (Marcel) was already in heaven long before you got there - okay, 16 years before, which was just about half his earthly life, though a fraction of yours! - so I'm letting my prayers and requests work outside earthly time (since they're meant for heavenly greetings) and trusting he gave you the tour straight off, 44 years ago yesterday. I like to think that anyone (you especially) who has brought so much innocent joy to so many can be nowhere else than reaping a very blissful eternal reward. It's like the line they forgot to put in the Bible, in Matthew 25. "When, Lord, did I make You smile and laugh?" "My beloved child, when you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to Me!"
Meanwhile, we have St. Claude de Colombiere's feast today. If you didn't know, don't blame yourself - it's not on the universal Church calendar that I could see, but it is his feast nonetheless. He was St. Margaret Mary's spiritual director (her bearded Jesus, if you will), her very essential link to Jesus, so you can imagine he had a lot to do with spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart as revealed to St. Marge. Hooray! Another way to continue our celebration of Love! Isn't that fitting too? That Jesus would give us a feast of the herald of His Sacred Heart the very day after we've had our greetings of "Will you be mine?" He is waiting for us to be His too! Or actually, I don't think He's waiting - I think He knows He already has us! Double and triple Hooray!
I want to close this post with a special Tet/Valentine greeting to one of my favorite people in the world . . . I was reminded of him on the Vigil of Valentine's Day when I did something unusual for me. I tore myself away from Conversations long enough to pick up Marcel's Correspondence and read several pages (that I wanted to transcribe here, but for now time does not allow) - and they shot me over the moon with love! (I did get back home by Valentine's Day, thankfully.) And I realized, once again, that I would be a Sad Suzie, rather than a Merry Miss Marcel if it weren't for the many years of "hard labor" (which, since it was a labor of love, I pray were years of more mirth than even a whole library of Plum's works could produce) put in by another certain British gentleman who certainly should be knighted for his service to the realm and to the world.
Do you know who I mean?
None other than Marcel's little brother, the peerless Jack Keogan.
I don't mean that "peerless" to be any slur on his blue-or-other-blood, but rather I mean "unrivalled, unequalled" - for he certainly is unrivalled and unequalled in his gift of love to us, the four volumes of Marcel in such sterling, readable, priceless-above-pearls-English-prose (with the occasional poem thrown in for good measure). So here goes my Valentine/Tet message across the pond.
Thank you again and again for translating Marcel's oeuvre into English for us! We would be so sad without your gift of our dear brother's words in a language we can understand. We hope your every day contains much more than earthly roses and red envelopes of cash - may your every day contain Jesus, our True Love, His (and our) dear Mother Mary, and those darling imps: the first and second Therese(s). God bless and keep you and all those dear to you, and may this New Year be full of even more blessings and consolation than last!
with all our love,
Marcel's English language readers :)
And now, lest another day fly by without sending my message of love to you, dear reader, let's pray, and then raise a glass (of strong tea, hot cocoa, or your favorite drink of choice) to the New Year!
Draw me, we will run!
When I first read Story of a Soul in the summer of 1985 or 1986, what struck me like a wave of the most delicate but delectable perfume was the intimacy Therese shared with Jesus.
I had fallen in love with Him myself just two or three years before, and I felt all the ardour of that first true love that a convert feels (though I was a cradle Catholic), so I understood Therese's passion and devotion to Our Lord. And yet new to me in her and in her book, what breathed out to me like the Holy Spirit Himself from every page and has stayed with me ever since (long after I've forgotten many details of her narrative), is the astounding level of intimacy (there's just no other word for it) she shares with the One who is the Spouse of her soul.
I mentioned in my first post on Chapter One (which you can scroll down to just below Therese's shower of roses post below this one) the affection and esteem in which Therese is held by great men. I mentioned in particular Dr. Ron McArthur, and sure enough, in imitation of his petite patroness, he dropped a rose in my lap after I wrote that - a little sign that he approved of his cameo. I must admit, though, that he came to mind as a good example because I remembered his name, as well as his devotion. That night I then came across the names of some of the others who'd been hovering around the edge of my memory, the Belgian Cardinal Mercier being the most remembered name among them - though that leaves aside Pope St. Pius X who called her "the greatest Saint of modern times," Pope Benedict XV, who in proclaiming her heroic virtues gave a panegyric proposing her Little Way to the whole world, and Pope Pius XI who called her "the star of my pontificate," just to name a few.
I think what undid these men was that new level of intimacy with Christ that Therese shows us all by simply being who she is, a little child, but a very articulate one, held in the arms of our True Father. These towering figures and so many more - whether Bishops, Superiors and Abbots of religious orders, theologians and teachers in seminaries, or the countless women she's led to great sanctity such as Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein, and Lucia of Fatima - were already in love with Christ when they came across Story of a Soul. And yet their experience, like mine, was that Therese showed them a way to be closer to Jesus than they'd ever imagined or could have conceived in their wildest dreams.
I love Marcel so much precisely because he is the second Therese. That is, he shows us anew this wonderful, nearly incredible degree of familiarity and union possible between us and God. Not only possible, but desired with the infinite longing of His Sacred Heart by the dear Spouse of each of our souls.
There is one interesting difference between Therese's spiritual life and Marcel's, interesting especially because, contrary to what you might expect, we're much more like Therese in this than like Marcel.
The story of Marcel's soul turns out to be, in a way, much closer to what he imagined a great saint's lot to be - for Jesus, Mary, and Therese seem always to be appearing to Marcel or at least communicating with him so directly in words that not only can he write them down, but by Jesus' and his spiritual director's express command, Marcel must write them down.
Contrary to what Marcel (and other readers) might expect when they pick up Story of a Soul by the internationally famous SAINT Therese, she has very little to tell us about her mystical experiences, if by mystical you mean, as is often meant, visions and locutions and extraordinary phenomenon such as were ordinary in the life of, say, St. Padre Pio . . . and Marcel!
Nope, that's not the gist of Therese's story. In fact, she explicitly states - twice - that Jesus never spoke to her in words. He guided her, yes, but by that still, small voice that resides in each of us. So how, you might ask, can Marcel be a second Therese?
