We're in Day 8 of our novena (the tail end!), and the time has come to tell you about the lovely picture of St. Therese that tops our post. Earlier in the week we had the black and white version - no, it wasn't Ted Turner who colorized this one, but Therese's own sister Celine. It's an original oil painting (or rather, the original is!) and one year ago today, I saw it up close and personal. It was the fulfillment of a decades long dream.
The picture hangs in the entryway to the Museum of the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Illinois, and we were there on Sunday, July 16, 2017! If I told you all there was to tell about this Museum Shrine, we'd be here well into Day 9, so I'm going to limit myself, but I can tell you I'm so grateful we finally made it there.
The National Shrine of St. Therese was the work of a great lover of St. Therese, Father Albert Dolan, who traveled from the U.S. to France more than once to spend time with Therese's sisters Pauline, Marie, and Celine in the Lisieux Carmel, and Leonie at the Visitation of Caen. He obtained many relics to bring back for the National Shrine, which he raised money to build in Chicago. He gave missions there on St. Therese, during which he'd tell thousands of the faithful about his visits with the Martin sisters and about the Little Way. Fr. Dolan's talks were collected and published in a series of small paperbacks that I've enjoyed finding and reading over the years, and which were eventually published more recently by Loreto Press in one fat volume, The Intimate Life of St. Therese.
Another result of Fr. Dolan's enthusiasm was the Society of the Little Flower, which still continues the work of spreading devotion to St. Therese and the Little Way. They publish a wonderful prayer card with my favorite novena prayer to Therese on the back. And on the front? The oil painting of Therese, painted by Celine and procured by Fr. Dolan for the National Shrine! Considering that I've known and loved this prayer card (it's actually a little folder, containing another prayer and a short bio of Therese on the inside) for years and years, and given away likely more than a thousand of them, you can imagine how stunning it was for me to finally come face to face with Therese is Celine's original portrait, one year ago today.
Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, St. Therese! Thank you, Celine! Thank you, Fr. Dolan! Thank you, Society of the Little Flower! And finally, thank you, dear husband!
The funniest part of the visit (and what would Miss Marcel's Musings be without the funny parts? Let's not even go there!) was that it was on a Sunday afternoon. Praise God the museum was open; we had the place practically to ourselves and enjoyed every inch of it except . . . can you guess?
Except the gift store! This was a fine pinprick for me to offer up, but I was actually (after the initial disappointment) grateful it was closed, because this inspired some hilarious conversations between Therese and myself. She kept suggesting I take flowers from various parts of the place (I told her No, that didn't seem right). This was the girl (Therese, not me) who'd taken dirt from the floor of the Coliseum, in an area behind a barricade where she was't even supposed to be! So you can see I had to keep a rein on her in her museum (she was much worse there - you know, it's her museum so I'm lucky I got out of there without her having thrust a golden rose in my hand!), but I did please her by taking several donation envelopes - they were the closest thing to holy cards I could find, and they even had a sepia copy of her famous Celine portrait on them!
I have one of them near at hand now, marking a favorite page in Conversations. I wrote on it part of one of our own conversations (Therese and mine) that day one year ago when she gave me the tour, showing me so many special relics that I was near tears and in awe for the duration. She's not one for tears, though, so she kept me stifling giggles as well. Not that I was hysterical (that blend of tears and laughter is always interesting), but she was! Hysterically funny, I mean. Here's what I wrote on my envelope that day:
Suzie: Oh Therese, nothing? [It was stunning to finally get there and find the gift store closed, and nothing even in the way of free postcards lying around . . .]
Therese: I told you to take a flower.
Suzie: Wow, imagine France! . . . I couldn't take home France! [I was thinking about our visit to Darien, Illinois as my substitute for visiting Lisieux, and just as I knew it was best that the gift store at the museum was closed - because how could I choose, or resist buying half the place? - so I realized going to France would present similar but larger problems.]
Therese: That's why I gave you Marcel.
+ + +
Yes! She really said that! That's why she gave us Marcel!
(I mean that's what I heard in my imagination, and we have a deal that I get to imagine what I want, as long as its true. This leaves her free to speak to other people in more audible manners, and leaves me free to understand her without having to worry whether "my voices are true" a la St. Jean d'Arc.)
And what exactly did she mean? What Therese wanted to tell you before we reach the final post of our novena was just what she told me one year ago today. I'll let her speak for herself:
Therese: That's why I gave you Marcel. Because to be near you, to go home with you, to live with you, to be an integral part of your minute to minute life, I couldn't just give you a holy card, a prayer folder, a statue of me, as many trinkets as you could buy in my museum gift store or in all of France! To be totally present in your life and your days, to live with you and teach you the Little Way and pull you back onto it when you fall off, I had to give you not something, but someONE - our little brother Marcel!
