Marcel's Book Club, Take 6!
The photo above captures some early editions of Story of a Soul that my husband and I saw in Lisieux last month. Were we really there? St. Therese and Marcel tell me, "Yes, we were!" Lest you wonder if these copies are now in my possession, I must clarify that they are in a glass case. Probably locked, though now that you mention it, I should have checked!
Speaking of taking things from holy places (these were in the "Hall of Relics" museum attached to Therese's Carmel), I can't wait to get to Chapter VI of Story of a Soul, wherein our little sister freely admits to taking stones and dirt from the the Catacombs, the Holy House of Loreto, and the church of St. Agnes in Rome. This fun chapter is our reading for Marcel's Book Club, June meeting, and it's a blast! But first, I must defend our sister (and, as it turns out, myself, as you will see later) by pointing out that she's merely imitating our all-loving God.
Yesterday I received news that the Blessed Trinity couldn't wait any longer and stole from this earth (a holy place because God created it, became Incarnate here, and stays with us in all the tabernacles of the world) one of our dearest treasures. Like the little stone broken off of the mosaic in the church of St. Agnes, a little stone that no one else noticed but which Therese pocketed to bring home, so Fran Renda, a Catholic psychoanalyst in New York, was pocketed by our Heavenly Father last week so He could take her home.
Like that stone from the mosaic, Fran was a humble piece of something splendidly beautiful, but I cannot imagine anyone more self-effacing than this woman. I myself was unaware of her until I met a friend of hers in Lisieux (where she had many friends). He told me of her long work on the family correspondence of Therese's parents, Saints Louis and Zelie, and wouldn't you know she didn't even put her name anywhere on the cover or spine of this amazing book which was published a few years ago: A Call to a Deeper Love?!
Fran was the editor of the English edition, and she and the translator decided to add annotated footnotes for us. That means not just footnotes for Scriptural and other references (you know: footnote 32: 1 Cor 13: 1-12), but really wonderful, extensive explanations to fill in the blanks for us and allow us to wholly enter into the lives of Therese's family. This kept Fran working hard for years, and this work was not her profession, but her labor of love for Therese and Jesus and us. Wow!
Fran lived a full life, as far as I understand, but nothing half as full as the Real Life she is living now! Please join me in saying a little prayer for her before we get to our chat about Story of a Soul.
Dear little Therese and littler Marcel,
As you well know, Fran left us on earth to join you in Heaven. Luckily for us, you two spend plenty of time on earth still, helping us, but we're checking in with you in Heaven so you can make sure Fran is there. Slide over on Our Lady's lap and make room for her there with you and little Jesus! Give her a big kiss for us, thanking her for all her hard work on earth, and ask her to send us each a rose or two to let us know she's right there with you and our brothers and sisters in Heaven, and most of all with Jesus. Yes, Marcel, you must let her receive His kisses for a whole day at least, to help her adjust to the time change. Thank you!!! (oh, and give little Jesus and darling Mary and St. Joseph kisses from us too!!)
+ + +
I love beyond telling the line in Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love where she offers to God "the merits of all the saints (in heaven and on earth) and their acts of love, and those of the holy angels." We can offer to God Fran's merits too! Here is what our mutual friend said of her in his note to me telling of her entry into eternal life:
"She died in her sleep and will be buried on Wednesday. She did a great deal to popularize St. Therese, the love of Christ and the Catholic Church."
Can you imagine a better send-off? Knowing Therese as she did, Fran will have appeared before the Father with empty hands, having given all her merits away to those who needed them. This means she will be rewarded according to Jesus' infinite merits, instead of her own!
Jesus Himself advised Marcel along these lines when He explained real spiritual poverty in Conversations. On May 15th (the day we first visited Therese in her Carmel!), He says:
"Today you asked me about the poverty I spoke of in the Gospel. Very well, I will explain it. Listen carefully. In speaking to the young man, why did I not tell him to give up all his riches and then to follow me? That is not exactly what I said to him. This is what I said: 'Go, sell your fields, your house and all your belongings, give it all as alms to the poor and, afterwards, come and follow me.'
"Little brother, it is necessary that you understand this, for souls. These words do not designate all material goods but only spiritual goods. By these words I intended to say to souls that, if they wish to follow me and be truly poor of heart, they must agree to make use of all their good works and the part of the inheritance that I have reserved for them, to offer them to the Trinity, so that the Trinity may distribute them to poor and wretched souls. It is on this condition that they will be able to follow me.
"Little brother, you must remember this text. In the Gospel, I am not saying: 'Give to the poor,' I am simply saying: 'sell' and by this word 'sell' I mean to say that it is necessary to offer everything to the Trinity and, after having offered all, to agree to give everything as alms to souls, without keeping anything for oneself. If a soul had the intention of keeping something for itself, it would not be able to follow me since, sooner or later, pride would be born in its heart on seeing its good works that had not been given entirely to souls. If, on the contrary, the soul has given everything, nothing more remains to it on which it can pride itself. It is because of this that one is in the position to recognize oneself as being truly poor of heart and that one accepts joyfully the necessary graces coming from my hand, since the truly poor person never complains about the food that one gives to him as a gift." (690)
Isn't God wonderful???