Though he is less like us in how he heard Jesus' voice, Marcel is definitely more like us (than St. Therese and, I would imagine, almost all the saints) in that he is about as uncomprehending and forgetful a student as any teacher could ever hope and pray never to encounter in his life! Which seems to be precisely why Our Lord sent St. Therese (she has, you see, the patience of a saint, as well as the love of one) and then Himself showed up to sometimes visibly, other times merely verbally, personally teach our little brother.
But here is the stunning part:
Everything that God taught Therese (through ordinary channels of nature and grace) and then sent Therese to teach the world in answer to her prayers (which prayers we'll address in a moment) is contained in Story of a Soul. Which means that everything Marcel learned from her and from Jesus is, essentially, contained in Story of a Soul.
Which means we made a good choice for our first MBC selection!
I know someone (besides me) who, initially anyhow, carried Marcel's Conversations with her everywhere because she knew this book was the life changing book God had Marcel write just for her. (I hope she knew that, but certainly she took the book to heart). Another friend was heartily relieved when she got a second copy of Conversations so that it could remain downstairs while her primary copy was upstairs in her room where she would go in secret, close the door, and with Marcel pray to her Father in secret just as Jesus told us in the Gospel to do. (Plus if anything happened to the primary copy, she'd have a back up.)
I love reading the lives of the Saints because we see that we are just like they are. As C.S. Lewis so insightfully said, friendship begins at the moment one person says to another, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one!" And so it delights me to read that Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, when he was just Henri Grialou, a young man in the seminary, discovered the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux and read it over and over again. "I find her life written by herself wonderful. No other book has ever made such an impression on me as that one," he would later say, and his biographer writes of his relationship with this book: "And he would never part with it."
But while we could multiply examples, it's enough here at Miss Marcel's Musings to open that other autobiography so dear to us, the one written in Vietnamese by a young Redemptorist, translated into French much later by his novice master and spiritual director, the saintly Father Boucher, and later still - just for us! - translated into English by good Jack Keogan, God bless him! Marvelously, the final draft of this autobiography was completed when the author was not quite 22, just one year younger than his sister Therese when she handed her copybook of childhood memories to Mother Agnes of Jesus.
Yes, I'm referring to the Autobiography of our own little brother Marcel Van, in which he writes (on his sheet 578):
"I had received, therefore, that afternoon a source of grace and happiness. The book, The Story of a Soul, had become my dearest friend. It followed me everywhere and I did not cease reading or re-reading it without ever getting weary of it. There was nothing in this volume which did not conform to my thoughts, and what enthused me still more in the course of my reading was to see clearly that the spiritual life of Therese was identical to mine. Her thoughts, even her 'yes' and her 'no' were in harmony with my own thoughts and the little events of my life. I dearly loved the chapter where she recounts her childhood in the bosom of her family, but I was very moved also on reading the passages where she described the death of her mother and her farewell to the family. It was really surprising. So, I felt choked when, looking at my past life, I noticed that there was no difference between our two sorrows.
"Truly, never in my life have I met a book which was so well adapted to my thinking and feelings as is The Story of a Soul. I can confess that the story of Therese's soul is the story of my soul, and that Therese's soul is my very own."
* * *
This may sound familiar, but it's me, Miss Marcel/Suzie writing in my own voice again, and if I might borrow the words of my little brother (but speaking on my own account), truly, never in my life have I met a book which was so well adapted to my thinking and feelings as is Marcel's Conversations!
For myself, I think I'd be satisfied to simply (and I mean very simply) read Conversations over and over for the rest of my years on earth. And if my time on earth terminates with alien abduction, I hope I can bring Marcel's book with me! But if, as I joyfully suspect and ardently hope, life on earth ends when life in the real heaven begins, then if we don't read there, I'll content myself with sitting beside Marcel and little Jesus and Therese on Mama Mary's lap. But it's hard for me to imagine I'll be comfortable unless I've got a copy of Conversations with me too!
But though, as I say, for myself I'd be satisfied to simply read his book, well for Marcel's sake, I'm happy to be reading Story of a Soul again. If the story of Therese's soul is the story of Marcel's soul, then I'm in! Not that she doesn't have something for those who don't read her on his account - clearly that's the case with most who come to her, and yet for 120 years this book has been changing lives.
So what is it that Story of a Soul has or is that manages to capture the heart of nearly everyone who opens its cover?
The other night I was at a dinner in honor of St. Thomas and the good Bishop Flores who visited Thomas Aquinas College for our namesake's feast. I was sitting with a wonderful Dominican priest who told me, after I asked who were his favorite saints, that while his two great patrons, St. Dominic and St. Paul, were his favorites, he had to mention that reading Therese's Story of a Soul was a big milestone in his life. He'd read it before he knew he would become a priest, and I got the idea that our sister's words watered the seed of his vocation.
Then, when the conversation at the dinner became general, I discovered that my husband (who has himself been re-reading Story of a Soul, through no connection with our project here but inspired by the same Spirit of Love) was talking with others at the table about this book. A friend who is also a teacher at TAC, and one of our heroes and mentors, leaned in and said to us earnestly, "You know, out of all the autobiographies I've read," - and he's a voracious reader - "I would say there are three greats: The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Life of St. Teresa of Avila, and Story of a Soul. And what is remarkable is that in the first two, you see a lot of themselves, of the writers, and you can see they were at one point quite taken with themselves, but with little Therese, you have none of that. She is entirely about God, and she was that way her whole life."
[Incidentally, our friend hasn't yet read Marcel's Autobiography, so we don't have to worry that he's left out one of the four great memoirs of all time.]
As if that sweet praise of our sister weren't enough, another much admired friend (another tutor at TAC, but one who hadn't been at our table) told me after dinner that thanks to a comment made by her spiritual director, she'd just finished re-reading Story of a Soul, and by means of it, our sister had given her a gorgeous rose just this last week. My friend had gotten to the end of the book and was astonished to find, as Therese spoke about praying for everyone entrusted to her, that Therese took as her own - can you guess? "Draw me, we will run!" But more than that, in the paragraphs following, Therese takes her Spouse's high priestly prayer (from John 17, which turns out to be my friend's favorite chapter in the Bible) as her own too! This dear friend's eyes were bright, her face filled with awe, as she told me of the effect this was having on her: the inspiration, the joy of taking this prayer as her very own too.