What a great sister! Thanks, Therese! Thanks for giving us Marcel! And thanks, while we're in the gratitude portion of our novena, for sharing your other little brother with me . . .
I love anniversaries, and so I can't let this day pass without telling you that it's not only special because one year ago this day found me with Therese in the Midwest, but also on this day (July 15) in 2006, another little brother of Therese, Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., met her face to face - only not in Celine's portrait, but beside Celine in Heaven! Which was only just and right - that Celine and Therese were together when Father Nicola met them - because in the last years of his life he'd come to love Celine almost as much as he loved Therese. He told me that when he'd visited the Carmel of Lisieux as a young man, he'd spent half an hour visiting with one of the Carmelite sisters (she was behind the grill, and unidentified) - and he always suspected it was none other than Celine herself!
Today I realized that Celine died almost the same time as Marcel (she on February 25, 1959; Marcel on July 10, 1959) - and looking up the date of her entrance into Real Life just now (in Fr. Piat's book Celine), I find she, too, has something to tell you before we let her go prepare for Our Lady's big feast.
She wants me to tell at least the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of her part in my meeting Fr. Maestrini. It is remarkable, and I suppose I'll have to write a book about it someday, but for now, for Celine:
On February 10 or 11, 2001, I saw John Wu's Beyond East and West on a shelf at the Christendom College library. I left it there, untouched, until later that night or the next day, I read in Celine's Memoir of my Sister, St. Therese a footnote mentioning this same John C.H. Wu. This brought me back to the library where I checked out Beyond East and West, wherein I read about Fr. Maestrini. John Wu wrote, "This priest was so gentle and friendly that I liked him from the beginning . . . one of the holiest priests I have ever known."
The name was familiar and I discovered that although he met John Wu in China in the late 1940s, now Fr. Maestrini lived near my in-laws in South Florida . . . it was a cinch from there for Celine and Therese to introduce us, and we became fast friends. Father was 93 at the time we met; he had been in his early forties when he encouraged John Wu to write his autobiography, which John dated, at the end of the Explanations and Acknowledgments which concluded the book, "February 11, 1951." Exactly 50 years before I found it.
Wouldn't you know Celine insists on having the last word? Before Our Lady of Mount Carmel comes onto the scene, Our Lady of Lourdes reigns supreme, and as I was looking, just now, for the date of Celine's zipping to heaven, I came across February 11th yet again! From Fr. Piat's Celine:
"In the perspective of their (Pauline/Mother Agnes' and Celine/Sister Genevieve's) approaching death, Sister Genevieve drew up, on February 2, 1950, a text that was intended to be a definitive clarification and that bore, under her signature, the following written footnote: 'Mother Agnes of Jesus has read, approved, and adopted this document on February 11, 1950.' The better part of this text reads as follows:
"Therese is the Saint of Love, but of a love that finds its most characteristic expression in spiritual childhood. She is the impassioned Saint of Jesus, but of a Jesus whose indescribable condescension she has opened to all little souls. She is the ingenious creator of the Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, which is within reach of the weakest souls who aspire only to 'give pleasure' to God . . . All the saints are more or less heralds of Divine Love and of zeal for souls, while she alone is the herald of the 'Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.' That is her stroke of inspiration. That is her Omen Novum, her message, which I sum up here: joyful humility, passionate trust in Merciful Love, total abandonment to the divine will, a delicate art of giving pleasure to God in the least things of life, deep and experiential understanding of the Fatherhood of God, as I have testified during the Process in these words: 'Her love for God the Father amounted to filial tenderness.' Such is the secret of Therese's teaching . . . Faced with eternity, we who have lived in communion with Therese's thought insist on solemnly repeating: Therese's grace, her sanctity, and her mission is spiritual childhood."
Well no wonder Therese had to give us Marcel!
Celine and Pauline, John Wu and Fr. Maestrini, Fr. Dolan and just about everyone else are gone!
They had long and productive lives; we can't expect them to live on earth forever, but then we can't make it alone either.
Leave it to little Therese to find the solution - or rather, leave it to Jesus. He's given us a second St. Therese, a second icon of spiritual childhood, a little brother (in addition to our sister) who will never leave us.
Don't get me wrong - I have hard evidence that Celine and Fr. Dolan, John Wu and especially Fr. Maestrini have not gone too far to stay in close touch, but let's be honest (the saints are now beyond having their feelings hurt; they rejoice in each other's glory), who is small enough to give us all we need but Marcel? Like Mike T.V. after he got shrunk, Marcel's practically little enough to fit into our purses! Okay, that's a bad image to end on ("Let me out! Let me out!"), but I do enjoy a good laugh as well as the next guy!