I want to say, "But enough of Conversations, we're here to talk about Story of a Soul today!" and yet how utterly absurd of me. That's like saying, "Enough of Jesus!" Let's say, instead, then, "Oops! Time is running out of June, so let's say a little about Chapter 6 of Story of a Soul before the day is done!"
Once again, as in each of our book club posts, I find myself torn between giving a line by line commentary (almost a word by word commentary, since our sister's words are so lovely) and recognizing my limits (and yours, and the internet's) and so simply zipping through with the highlights of a few lines that have especially caught my heart.
I'll cover my bases by saying, first, that if you haven't had a chance yet to read this chapter, please treat yourself to it soon! Or if, like one Miss Marcel I've heard from recently (and come to think of it, a Mr. Marcel from another part of the world, too) you are new here and/or just joining Marcel's Book Club, I can only say: Enjoy! I don't want to rush you through any part of Story of a Soul, but merely remind you instead that there have been many great saints who've enjoyed these chapters over and over again. Isn't that a thrilling thought?
Pope Pius XI, the one who called Therese his guiding star and the guiding star of his pontificate, said in his sermon at her canonization:
"She taught the way of spiritual childhood by word and example to the novices of her monastery. She set it forth clearly in all her writings, which have gone to the ends of the world, and which assuredly no one has read without being charmed thereby, or without reading them again and again with great pleasure and much profit."
Whether this is your first time venturing into her story's Chapter 6, then, or your umpteenth, or even if you're postponing it till you've heard what Marcel and I have to say in our MBC 6 post, welcome!
We last left Therese at the end of Chapter 5 (and if your chapter numbers don't line up with ours, don't worry, you'll find your place), after she'd visited the Bishop, hoping to obtain his permission to enter Carmel at 15, but alas, without obtaining her desire. And which of us haven't, at one time or another, experienced her feelings: "Ah! how painful it was," she writes. "It seemed my future was ruined forever."
Spoiler alert: her future was not, as it turned out, ruined forever!
In fact, she already had a Plan B lined up: if the local representative of Christ doesn't have an answer, she was ready (with her father's help) to try the Pope in Rome!
And so we read at the beginning of Chapter 6: "Three days after the trip to Bayeux, I had to make a longer one, that to the Eternal City."
What does Therese make out of this trip? She was never one to lose the opportunity of profiting from whatever twists and turns the good Lord put in her little way, and we must thank God with her that the Bishop hadn't simply said during her visit to him "Why not? I see the makings of the greatest saint of modern times in you, little 14 year old girl. Enter asap! Here's a letter with my permission!" Happily, he said no such thing!
I never tire of recalling the words Therese said to her little brother Marcel at their first meeting. Not, that is, when he first met her by reading this same book we're reading together now, but rather the first time she was allowed, in God's eternal providence, to speak to him audibly.
She said on that day that he needn't fret that he hadn't met her (in the book) sooner because, in fact, God's timing is perfect down to the very second He allows such meetings to occur. A moment sooner or later, and the graces He pours out may not have been so well received by us.
She knew this firsthand, for here she tells us regarding her pilgrimage to Italy, "The second experience I had relates to priests. Having never lived close to them, I was not able to understand the principal aim of the Reform of Carmel. To pray for sinners attracted me, but to pray for the souls of priest whom I believed to be as pure as crystal seemed puzzling to me!
"I understood my vocation in Italy and that's not going too far in search of such useful knowledge. I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His Gospel calls the 'salt of the earth,' show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn't Jesus say too: 'If the salt loses its savor, wherewith will it be salted?'
"How beautiful is the vocation, O Mother, which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls! This is Carmel's vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example. I must stop here, for were I to continue I would never come to an end!"
How marvelous, indeed, is the vocation of Carmelites! My husband and I have the privilege of being Discalced Carmelite Seculars, in other words what's sometimes called "third order Carmelites" (the first order being the priests, the second the nuns), and we too are called by our holy mother St. Teresa of Jesus of Avila to pray for priests. This makes life quite an adventure, because we can't really blame "bad" priests for their difficulties, but must rather think, "Uh oh! I haven't been praying enough!"
If any of our dear readers would like to be a Carmelite, I invite you to join us in this magnificent order, whose principal aim is LOVE! But if you are not called to this vocation in Carmel, don't despair of being separated from us--look at Marcel! He, our dear little brother, was so smitten with our sister Therese that he wished to become a Carmelite just like her, but not having met any Carmelite friars, and having been told by Therese that God was calling him to be a religious brother, not a priest as Marcel had always thought and hoped, he decided - and our hilarious sister egged him on! - that he must ask God to change him into a girl so he could be, just like her, a Carmelite nun.
Of course God did no such thing, having made Marcel exactly who He wanted him to be already! But the beauty of it all was that Marcel did get what he really wanted, which was to be just like his sister Therese in the vocation of being an apostle to the apostles and having a special mission to pray for priests.
This is for all of us! I hope you will join Marcel and Therese and my husband and me (and all Carmelites and all lovers of Marcel) in praying for our priests - the fervent priests, the lost priests, and the lackadaisical ones in between! They all need our prayers, and what a wonderful apostolate is ours in being welcomed by Jesus to pray for them. Remember the gospel passage? Jesus said the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few . . . and then no matter how many times I read His words, I expect Him to say next, "So become laborers!" But He surprises me every time with the same unexpected exhortation: "Ask then the master of the harvest to send laborers" (Matthew 9: 37-38).