My husband, for his part, had recently been telling me, and then our dinner companions, that what really knocked his socks off about Story of a Soul was the way that little Therese, when asked to write about her childhood memories, instead of just recalling stories, writes under the light of God's mercy, seeing everything in His light and launching into - instead of merely a series of anecdotes - the story of God's mercies on her soul.
As I prepared to write this post then (preparing = wondering what in the world even to its outermost reaches and into the world to come I might possibly say, but not really having a clue which direction to take), I happened upon the key, for me, to understanding our sister's book. At least the key to understanding it this time around, or maybe I should say, less presumptuously (for who knows if I'll remember anything tomorrow!), the key to understanding it at least for today . . .
I cannot take credit, but into the void of my brain came a sentence which I happened upon in the introduction to a book on our Blessed Mother:
"May it [the nameless book] help us all identify ourselves wholly with the Blessed Virgin, who magnified the Lord with the whole of her being in gratitude and joy, and who teaches us to do the same."
I had been thinking recently (don't worry, it was a fluke!) that the key to Therese's Story was gratitude. Then I read - in a copy of a letter I'd written to my friend Fr. Maestrini in 2001 - this line from Therese herself (as quoted by Celine in her Memoir of My Sister, St. Therese):
"My little method consists in this: rejoicing always and continually smiling - in times of defeat as well as victory."
Well if that didn't remind me of Marcel and her instructions (and Jesus') to him! But most importantly, it added the element of joy to my key. You know how keys have the part you hold and the part you insert into the lock? I think gratitude is the part of the key I was holding, but joy is what unlatches the door to Jesus' heart!
And so, putting gratitude and joy together in Therese we get the true face of love: an image of Mary, her Mother and ours. How right and how sweet that Therese learned from the one who smiled upon her in childhood, "to magnify the Lord with the whole of her being in gratitude and joy."
Open Story of a Soul and what do we find?
Therese, by obeying simply, that is, by writing in obedience, will please Jesus and begin to sing what she can't help singing eternally: "The Mercies of the Lord."
In order to do this the best she can, Therese doesn't depend on herself, but goes to Our Lady:
"I begged her to guide my hand that it trace no line displeasing to her."
Then she is ready to "Do whatever He tells" her, so looking to Him, Therese opens the Gospel and reads: "And going up a mountain, He called to Him men of His own choosing, and they came to Him" (Mark 3:13).
"This is the mystery of my vocation, my whole life, and especially the mystery of the privileges Jesus showered on my soul. He does not call those who are worthy but those whom He pleases . . . "
Therese is a paradox, and her paradox is humility.
What is humility? Humility is truth.
And so she will instruct her sisters, at the end of her life (only about two years after she's written these words) to save everything she used, and even her fingernail clippings. "You'll need them!" she prophesies. (And they did need them, did use them - they sent them out, upon request, to the four corners of God's green earth as relics.)
Therese knew that God, whom she had never refused, would not refuse her the last desire of her heart, the mission that had become her dream: to spend her heaven doing good on earth, to shower us with roses (and when they were handy, fingernail clippings) to show us how much He loves us, and to make Him loved by teaching us to love Him as she does.
She says to her sisters: "The whole world will love me!"
How will she fulfill her plans? Or better yet, why will God fulfill them?
Is she so great, then, that she can paraphrase the words of Our Lady: "All generations shall call me blessed"?
Therese can and does paraphrase the words of Our Lady, but not because she (Therese) is so great, but precisely because she is so little.
Our Lady sang in her Magnificat at the Visitation (and sings in the Evening Prayer of the Church daily through her children), "All generations will call me blessed for the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation."
With joy and gratitude, then, little Therese sings the song of her Mother Mary, the song of the Church, the song of God our True Father's mercy and love. She will sing it throughout her book, and she wants her dear sister Pauline who became her second mother in childhood and is now her Mother Agnes in the Carmel to know that it isn't because of what she, Therese, is, but because of who God is, that so many good things have happened to her. Or rather, it is because of who she is, namely, one of the very little flowers that show forth God's glory by requiring Him to stoop so low to reach her with His tender solicitude.
I love that God's providence directed Therese to write these first chapters for her dear Mother Agnes alone, just as later she would write what became Manuscript B simply for her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. I think by the time she was writing Manuscript C for Mother Marie de Gonzague, she was well aware, at least in a general way, of the wider audience that God had in mind for her words. Along these lines, here's a lovely passage from her Last Conversations. Mother Agnes, in preparation for her role as editor of Therese's Story, writes:
"A few days later, having asked her to read again a passage of her manuscript which seemed incomplete to me, I found her crying. When I asked her why, she answered with angelic simplicity:
'What I am reading in this copybook reflects my soul so well! Mother, these pages will do much good to souls. They will understand God's gentleness much better.' And she added: 'Ah, I know it; everybody will love me!'"
* * *
On St. Thomas Day earlier this week, Bishop Flores of Brownsville, Texas explained to us that the Fathers of the Church liked to call Our Lord "the brief word of the Father" - he (and they) said it in Latin, but I like the English translation he gave just fine. The Bishop went on to tell us how his dissertation director had told him years ago that he should imitate St. Thomas with the information (and implicit advice): "He never repeats himself!" Bishop Flores made us all laugh by explaining that he could have shortened his dissertation by 200 pages, if only he'd had an extra year to work on it!
I told my husband later that I was concerned.
First they say "Brevity is the soul of wit," and now this.
My husband thought for a moment and then found the right words to reassure me:
"I think," he said, "the primary teacher needs to be concise, but the intermediate teachers need to multiply words to explain."
This consoled me a lot, along with the happy recollection that Jesus repeats Himself quite frequently in his Conversations with Marcel - for our little brother's sake, but also for ours.
I mention these consolations now because the inevitable has happened. Despite the length of this post, I haven't brought us any farther than page one of Chapter One of our sister's book!
