We're in Day 8 of our novena (the tail end!), and the time has come to tell you about the lovely picture of St. Therese that tops our post. Earlier in the week we had the black and white version - no, it wasn't Ted Turner who colorized this one, but Therese's own sister Celine. It's an original oil painting (or rather, the original is!) and one year ago today, I saw it up close and personal. It was the fulfillment of a decades long dream.
The picture hangs in the entryway to the Museum of the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Illinois, and we were there on Sunday, July 16, 2017! If I told you all there was to tell about this Museum Shrine, we'd be here well into Day 9, so I'm going to limit myself, but I can tell you I'm so grateful we finally made it there.
The National Shrine of St. Therese was the work of a great lover of St. Therese, Father Albert Dolan, who traveled from the U.S. to France more than once to spend time with Therese's sisters Pauline, Marie, and Celine in the Lisieux Carmel, and Leonie at the Visitation of Caen. He obtained many relics to bring back for the National Shrine, which he raised money to build in Chicago. He gave missions there on St. Therese, during which he'd tell thousands of the faithful about his visits with the Martin sisters and about the Little Way. Fr. Dolan's talks were collected and published in a series of small paperbacks that I've enjoyed finding and reading over the years, and which were eventually published more recently by Loreto Press in one fat volume, The Intimate Life of St. Therese.
Another result of Fr. Dolan's enthusiasm was the Society of the Little Flower, which still continues the work of spreading devotion to St. Therese and the Little Way. They publish a wonderful prayer card with my favorite novena prayer to Therese on the back. And on the front? The oil painting of Therese, painted by Celine and procured by Fr. Dolan for the National Shrine! Considering that I've known and loved this prayer card (it's actually a little folder, containing another prayer and a short bio of Therese on the inside) for years and years, and given away likely more than a thousand of them, you can imagine how stunning it was for me to finally come face to face with Therese is Celine's original portrait, one year ago today.
Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, St. Therese! Thank you, Celine! Thank you, Fr. Dolan! Thank you, Society of the Little Flower! And finally, thank you, dear husband!
The funniest part of the visit (and what would Miss Marcel's Musings be without the funny parts? Let's not even go there!) was that it was on a Sunday afternoon. Praise God the museum was open; we had the place practically to ourselves and enjoyed every inch of it except . . . can you guess?
Except the gift store! This was a fine pinprick for me to offer up, but I was actually (after the initial disappointment) grateful it was closed, because this inspired some hilarious conversations between Therese and myself. She kept suggesting I take flowers from various parts of the place (I told her No, that didn't seem right). This was the girl (Therese, not me) who'd taken dirt from the floor of the Coliseum, in an area behind a barricade where she was't even supposed to be! So you can see I had to keep a rein on her in her museum (she was much worse there - you know, it's her museum so I'm lucky I got out of there without her having thrust a golden rose in my hand!), but I did please her by taking several donation envelopes - they were the closest thing to holy cards I could find, and they even had a sepia copy of her famous Celine portrait on them!
I have one of them near at hand now, marking a favorite page in Conversations. I wrote on it part of one of our own conversations (Therese and mine) that day one year ago when she gave me the tour, showing me so many special relics that I was near tears and in awe for the duration. She's not one for tears, though, so she kept me stifling giggles as well. Not that I was hysterical (that blend of tears and laughter is always interesting), but she was! Hysterically funny, I mean. Here's what I wrote on my envelope that day:
Suzie: Oh Therese, nothing? [It was stunning to finally get there and find the gift store closed, and nothing even in the way of free postcards lying around . . .]
Therese: I told you to take a flower.
Suzie: Wow, imagine France! . . . I couldn't take home France! [I was thinking about our visit to Darien, Illinois as my substitute for visiting Lisieux, and just as I knew it was best that the gift store at the museum was closed - because how could I choose, or resist buying half the place? - so I realized going to France would present similar but larger problems.]
Therese: That's why I gave you Marcel.
+ + +
Yes! She really said that! That's why she gave us Marcel!
(I mean that's what I heard in my imagination, and we have a deal that I get to imagine what I want, as long as its true. This leaves her free to speak to other people in more audible manners, and leaves me free to understand her without having to worry whether "my voices are true" a la St. Jean d'Arc.)
And what exactly did she mean? What Therese wanted to tell you before we reach the final post of our novena was just what she told me one year ago today. I'll let her speak for herself:
Therese: That's why I gave you Marcel. Because to be near you, to go home with you, to live with you, to be an integral part of your minute to minute life, I couldn't just give you a holy card, a prayer folder, a statue of me, as many trinkets as you could buy in my museum gift store or in all of France! To be totally present in your life and your days, to live with you and teach you the Little Way and pull you back onto it when you fall off, I had to give you not something, but someONE - our little brother Marcel!
What a great sister! Thanks, Therese! Thanks for giving us Marcel! And thanks, while we're in the gratitude portion of our novena, for sharing your other little brother with me . . .