My poor two sons! I have decided recently to act on my long desire and pray that God give them (if He hasn't from all eternity) vocations to the priesthood. Why not? He may have His reasons why not, but they aren't obvious to me, so why not ask Him to send laborers from our own little vineyard?
Meanwhile, I love this next paragraph from Therese's pen. She writes:
"I'm going to recount my voyage, dear Mother, with some details; pardon me if I give you too many, for I don't have time to reflect before writing."
My sentiments entirely! Always! But then our great hope:
"What consoles me is the thought that in heaven I shall speak about the graces I received and will do this in pleasant and charming terms. Nothing will any longer intervene to interrupt our intimate outpourings; at a single glance, you will understand all. Alas, since I must still use the language of the sad earth, I'll try to do it with the simplicity of a child conscious of its mother's love."
You know what strikes me here? I was thinking that I now know the answer to the question of the charm and success, the almost immediate worldwide popularity and the long, long continued attraction of this book which Therese wrote with so many interruptions, and in the later pages, when sick and even dying . . . Story of a Soul was not published until exactly one year after her death and simultaneous entrance into heaven, which means she had plenty of time before its publication to explain to little Jesus that He needs must infuse her words and pages with a good portion of His own infinite and ineffable charm! And so He did!
Therese recounts next that a few days before the group pilgrimage was to meet and depart from Paris, her father had brought herself and Celine (for Celine was with her throughout these adventures) to the big city to see its offerings. And here, to my supreme delight, I found that she only had eyes for Our Lady of Victories, the dear mother who had healed her from her horrible and mysterious illness four years prior.
Therese had seen the Virgin smile at her from the lovely statue beside her sick-bed, and in that moment she had been cured. She meant to keep this grace of Our Lady's smile to herself, but her sister Marie had understood, and asked for the whole truth of what Therese had experienced. Dutifully the Little Flower told her sister, who then joyfully told their sister Pauline at the Carmel, which meant the word was out to all the sisters of the Carmel. What was Therese's mortification in having this grace "spread abroad"? She began to doubt whether Our Lady had really smiled upon her.
But in Paris, four years later, the graceful sequel: Therese is now at Our Lady of Victories, the church where her father had, when she was ill, a novena of Masses said, during which novena, back at her own home Our Lady smiled upon her. Therese recounts that first miracle of healing in Chapter 3, but never one to miss rejoicing in God's constant gifts, here in Chapter 6 she recounts the follow-up miracle:
"Ah! what I felt kneeling at her feet cannot be expressed. The graces she granted me so moved me that my happiness found expression only in tears, just as on the day of my First Communion. The Blessed Virgin made me feel it was really herself who had smiled on me and brought about my cure. I understood she was watching over me, that I was her child. I could no longer give her any other name but 'Mama,' as this appeared ever so much more tender than Mother."
And here I find it hard to go on.
If you have not read Story of a Soul, you have a treat in store.
If you have read Story of a Soul but are reading it again, you have the joy of new graces in store.
But if you have been reading Marcel's Conversations and are now reading Story of a Soul, you may, like me, be doing a Snoopy happy dance at this point!
And if, to cover one last possibility, you have not yet read Marcel's Conversations, you have a double delight ahead of you whether or not you've previously read Story of a Soul: namely, the exquisite graces you will find in Jesus' words to you in Conversations, and then the surprising parallels you will find in this book of Therese in which Marcel said truly, that he read his own story, his own soul!
Right here, for instance.
It hadn't struck me before, but recently as I was peeking into this chapter, I came across these words of Therese and my mouth dropped open:
"I could no longer give her any other name but 'Mama.'"
I think our little brother will forgive me for not quoting you chapter and verse from his book, lest I fail to tell you the rest that struck us about this chapter of our little sister's book, but suffice it to say that Marcel is a big fan, too, of calling Mary "Mama" and expresses over and over in his conversations with her that he has no intention of calling her anything else! In particular, he's not going to call our Mother "Queen," because he has no interest in putting distance between them, but is concerned instead to insist upon their intimacy. Wonderful, wonderful Marcel! The second Therese, indeed, as Jesus and Mary have named him!
As to the rest that we want to share with you - I have a rusty memory, so it was with joy that I read the next pages, in which Therese tells of the beauties of nature she saw in Switzerland. I saw those same beauties when I was a girl, and they have stayed with me as they stayed with her. To add some icing to the cupcake, I had remembered (or thought I did) these pages in Story of a Soul for years, and in particular, Therese's determination to store up such beauties for later. Yes, I had not remembered amiss! She writes:
"I said to myself: When I am a prisoner in Carmel and trials come my way and I have only a tiny bit of the starry heavens to contemplate, I shall remember what my eyes have seen today. This thought will encourage me and I shall easily forget my own little interests, recalling the grandeur and power of God, this God whom I want to love alone. I shall not have the misfortune of snatching after straws, now that my heart has an idea of what Jesus has reserved for those who love Him."
Wouldn't you know that as the third Therese (I like to think of myself as the second Marcel, and since he is the second Therese, I think this makes me the third Therese!), I made the same resolution when I was in Lisieux a month ago? Actually it was more like 6 weeks ago, which would explain why it feels like almost forever ago, but I cherish the memories and when I am a prisoner in my own little lovely world in the paradise of southern California instead of the paradise of Lisieux, I close my eyes and imagine I am praying, not in my local churches, but in my Basilica or the Carmel of Therese!