And yet, and yet . . . if I were to write a commentary on Story of a Soul and it were as large as the Pacific Ocean (which I should be able to see from where I write, on a hill overlooking St. Serra's beautiful downtown Ventura, but alas, the mist has obscured the ocean as my words might obscure my sister's), I would only keep you longer from her pages.
I could quote you many of my favorite lines from Chapter One, but then you'd simply be reading Chapter One on a screen instead of in her book!
I will content myself with this last reflection, then, on a quote from our sister's opening pages. She writes:
"I understood, too, that Our Lord's love is revealed as perfectly in the most simple soul who resists His grace in nothing as in the most excellent soul; in fact, since the nature of love is to humble oneself, if all souls resembled those of the holy Doctors who illumined the Church with the clarity of their teachings, it seems God would not descend so low when coming to their heart."
Well how do you like that?
Here is St. Therese, making God's plans plain, about to class herself with the little flower instead of the great cedar - that is, with the simple child rather than the learned Doctor. Has she forgotten, then, that Christ thanked the Father for having revealed His truth not to the wise, but to the little children?
And now, in the topsy turvy world of the Church (I remember how this upside down, push me - pull me, turn everything on it's head used to really rankle poor Nietzsche, God rest his soul!), the little flower has been elevated higher than the cedar and topped with a mortarboard or her own.
Despite her own classification, she's a Doctor now too, and hence, as I believe more each day, our need for a second Therese, namely our little brother Marcel, to keep God bending very low and repeating Himself frequently, that we might know He still has use for the little flowers and that they (that is, we) delight His Heart beyond measure.
Ah, but she's wonderful, isn't she? Tall cedars or little flowers (and she really is a little flower, we'll discover as we read on), the sun shines simultaneously on all of us "as though each were alone on the earth, and so Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no others like it. And just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the good of each soul."
We find this teaching of our diminutive yet doctoral sister in at least two places: here on the second page of her memoir, and in her first meeting with little Van (who at 14 was not yet a Redemptorist - Therese would help him find his vocation - and thus not yet Marcel).
At their first meeting, Therese reassured Marcel that God had planned their relationship from all eternity, and he needn't waste a moment worrying, "If only . . ." Truly God never wastes a moment - He has everything planned out, eternally, and it is entirely for our good. She told Marcel then and she tells us now:
"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."
Let's join our sister in thanking God as we rejoice in His uncountable mercies to us, as well as to her, and certainly to Marcel as well. The other day I heard the most wonderful news (again, from Bishop Flores). He said that no grace is ever a singular event meant for one person alone.
Just as the Faith of the Church was complete in Mary at the moment of her "Fiat" at the Annunciaton, and that grace has meant the salvation of the world, so too the grace God gave to Marcel in letting him speak with Therese is a grace meant for us all. That you are here reading this is no accident, but a mercy God has planned from the beginning - and He has no beginning, so that's a long thought out plan on His part!
Let's take our sister's confidence, too, as a grace not meant only for herself but precisely for us at this moment and from here on out. She has no need of it anymore; she sees what she used to believe and trust. For us, though, what a rose, what a treasure, what a find! We can move mountains with her confidence!
Let's start by trusting that we'll find in our reading of Story of a Soul just what we need, at just the right moment, each month throughout the coming year. And then let's pray in the words she taught us to use as a prayer, that we may bring the whole world to God through His bringing us to Himself. How good He is! And how wise! And if we knew how loving - well the moment would be right for that first real Kiss from Him, the one that shoots us to Heaven in a heartbeat. I'm guessing that moment's not here yet, so meanwhile, let's pray:
Draw me, we will run!
Thanks for helping me inaugurate Marcel's Book Club! And since I'm posting January's book club (part II) on the Eve of February, I can say with no fear of rushing you: Happy Reading! May Chapter Two bring even more joy than Chapter One! That's the way it is with Therese - things just get better and better. So from her and Marcel and myself, good-bye to good January, and hello to the month that brings us Valentine's Day and so much more, all packed into 28 short days. Let's fill them with love!
I'm late in posting my second installment for Marcel's Book Club, on Chapter One of Story of a Soul. But as with everything, God has a reason - or at least makes the most of our infirmities. Because . . . St. Therese has not been idle, even while we speak.
I had wanted to direct readers here to the ICS edition of Story of a Soul in case anyone wanted to buy a copy (or even see what I'm talking about), but it was hard to find one simple link to this one simple book. Amazon.com didn't (somehow) have the book available. Bad amazon!
Well St. Therese wasn't happy with that kettle of fish (and she does have another fish story for us, but it will have to wait). For her book in Fr. Clarke's translation,she didn't want us to wait, and so, to my great surprise and joy, another book-loving (and Story of a Soul needing) Miss Marcel reported that she managed - St. Therese, not my friend - to Make It Happen! Fr. Clarke's ICS Story of a Soul is now available on amazon prime, and when my friend looked it up to confirm it, she found Therese had even dropped the price for us. Good Therese!
So HERE (or by clicking on any of the titles of Story of a Soul in this post) you can find, see, and even buy for a song (a ten dollar song) the John Clarke translation/ICS edition of Story of a Soul. Now! Just like that! In case that is what will float your boat.
As to that second installment on Chapter One, I must wait another day to give at least one reader time to get her copy of the book (which should arrive in her mailbox today). So tomorrow being the last day of January, I think that will be when we see Part II on Chapter One. I can't wait! Meanwhile, enjoy whatever roses our sister sends you, and let's pray with her:
Draw me, we will run!
p.s. Okay, I'll admit it - I just ordered one myself! It came out to $11 with tax, and yeah, that's a third of February's book budget, but how could I refuse her roses while she's standing at the door knocking? Come on in, Therese, we're glad to have you! And bring Marcel too, as you always do these days. Now we're ready for tomorrow, the last day of January and Chapter One . . . see you then!
If you're here hoping to attend the first meeting of Marcel's Book Club, I have good news: you're in the right place! If, on the other hand, you've wandered into Miss Marcel's Musings and wonder what's up, well this is your lucky day . . .
It's St. Thomas Day, for one thing - that's the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, possibly the sweetest and most wonderful of the Doctors of the Church (though he's got plenty of competition, so it's hard to say for sure who gets the gold).