I love anniversaries, and so I can't let this day pass without telling you that it's not only special because one year ago this day found me with Therese in the Midwest, but also on this day (July 15) in 2006, another little brother of Therese, Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., met her face to face - only not in Celine's portrait, but beside Celine in Heaven! Which was only just and right - that Celine and Therese were together when Father Nicola met them - because in the last years of his life he'd come to love Celine almost as much as he loved Therese. He told me that when he'd visited the Carmel of Lisieux as a young man, he'd spent half an hour visiting with one of the Carmelite sisters (she was behind the grill, and unidentified) - and he always suspected it was none other than Celine herself!
Today I realized that Celine died almost the same time as Marcel (she on February 25, 1959; Marcel on July 10, 1959) - and looking up the date of her entrance into Real Life just now (in Fr. Piat's book Celine), I find she, too, has something to tell you before we let her go prepare for Our Lady's big feast.
She wants me to tell at least the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of her part in my meeting Fr. Maestrini. It is remarkable, and I suppose I'll have to write a book about it someday, but for now, for Celine:
On February 10 or 11, 2001, I saw John Wu's Beyond East and West on a shelf at the Christendom College library. I left it there, untouched, until later that night or the next day, I read in Celine's Memoir of my Sister, St. Therese a footnote mentioning this same John C.H. Wu. This brought me back to the library where I checked out Beyond East and West, wherein I read about Fr. Maestrini. John Wu wrote, "This priest was so gentle and friendly that I liked him from the beginning . . . one of the holiest priests I have ever known."
The name was familiar and I discovered that although he met John Wu in China in the late 1940s, now Fr. Maestrini lived near my in-laws in South Florida . . . it was a cinch from there for Celine and Therese to introduce us, and we became fast friends. Father was 93 at the time we met; he had been in his early forties when he encouraged John Wu to write his autobiography, which John dated, at the end of the Explanations and Acknowledgments which concluded the book, "February 11, 1951." Exactly 50 years before I found it.
Wouldn't you know Celine insists on having the last word? Before Our Lady of Mount Carmel comes onto the scene, Our Lady of Lourdes reigns supreme, and as I was looking, just now, for the date of Celine's zipping to heaven, I came across February 11th yet again! From Fr. Piat's Celine:
"In the perspective of their (Pauline/Mother Agnes' and Celine/Sister Genevieve's) approaching death, Sister Genevieve drew up, on February 2, 1950, a text that was intended to be a definitive clarification and that bore, under her signature, the following written footnote: 'Mother Agnes of Jesus has read, approved, and adopted this document on February 11, 1950.' The better part of this text reads as follows:
"Therese is the Saint of Love, but of a love that finds its most characteristic expression in spiritual childhood. She is the impassioned Saint of Jesus, but of a Jesus whose indescribable condescension she has opened to all little souls. She is the ingenious creator of the Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, which is within reach of the weakest souls who aspire only to 'give pleasure' to God . . . All the saints are more or less heralds of Divine Love and of zeal for souls, while she alone is the herald of the 'Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.' That is her stroke of inspiration. That is her Omen Novum, her message, which I sum up here: joyful humility, passionate trust in Merciful Love, total abandonment to the divine will, a delicate art of giving pleasure to God in the least things of life, deep and experiential understanding of the Fatherhood of God, as I have testified during the Process in these words: 'Her love for God the Father amounted to filial tenderness.' Such is the secret of Therese's teaching . . . Faced with eternity, we who have lived in communion with Therese's thought insist on solemnly repeating: Therese's grace, her sanctity, and her mission is spiritual childhood."
Well no wonder Therese had to give us Marcel!
Celine and Pauline, John Wu and Fr. Maestrini, Fr. Dolan and just about everyone else are gone!
They had long and productive lives; we can't expect them to live on earth forever, but then we can't make it alone either.
Leave it to little Therese to find the solution - or rather, leave it to Jesus. He's given us a second St. Therese, a second icon of spiritual childhood, a little brother (in addition to our sister) who will never leave us.
Don't get me wrong - I have hard evidence that Celine and Fr. Dolan, John Wu and especially Fr. Maestrini have not gone too far to stay in close touch, but let's be honest (the saints are now beyond having their feelings hurt; they rejoice in each other's glory), who is small enough to give us all we need but Marcel? Like Mike T.V. after he got shrunk, Marcel's practically little enough to fit into our purses! Okay, that's a bad image to end on ("Let me out! Let me out!"), but I do enjoy a good laugh as well as the next guy!
Marcel, we love you! We've let you rest today - no doubt you've been swapping stories with Fr. Maestrini and John Wu, and making plans for the conversion of all Asia, but tomorrow we'll need you to help us celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
For now, it's time. A good night's rest prescribed for Miss Marcel and all her readers. One last, short prayer before sleep closes in:
Draw me, we will run!
And goodnight! We'll be together again tomorrow, but meantime, sleep with the angels . . .
P.S. I almost forgot! You can get your own copy of Celine's painting of Therese on the little prayer folder with my favorite novena HERE. Then shhhhh, no more interruptions, just a good night's sleep!
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