I'm sure you have seen marvels of nature, God's spectacular creation that bears His imprint. I hope you have stored up memories to nourish your imagination and your soul, to free you from the everyday-ness of ordinary life, to remind you how great He is and how much He loves you!
But if you haven't done that yet (purposely storing up sunny memories for a rainy day), you can start now! And I ask our good Jesus and our dear Therese to take you (and Marcel with you, since he likes to travel) somewhere gorgeous and redolent of His grandeur, and to take you there soon!
I can't wax eloquent any more, though, because Marcel thinks it's time to laugh at Therese and see what a mischievous darling she is.
Because what struck me quite forcibly as I was reading these pages was the readiness with which she gathered anything that wasn't nailed down, taking it with her as a souvenir of her trip!
There is at least one Miss Marcel reading this post who shook her head over her husband's Theresian propensities on his trip to the Holy Land. My heavens, if St. Louis had taken his daughter Therese there, she would have brought back part of the Holy Sepulcher!
Here we see her (she tells us so herself and paints a vivid picture!) digging furtively into the walls of the Holy House of Loreto - do you know of this house? By an amazing coincidence, I recently received an email from a man who lives in Loreto, Italy, with his young family. Marvelous!! I have promised him a visit someday, but I don't know if I'll really make it, since I left my heart in Lisieux and hope to return there at every possible opportunity. Still, this good man wrote to me about Loreto:
"It really is a lovely place to live. The 'shadow of the Holy House' that has been cast here in this area for the past seven and a half centuries has covered this area with a special grace, in my opinion, that has preserved the local culture from much of the junk that has crept into Italian society and culture the past fifty years. It is a pleasant place to live and to raise children."
Imagine! The Holy House was the home of the Holy Family, and it was transported by angels from Nazareth to Loreto, Italy. I don't know much more about it, except the history of its angelic relocation reminds me of the miraculous transfer of the image of the Mother of Good Counsel (and little Jesus) in Gennezano, Italy. When one hears of such things in our current age of mingled skepticism (of religious history) and credulity (in things like "artificial intelligence" and the promise of technological salvation), it's easy to think this must be some pretty legend with no basis in fact. Far from it, I know from reading about the image of our Mother of Good Counsel that these miracles are supported by reams of documentation that satisfy the strictest of historians.
And so there was little Therese, digging furtively into the walls to get some of the stuff little Jesus may have passed His divine hands along while walking as a boy!
But just as there were more stops on their pilgrimage, so there was more matter to collect! Therese shamelessly writes (bringing a huge smile to my face, and Marcel is actually laughing!) - "We had to carry off some souvenir from the Catacombs," so she and Celine "slipped down together to the bottom of the ancient tomb of St. Cecilia and took some earth which was sanctified by her presence."
And then there was the church of St. Agnes. Her dear Pauline, for whom she is writing these memoirs, was Sister Agnes (at this writing, Mother Agnes) in the Carmel, so what could Therese do? "I exerted all my efforts to get one of the relics of my Mother's angelic patroness and bring it back to her. But it was impossible to get any except a small piece of red stone that was detached from a rich mosaic, the original of which goes back to St. Agnes's time. She must often have gazed upon it. Wasn't it charming that the lovable saint herself should give us what were were looking for and which we were forbidden to take? I've always considered it a delicate attention on her part, a proof, too, of the love with which the sweet St. Agnes looks upon and protects my Mother!"
I feel safe revealing to you here in the depths of this post that this was also a "page I took" from our sister's story into my own . . . don't tell my husband (!) who doesn't know yet but will find out in August when I share my treasures with our Carmelite brothers and sisters, but when we were in the cemetery of Lisieux where Therese was first buried, Marcel and I imitated her little way of bringing home souvenirs!
If you wonder at the efficacy of such a relic, let me tell you what I was thinking . . .
When Therese's process was moving along and so, according to the custom of the Church, her body was exhumed, there were various miracles associated with the event. One of the miracles I remember occurred back in the Carmel, where her remains (ashes and bones) were brought, when some of the nuns smelled roses where there were none, and found the source of the heavenly scent in - some forgotten rotten boards and dirt from under her coffin, which boards and dirt had been left, after the transfer, in an unused corner.
What can I say? Like any true Christian, I can't help but believe in the efficacy, the goodness, the glorious potential of matter! And, too, there was a limit to how many holy cards I could bring back from Lisieux, whereas holy pebbles weigh hardly anything and cost nothing at all!
And now, having confessed my secret stash, I find myself many pages from the end of Chapter 6, but very near the end of my time for writing about it.
I must comment, though, on just two more of Therese's memories.
First, she speaks of Celine's Christmas present to her on that last Christmas they spent together at Les Buissonnets - it was "a little boat carrying the Little Jesus asleep with a little ball at His side, and Celine had written these words on the white sail: 'I sleep but my heart watches,' and on the boat itself, this one word: 'Abandonment.'"
My husband and I saw that very boat during our visit to Les Buissonnets! I didn't remember at the time that it was made by Celine for Therese, but this is one more reason to read and re-read Story of a Soul. Before you go to Therese's places, you can read to prepare yourself for what you'll find there. After you go to Lisieux, you'll discover even more in these pages!