And then we're starting today to talk about St. Therese (the youngest Doctor, not counting Doogie Howser, who doesn't really count since he was fictional) and her Story of a Soul. We're reading Chapter One in January, then next month it will be Chapter Two, and so on throughout this super fun year of 2019. If you've been keeping up with current events but missed this news, well that just goes to show you that the really important stuff isn't necessarily covered by the media!
We chose today to start our book club (named for Marcel Van because he's the one most delighted about our year of reading St. Therese) for two reasons.
First, you can only procrastinate so long in January before you wake up to find you're in February. We're pushing the envelope, what with it's being January 28th already, and we can't let this month disappear without fulfilling our promise to Marcel to talk about his favorite book, Story of a Soul.
Second, I can't think of a better day to begin such Theresian talk than this propitious feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, who's been longing with all his heart to start off with us in our discussion of what turns out to be one of his favorite books, too. How do I know Story of a Soul is one of his favorites? Just an instinct related to the reaction St. Therese's autobiography brought about in so many great, holy men - I'm thinking at the moment, among others, of my friend and teacher Dr. Ron McArthur, founding president of Thomas Aquinas College and a huge fan of Therese as well as a devoted disciple of St. Thomas, but there are untold scores of others like him who couldn't say enough good things about Therese and her book.
Today's the day then, and we're ready to begin, as soon as I assure you that our only rule here at MBC is you're not allowed to worry - about anything, anymore, ever, but for starters, you're especially not allowed to worry about whether you've read the assignment yet or understood or remembered it adequately.
If you haven't yet read our MBC selection for January (Chapter One of Therese's Story), don't for a second worry about it. Read it when you can, and meanwhile, welcome!
As to remembering it (let alone understanding it), please don't worry about that either. We live among the saints, and we'll let them share their insights, so we don't have to worry about having many (or any) ourselves!
Shall we start with a prayer?
Dear little Therese, big St. Thomas, and our own brother Marcel,
please give little Jesus kisses for us, and Mary, and St. Joseph, and each other!
Help us to know you better and learn from your books. And please help us understand what the Holy Spirit wants us to understand, to love what He wants us to love, to remember what He wants us to remember, and to laugh a lot like you do now!
I was going to find a fancy prayer to officially open MBC, but who knows how long that would have delayed us? Let's get to it!
Would you like a little background on how Therese came to write Story of a Soul? I think it might be helpful, especially since it will relate to the question of which version of her book you're reading, and some slight differences between editions. So here's a bit of background on our spiritual sister and her life:
St. Therese was the youngest of the five girls who comprised the family of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin. There were four "little angels," two girls and two boys, who had been born, baptized and gone to heaven already by the time Marie Francoise Therese (our Therese) was born, but she was the last and beloved "Queen" of the remaining five girls who survived and who all, eventually, entered religious life.
The oldest girl was Marie, and next was Pauline. This second eldest, Pauline, was the first to discern a religious vocation, and her explanations of what it meant to be a Carmelite awakened (or clarified) in Therese her own Carmelite vocation when she (Therese) was just a very little girl. Then when Therese was nine years old, Pauline entered the Carmelite monastery of cloistered nuns in the town where the Martins lived (Lisieux, France), and was given the religious name Agnes. Although Therese wouldn't have wanted Pauline to deny Jesus and was thrilled with her big sister's vocation, this departure was heartbreaking because when their mother had died five years earlier, Therese had chosen Pauline as her second mother. Now she was losing a mother again!
Three years later, when Therese was twelve, her oldest sister Marie entered the same Carmel and became "Marie of the Sacred Heart." About this time the third Martin daughter, Leonie, tried out a vocation with the Poor Clares, but this didn't last long. Meanwhile, Therese was left at home with Papa and her inseparable closest-in-age and dearest friend, her sister Celine who was 3 years older than she.
Therese entered the Carmel shortly after her 15th birthday, and Celine entered six and a half years later, after the death of their father, Louis. This meant four of the five Martin sisters (and later their cousin Marie Guerin) were in the Lisieux Carmel. The fifth sister, Leonie, eventually found her resting place as a religious at the Visitation in Caen, France. Thus all the Martin girls because nuns.
One night in the winter of 1894, when Therese was 21 and had been a Carmelite for 6 years, the first three to enter the Carmel - Pauline (now Mother Agnes, the prioress), Marie of the Sacred Heart, and Therese - were sharing a rare moment of leisure and conversation together, talking over childhood memories. Marie told Therese, "You should write these stories down!" and Therese laughed at her. She had no intention of doing such a thing, but Marie, sly dog, turned to Mother Agnes (Pauline) and said, "Tell her she has to write, under obedience!" Luckily for us, Mother Agnes "obeyed" her older sister Marie! She told Therese, "Yes, under obedience, write for me your childhood memories." Therese, very obedient religious that she was, had no choice.
She began writing in January 1895 and finished what's come to be called "Manuscript A" by the next January, in time to give it to her sister Pauline/Mother Agnes as a name day gift on January 21, 1896, feast of St. Agnes.
A few months later, in April of 1896, the first symptoms of Therese's illness began to show themselves. Thus in September of 1896, Marie of the Sacred Heart, aware they might not have their amazing little sister around for too much longer, asked Therese to write something about her "Little Way" during her (Therese's) annual retreat. Therese, out of love, wrote a letter to Marie to introduce a longer letter she wrote to Jesus about all the graces He'd been giving her. These writings (again requested by Marie of the Sacred Heart, God bless her!) became known as Manuscript B.
The following spring, Mother Agnes (retaining the title "Mother" as was the custom, but no longer the prioress) asked the current prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, to ask Therese to write down her convent memories, and thus "complete" her autobiography. Mother Marie de Gonzague agreed and Therese, again under obedience, wrote what is now called Manuscript C.
Mother Marie de Gonzague also gave Mother Agnes (Pauline) permission to spend extra time with Therese in the infirmary, and so from April 6 until Therese's entrance into eternal life on September 30, 1897, Mother Agnes, Marie of the Sacred Heart, and Celine (now Sister Genevieve) were careful to write down everything St. Therese said to them - which sayings were later selectively compiled in various editions, and are currently available in their fullness, known in English as Therese's "Last Conversations."
