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?
As long as you understand that the voices of the Saints that I hear are all in my head (and spring from my joyful imagination), I feel comfortable telling you that the other day, spurred on by some misunderstanding or slowly dawning understanding of mine, our sister St. Therese whispered to me (in my aforementioned fertile imagination), "You make Marcel look like Einstein!"
I had to tell you this because Marcel is inordinately proud of her remark! I've tried explaining to him that it's more of an insult to me than a compliment to him, but he only retorts, "Have you met Einstein? He's really brilliant!"
I studied (or tried to) Einstein in college, but that didn't get me very far. College did - I met my husband there, along with so many other saints, and picked up an everlasting love for Holy Mother Church, made my first consecration to Mary, and so much more; but I mean trying to study Einstein in particular didn't seem particularly fruitful. And yet I know what Marcel means about Einstein being brilliant. I know it because of a James Taylor song in which he (JT not Albert) sings, "Einstein said we could never understand it all . . ." That's extremely perceptive right there, especially for a scientist! He (Albert this time) also said something about love being the key to everything, but since I'm writing this offline, I can't quote him verbatim just at the moment . . . and yet Marcel is clearly right: brilliant!
Setting Einstein aside, however, we've got so much to talk about today. The whole reason I wanted you to know about Therese's teasing me (I think she was teasing) is because it came to mind as I began writing this, planning as I am to tell you about my great insight of yesterday.
Actually it wasn't my insight. The holy priest who said the Mass we attended was responsible for the smart part. I had realized just the day before that we are blessed in our small town with 9 holy priests, thanks to the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception who run our two parishes, and then the Thomas Aquinas College chaplains (a Jesuit, a Norbertine, a Dominican, and a diocesan priest - which sounds like the beginning of a bar joke, but I'm saving the joke for later, and *spoiler* it's not actually about priests or a bar, exactly). Well one of these 9 holy priests (the Norbertine, as it turns out) mentioned in his homily for yesterday's Feast of the Baptism of the Lord that it was the last day of the octave of the Epiphany. Wow!
You might think (or Therese might) that I'd have figured out this liturgical fact before now. Especially because the connection between Jesus' Epiphany to the 3 Magi and His Baptism - and the Wedding Feast of Cana too - has fascinated, thrilled, and enthralled me for years. (Not continuously, but right around this time, year after year. Then, naturally, I forget about it until the next year.)
Well, I have to say to myself, "How do you like that?" Therese is absolutely right! I make Marcel look like Einstein - although their hair is super different, which you know if you've seen pictures of them both: Marcel and Einstein, not Marcel and Therese, though their hair is different too. And did you know Therese is a blonde? Really! I thought forever she was brunette because of the picture of her as Joan of Arc (it's a wig, though) and her dark looking eyebrows. Nope, she's a blonde!
But now that the Truth has been made plain (about Epiphany, not about Therese's hair, though we've covered that too), a very fitting occurrence in our celebration of Epiphany-to-the-last-drop, let me tell you of my recent joy. It takes a little backstory, but that's never stopped us before...
My older son visited over Christmas (for a whole month! Thank You, Jesus, that was so much fun!), and he told us that thanks to a good friend, housemate, and co-worker (all one man), he (Joseph) has discovered the beauty and richness of the extraordinary form of the Mass. He told us that news with far fewer parentheses than I've used, and so I suppose Therese is getting ready to interject that I make him look like Hemingway. God rest his soul (Ernest's), but please Therese, don't make this ridiculous! (I'll pretend I'm the serious one, and she keeps teasing me off the track. - And I must, just must, add that Joseph and I were laughing about "no pun intended" recently. He told me how you can throw people off by adding that in when you haven't used a pun. I am not even tempted by that practical literary joke, because believe it or not, I've had close to four puns so far: covering Therese's hair - and the wig. Epiphany to the last drop is the Baptism of the Lord. I'm worried about being serious right after recommending Ernest to God's mercy. And if our sister who promotes the Little Way is teasing me off the track, she may be in big heavenly trouble!)
Nonetheless, if we can settle down long enough to make a spiritual point (those two, the usual suspects, won't stop laughing!) . . . honestly, I think I had a point but I've totally forgotten what it was!
Ah, I've remembered. My guardian angel is refraining from laughing and instead doing his usual job of helping tremendously. So here it is:
I love all the liturgies of the Church - the old and new forms of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the new and old calendars, and the special prayers I get to say as a Discalced Carmelite Secular (on Carmelite feasts which may be absent from the universal calendar, or simply memorials there but solemnities for us). And what a mind boggling thought that ALL the Church's liturgies - of every form and every rite - from the Last Supper until now and up to the end of the world - will never express the praise due to God, nor pour out all the consolation He wishes to bestow on us, the consolation and store of grace Jesus obtained and unlocked for us in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Zowie! It will take the whole of eternity for us to plumb the depths of His limitless Love - and Marcel wants me to tell you that he and Einstein have figured out that means that actually we will never plumb those depths!
Yesterday, then, I had to tell my husband after Mass that I was worried I might explode (we decided it would be the first spiritual spontaneous combustion ever, and due to the fire of Love) from the huge joy in me from Jesus' gifts, especially in the Feast and the liturgy. Later I told my neighbor much the same when she asked how I was doing . . .