Finally though, the last paragraphs of Chapter 6 cannot go unmentioned by myself and Marcel. We've learned so much from Therese's example here!
On New Year's Day, she found out that the Bishop had given his permission at last, and she would, according to her desires, be allowed to enter Carmel at 15. Mysteriously, though, just as the goal of her prayers and desires was in view, she was told she couldn't enter until after Lent - not because of the Bishop's decision, but because of a decision coming from the Carmel itself.
Therese faced a double disappointment: not only did she have to continue to wait, but her sadness at the delay would look to everyone else as an unreasonable response to the gift now almost given.
Really, what can one do in this ridiculous valley of tears but sigh?
Marcel teaches us (or Jesus, Mary, and Therese teach us through their words to Marcel) that we must sigh and weep as the need arises, for these are sighs and tears of love, and Jesus will happily gather them up and use them as graces for those who need our prayers.
So what did Therese do? She was inspired to use this three month delay to prepare her heart for Jesus. And her example has inspired me, in turn, to sometimes remember when I am waiting for some delayed (perhaps much longer than 3 months!) answer to my prayers and desires: "This time of waiting will never come again! Soon Jesus will answer my prayer, and I will never have to wait for this specific thing again, so while I can, I will offer this waiting to Him."
Come to think of it, before you canonize me (for wasn't that a holy thought?), I think I usually remember this when other people of my acquaintance are waiting for something! Then I counsel them to offer this unique time of delay as a special one-time gift for Jesus. Probably when I'm the one waiting I forget Therese's example and wish and wish I didn't have to wait!
But Jesus is so good, He never allows anything to be lost. If you, like me, are not so good at waiting, suffering, offering up delays and disappointments, why don't you join me now in offering that (all our failures) to Him? Let's compile all our little poverty as a gift for Him who is entirely rich, and ask Him for everything we need in one simple request. I hate to say it, but it's time to wrap up here, so let's end with our request, our prayer, our confident insistence to Jesus, our Love:
Draw me, we will run!!!
We're in the Octave of Pentecost, having celebrated that great Feast on Sunday . . . the next day was the new feast (thank you, Pope Francis!) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church . . . and then on Tuesday came the happy celebration of St. Barnabas, Apostle . . . and yesterday was the Vigil of today: ST. ANTHONY'S DAY!!!!!
You can see, then, why we needed a special color for our blog, but lest you think I'm clever, I must admit it's actually a moment of un-cleverness. I wanted to quote from a great friend of a friend, Fr. Willie Doyle (he's the one I'm quoting from), and his words came in a red font (through my friend, Fr. V), so given my techno-challenge, our whole post today will be in red, in honor of our Best Friend, our Consoler and Comforter, our Advocate, our Counsel, God's greatest Gift to us: LOVE, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity! In a word (or two) The Holy Spirit! Hooray for the Holy Spirit, who makes Saints of the likes of us! Without further ado, then, here are the words of Fr. Willie Doyle, a heroic chaplain and priest-delighting-the-Heart-of-God around World War I, and an early devotee of little Sister Therese. He writes:
"A devotion which does not consist in any special form of prayer nor in doing anything in particular more than to listen to inspirations, is devotion to the Holy Spirit of God . . . For, as the work of Creation belongs preeminently to the Father and that of the Redemption to the Son, so the work of our Sanctification and Perfection is the work of the Holy Ghost. We honour Him when we listen to His inspirations. He is ever whispering what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. . . So let us often say: Come, O Holy Ghost, into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint."
Well how do you like that? Here I was going to ask how you liked that (what Fr. Willie had to say) and then suddenly I was back in black. (If you're wondering if I really just said that, apparently I did!)
What I especially liked were the first words (of Fr. Willie's) and the last. I'm a big fan of a devotion which doesn't consist in anything in particular more than listening to inspirations - this is the very devotion I have to Marcel and his Best Friend Jesus in their Conversations! And then I'm a huge fan of short prayers, and I love this one: "Come, O Holy Ghost, into my heart and make me holy so that I may be generous with God and become a saint!" (It only needed an exclamation point to make it perfect!)
Letting that suffice for our Pentecost reflection, you might think we're ready to jump into today and St. Anthony. But before we get to Il Santo, I must tell you about what happened between Pentecost and his Feast. No, not everything that happened between the original Pentecost and 1195 when our Saint was born! In keeping with our littleness, I thought I'd simply start with last Monday and work my way to today, though a tiny bit of backstory is involved . . .
For some years now I've been annually perplexed on the Monday after Pentecost. What in the world does one do when Easter comes to an abrupt end and the Church thrusts us back into "ordinary time"? It helps me to remember that "ordinary" here comes from "ordinal." We are counting weeks of the year, and they aren't in any special season - and this can be good, because if every day is a feast, how can one ever say (for instance) the basic four week psalter of the Divine Office? And how can one prepare to be festive if one is always feasting? How, to get to the nub, can one even survive?
Those are the questions I should be asking, at least, the theory being that one can't feast continually in this valley of tears. But being a girl who loves a good feast over a famine (or even fasting) any day of the week, I almost wish I had the chance to test it out by celebrating a feast every day, or always being in a particular liturgical season (and since I'm inventing my own liturgical calendar here, why not make the seasons Christmas and Easter, leaving aside Advent and Lent?!) Ah, but before we change everything, I must admit that my stamina does run low in situations of prolonged festivity. Yes, we're made for Heaven, but long, long ago our constitutions were shot when a certain apple didn't agree with us. . .