Among the many wonderful things that she said in those conversations, Therese, beginning to foresee what God had in store for her as a posthumous mission (i.e. the work she begged him to be allowed to do in Heaven, "coming down" to us on earth to teach us of His love and how to love Him in return, showering roses upon us, etc.), gave Mother Agnes carte blanche over her little writings.
Thus Mother Agnes was the one to prepare the early editions of Story of a Soul, which began as the circular obituary customarily sent to the other Carmels when a Carmelite nun dies. Only in Therese's case, the circular was longer than usual, and more world changing than usual! Mother Marie de Gonzague was happy to have Mother Agnes prepare the manuscript, but required that all 3 parts (the childhood memories written for Mother Agnes, the letter(s) written for Marie, and the final bit written for herself) be addressed to her. Mother Agnes was editing out some things that might offend those still living (Therese having the gift of complete honesty and transparency!), changing little words here and there, rearranging parts for ease of reading, and so on, so this request was no problem.
Later, when the process for Therese's beatification began and the Bishop was gathering her writings, the Church intervened and requested (and required) Mother Agnes to re-address the parts of Story of a Soul to their proper and original recipients.
These early editions, touched up, organized, and edited by Mother Agnes, were the masterpieces that went out into the world and began the shower of roses, the avalanche of miracles that St. Therese promised and has become known for. I can't help but think, as many others before me and most especially Therese has, that Mother Agnes was the perfect person for that editing role and did a marvelously inspired job! Those first editions also contained a miscellany of Therese's letters, poetry, last conversations, and counsels to her novices, as well as (beginning only a few years after her entrance to eternal life) a selection of her "shower of roses" - the favors already granted by her, written up by the recipients and witnesses, and sent to the Lisieux Carmel from all over the world!
There were translations into nearly every known language, beginning almost immediately after the first printing of 2,000 copies in September of 1898, one year after Therese's death.
By the late 1940's, however, the Church and the world were becoming anxious to have Therese's writings just as they came from her pen (and pencil, at the end, when she was too weak to use a pen). The Master General of the Order (Fr. Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, whose vocation was inspired by his reading of Story of a Soul around the time of World War I, before Therese was even beatified, and who is now himself a Blessed) requested of Mother Agnes that the Carmel provide the original manuscripts. Mother Agnes, at this time near 90 and still prioress (she had been made so in 1936 by Pope Pius XII "until death"), having worked on Therese's mission alongside Marie of the Sacred Heart and Sister Genevieve (Celine) for decades, asked if, pretty please, the Order and the Church could wait until she died, and then give this new project to Celine. Holy Mother Church mercifully consented, and so it was under Celine's loving eyes (also old by now!) that in 1956 the good Father Francoise de Sainte Marie brought out, at last, the Autobiographical Manuscripts in their original form.
Like many critical editions, they weren't entirely what we'd call reader friendly, but slowly and surely, translators made them available in various languages in much more reader friendly, but still wholly authentic-to-the-original editions.
For English speakers, the definitive (at least for now) translation was given to us in the mid-1970's (I love when I can point to really great moments in the '70's; it makes me feel like Abraham finding a good man to save old S & G). The translator: Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. (a very balanced man who was a Discalced Carmelite friar!). The publisher: ICS, short for Institute of Carmelite Studies. Interestingly, ICS came into existence as a publisher when the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites needed to keep the Complete Works (all in one volume) of St. John of the Cross in print. When, following St. John of the Cross' book, they then published Fr. Clarke's translation of Story of a Soul, it instantly became, and has remained, their bestseller, allowing them the stability to continue to publish the original writings of many other great Carmelite Saints, Blesseds, and holy ones. Fr. Clarke's translation is now accepted as the standard throughout the English-speaking world.
On my shelves I have several copies of Story of a Soul. They are all favorites. My go-to edition is Fr. Clarke's put out by ICS. My favorite as a complete book is "The Green Book" (as I affectionately call it), an English translation of an early edition of Story of a Soul which includes (as the Carmel's early editions did) assorted other writings by Therese, all translated by a Scottish priest, Fr. Thomas Taylor, and published by him in several succeeding editions from 1912 to 1926. Then there's the version that first hooked me in 1985 or so, the one translated by John Beevers, published by Doubleday/Image in a small turquoise edition in 1957, and kept in print in that format for many years.
My point? If you have Fr. John Clarke's ICS edition, that's terrific. I think it's the best one, and the one I'm reading this year. If you have another edition, that's good too! If you need to get a copy of Story of a Soul, I suggest starting with Fr. Clarke's translation, which you can order directly from the Institute of Carmelite Studies, or on kindle from amazon. But really, whether your translation, edition, and copy of Story of a Soul is old or new, it will be a life changer!
If you're reading along month by month and find me referring to things you haven't read in that month's chapter, chalk it up to using a different edition (if you are) or my idiocy (another likely cause)!
But now, without further ado, our first order of business is to give St. Thomas the floor, because he's been waiting a while, his feast is almost over even on my far left coast, and I'd hate to make him wait till tomorrow. Due to my Marcellian memory, I can't for the life of me remember where I came across a reference to this passage he's offering us from the Summa, but come across it I did, sometime between Christmas and now, and given how eager I've been to share it with you, we can only imagine how thrilled St. Thomas is (he who loves the Truth even more than I do, though I'm working on catching up).
This passage comes from the Summa Theologiae (or Theologica, as it's also called), Secunda Secundae (that's the second part of the second part), Q.83, a.11 (question 83, article 11). The whole question, which is broken down into 17 articles, is on prayer. Article 11 is titled, "Whether the Saints in Heaven pray for us," and the good news is that yes, they definitely do. (Didn't want you to spend even a nanosecond worrying about that one! And thanks again to the forgotten author whose book called my attention to a passage that I otherwise never would have seen.)
As is typical in the Summa, St. Thomas starts this article with objections (in this case five of them), then presents a "Sed Contra" or a kind of "contrary to those objectors' opinions" in which he quotes an authority for the true answer, then the "corpus" or body of the article (the gist of the thing, the real answer with an argument to explain it), and then replies to the objections.
Our interest today is in the fourth objection and St. Thomas' really heart-lifting reply. Ready?