Because (and here's the cause of my joy) what I've found marvelous for years is that the Epiphany is really 3 feasts in one. In the liturgy (it comes out fairly clearly in the Divine Office), we celebrate on Epiphany the 3 manifestations of Jesus as Savior - the first which lured the Magi to Bethlehem to worship their newborn King, the second to those at the Jordan when the Holy Spirit appeared and the Father's voice was heard loud and clear saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" after Jesus' baptism, and the third at the Wedding Feast of Cana when Our Lord performed His first sign (miracle) at Our Lady's request.
Being an eternal optimist (or realist is probably a more accurate term), I've been spending the week - or rather the octave - between the first Epiphany (to the wise men) and yesterday's epiphany at the Baptism, waiting for epiphanies of my own. I figure they (these manifestations) are about a dime a dozen this time of year, and though finances are tight after our Christmas feasting, having found some change on my husband's dresser, the good news is I can spare a dime, brother!
And then yesterday, an epiphany came.
A friend had written to update me on her daughter's latest Paradise Project project. Do you know The Paradise Project? It's my novel, it's clean and funny and well-written (hey, humility is truth, right? It's not quite P.G. Wodehouse or Jane Austen, but aspires to be a combination of the two and does make people laugh), and if you haven't read it yet, might I suggest a New Year's resolution?
In fact, the book is about a gal who does make a New Year's resolution, and the mis-adventures it leads her into. It's a romantic comedy, so it's both sweet and silly, but what my friend pointed out to me was its ability to inspire imitation. Elizabeth (in the book) makes a resolution to try one new thing a month for a year. My friend's daughter tried the same last year (after reading The Paradise Project), and she enjoyed it so much she's going to do it again.
[Last year I got a letter that I've prized since, from another young woman who, with a friend, had resolved on her Paradise Project too: they were going to read The Paradise Project once a month all year! I don't think they made it through 12 readings, but I thoroughly appreciated the intention, which made me laugh and laugh.]
Somehow in my squirrelly little brain, yesterday's news inspired me too. It suddenly hit me that in Story of a Soul there are 11 chapters and an Epilogue. Even my limited powers of addition produced 12 from that sum - the same number of months in a year, the same number of new things to try in a Paradise Project! (If this sounds familiar, I should mention that my heroine Elizabeth and I were inspired about equally by Gretchen Rubin's bestseller, The Happiness Project. The new-thing-every-month was not originally my bright idea, but you can see its comic as well as real life possibilities.)
Can you guess what I have in mind? No, don't try - it's quite a lot, albeit not Einstein! But what I'm thinking right now this moment (and hopefully it will seem like a good idea as the year progresses) is that we could read Story of a Soul one-chapter-per-month in 2019. Kind of like a book club, but just one book, just one year, and just one chapter per month.
The reason this epiphany came (besides Divine Inspiration) was that lately I've been dipping into Story of a Soul here and there, and I've been astounded by the wonderful mis-adventures that Therese has, too. Then when I tell friends, "Hey, isn't this funny? Listen to what happened to Therese!" their response is, fairly universally, "That's in Story of a Soul?" I seem to be not the only one who read it some time ago and managed to forget lots of the best parts!
The solution must have been inspired, because we all know I'm no Einstein (ha!), but it struck me: Why don't we read it again? And the one chapter per month part? That had to be Marcel because it's pure genius!
In fact, he has an ulterior motive.
More than one, really.
First, it's his favorite book, and he would LOVE to read it again with us.
But second, he wants the book club named after him. You know, his 15 minutes of fame.
I can appreciate his wish. My first thought was that an acronym is all important. Somehow I'm always abbreviating Story of a Soul to SAS - though actually it might as well be SOAS at that point - SS being already taken, either by naughty Germans or Sacred Scripture. So going with SAS, I thought we could call the book club "SASSY" for short, which would stand for: Story of a Soul/Suzie Yammering. But then I realized (in a nano-second or two) that some might be turned away by the obvious feminine, one-sided, and hopelessly inane conversation implied in that. Not to deny the feminine genius, but "Suzie Yammering" might not do it full justice.
Marcel immediately swooped in(to my imagination) and yelled, "Why not call it the Marcel Book Club? MBC is short and catchy. Almost like a TV network from your childhood, but not quite. And it's named for me, so that's less self-centered sounding than naming it after you!"
Of course I'm putting words in his mouth, but that was the general idea, and I thought it was - dare I say it? - brilliant!
And how would it work?
I've put lots of thought into this. Almost half an hour. And here's what I have come up with . . .
I hesitate to start anything new because:
a. life is already plenty full
b. my brain is a sieve (not like a noodle colander but more like something huge boulders could easily fall through - which at least keeps me from having rocks in my head, but makes it hard to remember new things).