Enter Holy Mother Church and Ordinary Time.
Still, Mary is such a perfect mother that when we keep tugging on her sleeve, eventually she bends down and comes to our aid, and it turns out this is what I've been doing for years on the Monday after Pentecost (the tugging), and Mom has finally had a moment to attend to my whining. She's so good! Here's how the story goes . . .
In the early part of the pontificate of John Paul II, the amazing St. Josemaria Escriva came up with the excellent idea of inviting university students from around the world to gather at the Vatican after Easter. They did (it's now an annual event, as such things tend to be, once you get them rolling), and one of the students - bright lad - noticed and complained to the Holy Father, "Hey, there are 162 images of Saints around St. Peter's Square, but none of them are of Mary!"
John Paul II, being The Great, responded kindly, "Well, then, let's finish St. Peter's Square!"
Blessed Monsignor Portillo (Josemaria's second in command and later his successor) got right on it, and an architect came up with the perfect solution. He chose a window which could be seen from every point in the square! He designed to fit over it a mosaic of Mary, Mother of the Church (a title used by St. Ambrose ages ago, then by the Second Vatican Council, and gladly taken up by St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II), he stuck the words "Totus Tuus" in the mosaic, designed it to read "Mater Ecclesiae" underneath, and Voila! (as we who know a solid 20 words in French like to say), in the words of St. John Paul II when the mosaic was finished, "We have placed the last stone in St. Peter's!"
What a great and marvelous Church we belong to! Please, never bother with or fret over "the latest news." Even in these sometimes seemingly dark and depressing days (hey, I live in Southern California where the politics are abysmal, but thanks be to God the sunshine is awesome, so I simply avoid news outlets!), there are SUCH GOOD THINGS going on!
Take February 11, 2018, for instance. Pope Francis, our fearless leader, signed into reality his wonderful plan to make the Monday after Pentecost a new feast for the whole world: The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church!
Which means that this past Monday, for the second time (of perhaps thousands of times upcoming), we celebrated Our Blessed Mother's role as "Mater Ecclesiae," and this made me realize that in centuries to come, when all the vicissitudes of the present day are long forgotten, Pope Francis will be known as The Pope Who Gave Us the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church! Good job, Pope Francis, our sweet Christ on earth!
As if that weren't enough, that night (last Monday) the sun set, and the next morning it rose again. (Nature is awfully terrific!) It was Tuesday, June 11, which meant the feast of St. Barnabas, Apostle. After years of vaguely remembering this was a super special day, finally I went back to Raissa Maritain's splendid memoir, We Have Been Friends Together.
(You'll understand if I never write a memoir. All the best titles have been taken. Add to Raissa's first title, her second: Adventures in Grace, then consider the dual volumes of Sir Alec Guinness: Blessings in Disguise, and My Name Escapes Me, and finally, our beloved Ralph McInerny's I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You - which comes from the book of Job - and I'm almost left speechless! I've still got Betwinkled in mind, but somehow it's not quite on a par . . . )
Raissa writes in We Have Been Friends Together:
"Suddenly our decision was made. Purely for reasons of convenience - I had a journey to take - we chose the 11th of June for the baptism of all three of us."
The three of them were Raissa, her husband Jacques, and her sister Vera. A year before they had been entirely without faith, but searching desperately. They had written to Leon Bloy, he had befriended them, and the sequel was about to take place. Raissa quotes his letter to another friend, written on June 9th (of this year of 1906).
"The object of this letter is to inform you that Jacques Maritain, his charming wife Raissa, and the latter's sister Vera, will be baptized at Montmartre on Monday, the 11th, the Feast of St. Barnabas. My wife, Veronique, and I will be the godparents. You are among those who can understand the deeply hidden greatness and splendour of such an event.
"It is something to think that when I die, I shall leave, kneeling beside me and weeping from love, people who knew nothing of such an attitude before they met me.
"I would like on this occasion to tell you something of St. Barnabas, the apostle thus canonized by the Holy Spirit: Erat vir bonus, et plenus Spiritu Sancto et fide. [He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith.] When for the first time I read in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19, the surprising fact that the Lycaonians, hearing with amazement the preaching of St. Paul and his companion St. Barnabas and taking them for gods in human form, called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury, I was very much impressed. It seemed very evident to me that this Barnabas, hebraice filius consolatione, who was mistaken by the pagans for the King of the gods, must have been an infinitely mysterious and venerable personage.
"I decided then to venerate him and to pray to him in a very special way, and in this I was not deceived. Saint Barnabas has done great things for me, and each year I await his feast with loving impatience. On the 11th of last June, the day ended without any sign of his great protection, and I was saddened. But something more wonderful happened. As the 11th of June fell, in 1905, on the Feast of Pentecost, St. Barnabas' day had to be postponed to June 20 [because of the Octave of Pentecost], and this was the very day I received the first letter from the Maritains, who were then unknown to me. This year you see what happens! Perhaps other things will happen too. I know what I asked.
"I beg of you, my dear friend, to pay attention to these concordances. Each of us is at the center of infinite and marvelous combinations. If God gave it to us to see them, we would enter Paradise in a swoon of pain and delight. Yours, Leon Bloy."