Objection 4: If the saints in heaven pray for us, the prayers of the higher saints would be more efficacious; and so we ought not to implore the help of the lower saints' prayers but only those of the higher saints.
And then here is St. Thomas' reply to this objection:
"It is God's will that inferior beings should be helped by all those that are above them, wherefore we ought to pray not only to the higher but also to the lower saints; else we should have to implore the mercy of God alone. Nevertheless it happens sometimes that prayers addressed to a saint of lower degree are more efficacious, either because he is implored with greater devotion, or because God wishes to make known his sanctity."
Well how do you like that?
Here's one of the greatest teachers in the Church, possibly one of the greatest saints, recommending the little saints to us as our intercessors. I think it's nothing short of marvelous! I take it as the Angelic Doctor's endorsement of our devotion to little Therese and her even littler brother, Marcel Van.
And it also just so happens to fit perfectly with the opening pages of St. Therese's Story of a Soul, because there she asks the question why God would even bother making little saints. And it's there, in those first pages, that Marcel's gratitude and devotion to her began, because she happened to be asking the very question that had been plaguing him when he, all unsuspecting and even resisting, opened her book and found the answer to his troubles one evening in October of 1946, 51 years after she wrote her solution.
Marcel had been filled with the desire to become a saint, but he only knew, so far. of the great saints, so he naturally thought he didn't fit the bill. In his own words, from his Autobiography (564):
"The good God undoubtedly must understand me. I loved Him, and I wished to prove my love in any way, be it even with a smile or a mouthful of good rice. I hardly liked the discipline [this was an ascetical practice of hitting oneself with a type of scourge to imitate Christ's scourging at the pillar], which always frightened me, but when one loves, is it necessary to give oneself the discipline? People normally get more pleasure from a simple glance of love than from a thousand presents which may be offered to them. That is why I always remained undecided, not daring of myself to be the last in the world to become a saint, in spite of all the love I had for God. That's how it was. God brought the reply to this thorny question to me."
Struggling between his love for God (and thus desire to be a saint) and his recognition of his littleness (he was so unlike the great saints he'd read about), 14 year old Marcel feared he was being presumptuous. Agonizing over this inner drama one night, Marcel turned the whole problem over to Mary and left the chapel for study hall. Having done his homework, he was free to choose a saint's book to read. He'd read the ones that interested him, so again turning to Our Lady, he asked her to choose for him, then randomly, with eyes closed, picked a book.
To his disappointment, it was Story of a Soul. No pictures, and he was sure it was about another unreachable, inimitable, totally-unlike-him Saint. But he'd asked for Mary's help and now he felt obliged to read the book she'd chosen for him, so he opened it, began reading the chapter we're reading this month, and fell in love! For there, straight out of the chute, Therese posed and answered his question.
And believe it or not, you've got an extra grace period to read those opening pages if you haven't yet! Because if I don't post this soon, I will have already broken my promise that we'd start today (unless you're in Hawaii, and I doubt you are because I haven't heard from anyone in Hawaii!). Tomorrow, then, we'll dive into Chapter One itself, and see how Therese captures our hearts from the get-go.
It won't be until nearly the end of the year and the end of Manuscript C that we'll find our signature prayer in our monthly reading, but no need to wait until November to pray that we (a very inclusive we!) make it into the loving embrace of our darling little Jesus, so let's conclude St. Thomas' beautiful day together by praying with him to Our Lord:
Draw me, we will run!
As to our January MBC - to be continued . . .
Hmmm.....which one of these is not like the others?
I'd say the middle one. The book on the left and the book on the right both feature real-life Saints, while the one in the middle features a character who, dear as she is to me, I must admit is imaginary. But these three books do have something in common.
No, I don't mean that they're all on my first-thing-you-see-when-you-enter-the-house bookshelf (though that's true enough), and no again - they're not all Great Books, not really. I'll have to excuse the one in the middle on that count (a really good book, yes, but not Great in the official sense of the term). In fact, what they have in common has something to do with Marcel's Book Club. Can you guess?
No, we're not going to read them all in MBC. (Did I hear a sigh of relief coming from the Peanut Gallery?)
Rather, the book in the middle features Elizabeth's paradise project which got us started with Marcel's project for us - namely, reading St. Therese's Story of a Soul, one chapter per month throughout 2019 for our own little taste of Paradise. That's Marcel's Book Club (or MBC as we say for short).
Which explains the first two books (reading left to right), but what about St. Thomas and the Summa? Well, I thought we'd have our first post on Chapter One of Story of a Soul this coming Monday, January 28th - the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas!
Are you ready?
I may find myself reading quickly on Monday morning so as to get our post up by Monday night, but that's just me. You may be way ahead (like have it read by Sunday night), or you might be a worse procrastinator than I am! But if you don't get Chapter One read by the time our first post is up Monday, please don't fear, don't worry, don't panic, and for Heaven's sake, don't think it's all over. This is a very merciful and forgiving book club! Remember who's in charge. Would Marcel give you a hard time for resisting the charm of this wonderful book he's assigned us? If he does, just remind him that he resisted too, way back in the day. He tells us in his Autobiography that he was quite annoyed when he randomly chose this book (eyes closed) from the Saints' collection available to him!
The whole truth is that for our January assignment (Chapter One), you have at least until Friday, when February begins and we start thinking about Chapter Two, but if our first MBC meeting is in the last week of January, this could mean a grace period (get it?) with Chapter Two in the distance toward the end of February. Plus we might find so much to talk about in Chapter One that, try as we might to plunge ahead, we won't be able to turn the pages that quickly. Only God knows!
The exciting (and I must say liberating) part for me is that St. Thomas Aquinas has offered to host our first meeting, and he's ready! Believe it or not, I already know what he's planning to say - it's something he said to me about a month ago, and I've been waiting for what feels like forever to share his wisdom with you, but to him I'm saying, "Hey, St. Thomas, this is perfect for MBC! Save that thought!" I've got a huge volume of the Summa sitting on a small table in my dining room, and it will stay there until he gets a chance to tell everyone his brilliant insight on his special day. Isn't this fun???