So, talking it over with my taller and wiser half (sorry, Marcel, you are my shorter and funnier half), it was a quick bi-lateral decision to reject the idea of starting a new "place" online where we could have a discussion of each of Therese's chapters, and instead, my husband agreed I should keep the book club meetings right here on the blog. I love this simpler plan and think it most likely to succeed as far as my part goes, because I'm already here, and here you are too! And when it comes right down to it, I'm trusting Jesus, Mary, Therese, and Marcel to make the best contributions to our "conversations."
Okay, that's a surfeit of puns! (Did you get that last one? And what do I say, when I've noticed it. No pun intended? In which case wouldn't I change the word? Or pun intended? Though I didn't know how funny it was until I finished the sentence . . .) However we work it out, this possibly even excess of puns means it's time to stop and say some prayers, not to mention post this.
I'll be writing some emails to friends to invite them to join us for Story of a Soul, and then my plan is just to try and actually read Therese's book a chapter a month and comment here as we go. I would love to have you email me, if you're so inclined, and tell me how excited you are to read along with me and Marcel (if you are excited, or, it being email, you could just pretend to be excited. I would love that too :)! You can click "Contact Me" a bit under Marcel's smiling face in the sidebar on the right - and next thing you know, we'll all be excited.
Once again, Jesus has saved the day (as well as us). I was thinking it would be sad to leave the Baptism of the Lord (which seems to be a door into ordinary time, which tends not to sound special and fun, which saddens my little heart, which prefers Seasons and Feasts to the ordinary in-between) - but it is leaving yesterday that allows us to approach tomorrow, when we'll get to read Story of a Soul together! Not necessarily tomorrow literally, but definitely soon, and Marcel is so delighted that I can't help but laugh as I type the invitation:
Marcel, Therese, and Miss Marcel
cordially invite you to join
a limited edition 2019 paradise project
Marcel's Book Club
in which we read Story of a Soul,
Therese's autobiography and Marcel's favorite book,
a chapter per month
with frequent or infrequent reflections here,
as the Holy Spirit so inspires.
And now, to start me off on the right foot in my prayers, won't you join me for our usual?
Draw me, we will run!
That comes from Story of a Soul, incidentally - or rather quite purposefully and essentially, but we won't get to that part of the book (near the end) until November, so I thought I'd give you a head's up. Heads and feet all atumble, then, I bid you au revoir until next time! May your epiphanies be plentiful and joyful, bringing you His perfect peace and Limitless Love day by day, month by month, the whole year through!
P.S. I did promise a joke, way back at the beginning of this post, but time flying as it tends to do, and my needing to say today's morning prayer before we're in tomorrow, I must postpone the joke for now. How about this? If you really, really, really want me to tell the joke, you'll have to contact me and ask. And then, if I'm not melted by the rain (it's raining here! Praise God! And no, I'm not a witch, but made of sugar!), I'll tell you the joke one of these other happy days. Soon, I promise (God willing), and meanwhile, stay warm, dry, and sweet!
I can't figure out what all the guys with the huge muscles are doing here, but I LOVE the way that Mary is holding up little Jesus - the Light of the World - for the three kings to adore. Darling little Jesus looks so floppy, too, like a real baby! Well of course, because He was a real baby. And why? So we would never need to be afraid of Him!
I've been feeling a little sad with the end of the Christmas season approaching. I don't want to lose little Jesus yet! Or ever, come to think of it . . . But Marcel to the rescue, because if anyone loves little Jesus, it's our little brother, and he's got a revelation to help us realize we too can love little Jesus Forever, not just for a day or a season.
Having titled this post "Marcellian Epiphany," I thought I'd better follow through and give you one, so I opened my favorite book, happily just as relevant in 2019 as in 2018, Conversations, and here is what I found Jesus telling us (He is, after all, the Author of Epiphanies):
Marcel, listen carefully. In order to give grace to men, I do not need to wait for a particular season, or to pay attention to the temperature because, in that case, there would be times when men would be deprived of the grace necessary for the life of their souls . . . Remind yourself that My Love never acts in that way. It knows the moment when it must show itself and when it must be hidden. Will you remember?
That tiny baby is God, so He certainly knows that we will not remember! But joy and rapture, not only has He come to us as an infant, not only has He invited shepherds, kings, and the likes of ourselves to worship Him this season, but He is never leaving. He promised He would not leave us orphans, and He won't - whether He is revealing Himself or hidden, He is near!
The other day I read the most marvelous quotation. Sister Lucia of Fatima, when much older than the little girl to whom Mary appeared 102 years ago or so, mentioned that she (in her years when not seeing Heaven as vividly as she sometimes had) loved this quote from the Psalms:
"When you look for God, He is radiant with joy."
Let's not worry, then, if after He's been an adorable infant for us (and for everyone this Christmas season), He takes to hiding for a short while. We can look for Him then, and like the game of hide and seek Marcel planned to have in Heaven with little Jesus and Therese, our looking for Him will be His great delight! He will be radiant with joy!
I wish for you, too, dear reader of these words, the radiance of true joy, of the Holy Spirit, of our God who is Love, during the remainder of this season and for all the rest of your life until the True Joy of Heaven begins! And that we might not miss anyone there, let's pray our signature prayer:
Draw me, we will run!
We love You, little Jesus!
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. To receive new posts, enter your email and click "Subscribe" below.