Raissa then continues the narrative in her own voice:
"On June 11th, unconscious of the significance of this date for our godfather, all three of us took ourselves to the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Montmartre. I was in a state of absolute dryness, and could no longer remember any of the reasons for my being there. One single thing remained clear in my mind: either Baptism would give me Faith, and I would believe and I would belong to the Church altogether; or I would go away unchanged, an unbeliever forever. Jacques had almost the same thoughts.
'What do you ask of the Church of God?'
"We were baptized at 11 o'clock in the morning, Leon Bloy being our godfather; his wife was godmother for Jacques and Vera, his daughter Veronique for me. An immense peace descended upon us, bringing with it the treasures of Faith. There were no more questions, no more anguish, no more trials - there was only the infinite answer of God. The Church kept her promises. And it was she whom we first loved. It is through her that we have known Christ.
"I think now that faith - a weak faith, impossible to formulate consciously - already existed in the most hidden depths of our souls. But we did not know this. It was the Sacrament which revealed it to us, and it was sanctifying grace which strengthened it in us.
"We passed a heavenly day with the Bloys, our godfather's heart bursting with joy."
* * *
Jacques Maritain went on to become a faithful son of the Church and devoted disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas. Raissa, too, was a devoted daughter and disciple of St. Thomas, dedicating her life to contemplative prayer while Jacques dedicated his to Catholic philosophy. Vera was the faithful Martha of their household, though in a Marian sort of way.
And in a sense, all of this happened because one very poor and very romantic Frenchman was inspired to venerate and invoke the friendship of a New Testament apostle and saint whom most of the rest of us have overlooked.
Don't regret your disregard for a moment! Life is far too short to spend it in regrets - we don't want to take a nano-second away from our gratitude! Let's just take to heart Leon's advice and insight:
I beg of you, my dear friend, to pay attention to these concordances. Each of us is at the center of infinite and marvelous combinations. If God gave it to us to see them, we would enter Paradise in a swoon of pain and delight.
Take us, now, here at Miss Marcel's Musings (and oddly enough, you are here, now, reading this, so feel free to count yourself within the embrace of our royal "we"). We may, none of us, have had a special devotion to St. Barnabas. For myself, I read that account by Raissa some years ago, and promised to properly honor St. Barnabas from then on. This has evolved into a happy but vague recollection each year on his Feast that it is also the Feast of the Baptism of the Maritains. The Holy Spirit has His ways, and we are not all meant to be equally devoted to every Saint!
Yet we here have found a kind of mirror image of St. Barnabas, a hero of our own, though he has much more often provoked us to laughter than to veneration!
Ah, Marcel! I feel safe betting that no one ever mistook you for Jupiter (or Zeus, as I think of that mythical father of the gods), and yet you were One with Jesus Himself, God Incarnate!
I love that there is a Saint - or better yet, many Saints - for each one of us. Someone to be a special friend to us, to watch over us with the tender solicitude of Christ, and to share with us the Limitless Love of God. Personally! In bonds of friendship only hinted at by the likes of David and Jonathan!
For me, and for some of you, that saint (we'll leave his title uncapped for now, to indicate his lacking the official title) watching over us is Marcel. No wonder, since he is the second Therese, and she said, "I am your little sister in Heaven. I will never cease watching over you!"
But most of us have known Marcel only a relatively short time, and before our little brother entered, stage left, there were others who took care of us in a sometimes nearly visible way. We each have our lists of besties!
Listen to what our dear St. Anthony of Padua (and Lisbon!) says on this score, for believe it or not, we've made it at last to June 13th, feast of feasts for the lovers of The Saint (and for those who have ever lost anything). St. Anto, Doctor of the Church (like our little Therese!) preached in a sermon:
"Each saint in Heaven rejoices over the glorification of the others, and each saint's love overflows to the others . . .
"The same joy will fill all the blessed, for I shall rejoice over your well-being as though it were my own, and you will rejoice over mine as though it were yours . . .
"To use an example: See, we are standing together, and I have a rose in my hand. The rose is mine, and yet you no less than I rejoice in its beauty and its perfume. So shall it be in eternal life: My glory shall be your consolation and exultation, and yours shall be mine."
Isn't that wonderful? And SO TRUE! Not to mention the rose example! Prophetic, I'd say!
And just as I was counseling you earlier in this post not to fret over the troubles of our day, so two sayings of our holy father St. John of the Cross come to mind now:
"See that you are not suddenly saddened by the adversities of this world, for you do not know the good they bring, being ordained in the judgments of God for the everlasting joy of the elect."
For what could be more to the everlasting joy of the elect than the friendship of the Saints? Hence St. John's other word, his first "Saying of Light and Love":
"The Lord has always revealed to men the treasures of His Wisdom and His Spirit, but now that the face of evil more and more bares itself, so does the Lord bare His treasures the more."
I have always taken "His treasures" in this sentence to be equivalent to "His Saints," to the point that I've (mis)quoted it that way for years! St. Therese wanted to be imitable in everything, and I rejoice to imitate her in my free quotation of whatever suits my fancy and raises my heart! (She would tweak her quotes too, to make sure her audience understood how personally the Holy Spirit meant all Truth for each of us.)