Here's the plan then: Chapter One, Story of a Soul, Marcel's Book Club at Miss Marcel's Musings, Monday, January 28th, 2019. No need to dress up - come as you are, which is how Jesus loves you!
What time? If I knew, I would definitely tell you! I'm counting on the angels to help me read Chapter One myself, and post here before Tuesday. If you have any insights on Chapter One that you'd like to share before then - or even after then - feel free to "Contact Me" (there's a button for that here somewhere! Look under Marcel's smiling face up on the right) and I promise I won't try to pass your brilliance off as my own!
If I had the chance to provide you all with books, I'd give you the ICS edition of Story of a Soul (translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D.), but since my book budget is depleted at the moment, I'm going to (a) hope you have this edition (b) encourage you to get a copy of this edition, and simultaneously (c) reassure you that whatever edition you read will be exactly what the Holy Spirit wants you to read! God is so good, and every edition is wonderful . . . Besides, if I'm really honest, I'd say that given the chance to provide you all with books, I'd send you Conversations and we'd start MMBC (Miss Marcel's Book Club) in competition with MBC! But alas, funds being what they are, we'll go with Marcel's favorite book instead of my favorite. Simplicity in all things!
I hope you'll make it back on Monday, but meanwhile, we've got a joke and our short prayer to round out this post.
I promised to tell this joke if anyone demanded it, and demand it they did! It may have a familiar ring to it, but it's still hilarious (if you ask me).
So . . . a woman walks into a hotel hoping to check in. It's late, and there's no one behind the counter.
"Nice haircut!" she hears.
Having just gotten her hair cut that day, she's flattered. Until she realizes there's no one in the lobby. Taken aback, she rings the bell calling for service.
"And I love your purse!" she hears.
She turns around, but no one has crept up behind her. Which is usually a good thing, but she's getting nervous. She rings the bell again.
"Did you get your nails done or do them yourself? Love that color!" she hears.
Before she can walk out more quickly than she walked in, a hotel employee appears, entering the registration area from a back room.
"Sorry, to keep you waiting," he says. "This late I do the accounting in the back." He notices her expression. "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know, but I think I'm hearing voices."
"But there's no one here," he says.
"Exactly. But I don't think I was imagining it. First I heard "Nice haircut," then "nice purse," and then something about my nails."
"Oh, yeah, that's the pens," he explains, handing her one. "They're complimentary."
+ + +
Speaking of the peanut gallery, you may have heard this joke here before - but it was about a man walking into a bar, and it was the peanuts that were complimentary. So why pens? Don't ask me, but when I saw them at Barnes and Noble, I had to buy them. Complimentary pens, I'm not kidding! No, I didn't hear voices, but I laughed, a lot, and I'm still smiling. I'm happy to share the joy, but I'd hate to use up the compliments all at once, so I'll give them to you one post at a time. For today, just know that (according to the green pen) "People like to sit near you." Isn't that flattering?
Little Jesus is smiling too, now, seeing us smiling, since a single one of our joys suffices to console Him very much, as He told Marcel. Now He's sure to answer our prayer! Let's include absolutely everyone in it!
Draw me, we will run!
This post was supposed (suppost?) to be about Marcel's Book Club, but I made the mistake of choosing Our Lady of Confidence and darling little Jesus to top our words, and now all I can do is admire her, and invite you to admire her with me.
Isn't she beautiful?
Little Jesus must've just woken up because - did you notice? - His face looks a little smushed, like He's been sleeping hard on it, but He's awfully cute nonetheless, pointing to His mama as if to say, "Look at her! Isn't she beautiful?" You see, even He invites us to admire Our Lady!
I can think of another reason to admire Our Lady besides her beauty. I'm thinking of her goodness, her kindness, her compassion. That may sound like 3 reasons, but they're all rolled into one in my mind because of a passage from Marcel's Conversations that's been calling to me lately.
These words are from April 11, 1946, around (426) of Marcel's pages. Here Mary says to Marcel and to us:
"My dear little one. You have just been looking at me. It is not surprising therefore that I hasten to ask you this question. It is something really astounding. My child, by a simple glance you have drawn to yourself my compassionate gaze. So what do you want and what is it that little Jesus has just said to you?"
I'd say this passage is prophetic! Here we were just looking at Our Lady (as she mentions), and then little Jesus spoke to us and she mentions that too! Soon after, she speaks these words to each of us, words full of mercy and consolation:
"My dear child, remain in peace, all right? Little Jesus has not scolded you; neither have I. Our sole intention, both of us, is to get rid of your troubles. Do not worry, I love you dearly. . . Come, my child, I am kissing you, I am giving you twice as many as I'm giving little Jesus, nevertheless, little Jesus is very happy with that."
I love Our Blessed Mother's affection, her kisses, her kind words, her reassurance. But what I think I love most in this conversation is the opening gambit where she points out that merely by looking at her, we bring about an astounding grace. By a simple glance at her, we draw to ourselves her compassionate gaze. How wonderful!
I hope you have many lovely pictures of Our Lady surrounding you so that you can easily glance at her and receive in return her maternal gaze. This simple glance is a powerful prayer, and since the eyes are the windows of the soul, through your glance you bring to Our Blessed Mother all those you love. When she looks back at you, her very gaze an embrace, her compassionate gaze encompasses too all those you brought to her in your look!
This is prayer at its simplest, and possibly its finest. Jesus has told Marcel that a parent feels most affection for the smallest child, the one who can't yet speak, who can only snuggle in his father's arms or gaze upon his mother in silence. Doesn't this sound like us sometimes?
Remember, Jesus and Mary don't want us to worry. If something is troubling you, give it to them. You don't need to even use words. Just look at them, and let your exchange of glances be an exchange of intentions. You give them your worries, they give you peace. You may not see the solutions to your troubles immediately materialize, but Jesus and Mary have you covered with their care (omnipotent on His part, maternal on hers), so there's nothing left to fear, nothing left to do but relax.
Still, our sister Therese has not left us entirely speechless. She's taught us a few words to go along with our glance, so let's say them together and then we can look at Mary again.
Draw me, we will run!
There. Enough said.
Now let's get back to Our Lady's dear, dear face.
Isn't she beautiful?
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.