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?
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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 . . .'
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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!
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