Which would explain - I mean St. John of the Cross' quote, as well as my interpretation explain - why we are allowed to be among the few, the little, the poor in spirit blessed to know our petit frere (our little brother!) Marcel Van. It took some time for God to craft someone as weak and tiny as our dear brother, and only now in this time of seemingly unprecedented evil does He reveal the face of His little brother and spouse.
Jesus chose Marcel as a little secretary, a little apostle (you see, the mirror of St. Barnabas!) of His Love because, as He frequently explains in Conversations, His infinite Love cannot reveal itself all at once to any of us (or all of us) lest we die too soon.
Jesus is so smart! He had Marcel write down both sides of their conversations - Marcel's words, as well as His own - so that we would interrupt our swoons of love with smiles, and giggles, and chortles and full-fledged fits of laughter! These keep us on earth a bit longer, and Mary doesn't have to chide little Jesus for filling up Heaven too fast, before she'd gotten all our Divine Beds made!
+ + +
I can't conclude this post without doing a touch of housekeeping myself by mentioning two or three things that want explaining . . .
First, while I urge you to rejoice in St. Anthony's friendship today, I'd like to ask a favor. A dear sister encouraged me to pray to him these past nine days (a novena!), and she has been invoking him faithfully. Yesterday, he gave her the interesting gift of losing her job! I'm sure this is because he has a better one he wants to find for her, but will you join me in praying that he find her wonderful new job (and give it to her) very quickly? Her faith and trust is so edifying, but man can't live on faith and trust alone - he (and she) need daily bread too! It's long been our practice to offer something for "St. Anthony's Bread," a gift for the poor in thanks (before or after) for his help. Perhaps you can offer a Hail Mary for his poor, or an alms of any kind, even a smile to someone who needs one, and ask him in return to bless Miss Marcel's momentarily unemployed dear one . . .
Second, I'd like to extend an apology for my posts coming so few and far between lately, but being Miss Marcel, I'll apologize Marcel style:
It's all Little Jesus' fault, and I can explain!
Yesterday, I re-read these consoling words of Jesus from Conversations (20):
"Little apostle of my love, be for me like a pencil for my own use. One that I may wish to write with or leave to one side, it is all the same to it; that I use it in such or such a manner when I wish to write a word, it must follow the movement of my hand. To that extent, what have you got to be proud about? Be, therefore, this docile pencil for me . . . "
It's true - He's been leaving me to one side lately when it comes to writing His messages of love for you. . .
To my delight (and later chagrin), when we returned home from Lisieux, there was a note waiting for me from a reader of this blog. The note had blown to the side of our front porch, but God had put an enormous spider's web (and spider) in the porch, so that when I looked for a stick with which to whisk them away and free our path into the house, I found the note.
In it, a lovely young woman of my acquaintance thanked me for sharing the Little Way and encouraged me to keep writing. Though with all my heart I wanted to obey her suggestion (and I do hope to continue writing here for a very long time to come), to my chagrin I have been Jesus' pencil left on a side table. In fact, I think I rolled off and under the couch where I settled in with the dust bunnies and Jesus forgot I'm here for His use!
Clearly He hasn't forgotten me completely, though, because if you're reading it, this post is up, and we're together again! St. Anthony to the rescue, but it was a close one!
I can only say that, like all of us, I'm at His disposal, so when I fail to write, if you miss these musings, feel free to ask Him to pick me up! He told us through Marcel that a single one of our joys consoles Him very much, and this forces me to (almost) conclude that He's a glutton for punishment - my great joy (and thus His great consolation) is to write out His love for you, and yet He will leave this stubby pencil to one side . . .
So if you'd like to read more of Miss Marcel's musings, importune Him to reach under the couch and retrieve me. Or, since you might have other important importunings that take precedence, you could always read some of the archived posts (by clicking on previous months in the sidebar to the right).
Finally, I've heard from a few who would be happy to read more here about our recent pilgrimage to Lisieux . . . and as we're in the Octave of Pentecost, I will ask the Holy Spirit of Love for help with this:
First, that He may arrange to take the whole world to Lisieux! It was that wonderful, and I hate to hog it for myself alone!
Second, that He might arrange for me to write more about Therese and what she showed us in her hometown. She's more than a great Saint, and more than merely another great friend in Heaven - she wants to be one of those best-friend-saints, and I'd love to be an instrument to help insert her into your heart of hearts. I'd like to help make her your best friend, alongside her little brother and ours, Marcel.
I know, I know . . . there are two camps out there - those who can't imagine why we'd need Marcel as well as Therese (perish the thought!), and those who can't understand why we need Therese when we have Marcel. I've gained new insights on the Therese-Marcel connection and why we need them both, but that's a post for another day, God willing.
Meanwhile, happy St. Anthony Day, and may he do more than let you share in the joy of his heavenly rose - may he delight the Heart of God by joining his sister St. Therese and his brother Marcel in showering you with an abundance of roses beyond your wildest dreams! And now, in closing, a photo from Lisieux! This is the statue of St. Anthony and Little Jesus in the Cathedral of St. Pierre, Therese's parish church when she was a girl. I like to think she venerated St. Anthony here and fell more in love with Jesus when she saw Him, so adorable, in Anthony's arms! Let's repeat with her our prayer to Him:
Draw me, we will run!
And like Marco Polo, I'll say Anto, you respond Padua - it's the Nigerian way to honor and invoke our big brother, finder of lost things and So Much More! Ready?
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