Marcel, we love you! We've let you rest today - no doubt you've been swapping stories with Fr. Maestrini and John Wu, and making plans for the conversion of all Asia, but tomorrow we'll need you to help us celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
For now, it's time. A good night's rest prescribed for Miss Marcel and all her readers. One last, short prayer before sleep closes in:
Draw me, we will run!
And goodnight! We'll be together again tomorrow, but meantime, sleep with the angels . . .
P.S. I almost forgot! You can get your own copy of Celine's painting of Therese on the little prayer folder with my favorite novena HERE. Then shhhhh, no more interruptions, just a good night's sleep!
First things first - this is not a photo of Mary and baby Jesus, but merely a painting by Sandro Botticelli. He was a good painter, I'll give him that, but he got Our Lady and Jesus wrong - notice they're too thin, and Jesus isn't nearly beautiful enough, and yet we have to give him credit (or the Holy Spirit, really) for placing a large book - obviously Conversations! - under Jesus' and Mary's hands. Nice job, Sandro!
I've begun with a picture of Our Lady and little Jesus because I'm afraid I've almost forgotten, and forgotten to remind you, that this is a novena of gratitude and petitions to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. At my house our purpose is made plain because today, in honor of the privilege of being Carmelites, my husband and I get to fast and abstain. Now don't laugh! It's our version of fast and abstinence, and we're trying even if neither of us will get a gold medal (you might think I've got repressed Olympic dreams or something, the way these gold medals keep cropping up, but I think I'm good as is, just love the imagery) - the idea is that the day before a Solemnity or huge feast, we fast. I don't mean it's our idea. My idea is to live like those happy people in the second half of Wall-E, the ones in the traveling recliners - not too much personal effort, all creature comforts within arms' reach, good movies playing for our entertainment. (And if you notice I bring these up more often than gold medals, you're starting to get me.)
Our Lady, though, while not a whit concerned about calories (take it from me; I'm confident I've got this one right), is nonetheless smiling over my description of my Best Life because she does want to preserve for us the power of locomotion. (Kind of awkward to fall off one's recliner and not be able to rise onto it again without help!) So she's given us a little fast before our feast - when a Sunday precedes the feast, as it does this year, we anticipate the fast because we can't fast on Easter, and every Sunday is a little Easter. How lovely the Church's ideas are!
My thought, then, is that we have just time for another mini-novena within our full size novena. (We could call my previous triple novena super-sized!) We began, this time, with a tiny novena in honor of Marcel's birthday-into-heaven, and we can end with another little novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Humor me, please, because it allows me to trot out this incredibly beautiful prayer/poem called Flos Carmeli, "Flower of Carmel," in honor of Our Lady The only reason you haven't seen it here yet is that it hadn't occurred to me until this morning to use it in our novena. I get tired with long prayers, so I bet Our Lady threw her veil between my eyes and this prayer, but now that I've thought of it, I can't keep it from you, so let's say it together now:
O beautiful flower of Carmel,
most fruitful vine,
Splendor of Heaven, holy and singular,
who brought forth the Son of God,
Still ever remaining a Pure Virgin,
assist me in this necessity,
O Star of the Sea, help and protect us.
Show us that your are our Mother.
O Mary conceived without sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to thee!
(And then here is an add-on that's delightful too:)
Mother and Ornament of Carmel, pray for us!
Virgin, flower of Carmel, pray for us!
Patroness of all who wear the scapular, pray for us!
Hope of all who die wearing the scapular, pray for us!
St. Joseph, friend and foster father of the Sacred Heart, pray for us!
St. Joseph, chaste spouse of Mary, pray for us!
St. Joseph, our patron, pray for us!
Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation,
Make us worth of the promises of Christ!
O God, You have blessed the Order of Carmel
with the special title of the Most Blessed Mary, ever Virgin and Mother.
Grant, in Your mercy, that under her guidance we may attain to everlasting love and joy.
This we ask through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
* * *
There, now. Don't you feel like we've said enough prayers to cover 9 days?
Laugh at me if you will (I'd much rather that than your shaking your head over me), but I'm a Carmelite, and one thing that means for me is that I prefer mental prayer to vocal prayer.
No, not because I'm a mental case, but because mental prayer means, in the colloquial translation of St. Teresa of Avila's definition, that prayer which is nothing other than a good long chit-chat with Him whom we know loves us.
In other words, since having discovered (or been given, like winning the lottery) Conversations, I like to pray by spending time with Marcel and Jesus (and Mary and Therese), by listening in on their gab fests, land chiming in occasionally as I read.
And in God's mercy, I'm not about to run out of material (to help my mental prayer) any time soon. Those four did spend a lot of time together talking, and then our Marcel was such a trooper, writing down endless pages. Once I caught on that these pages were out there, I was desperate to get my hands on Marcel's Complete Works, but then when I did eventually acquire all four volumes, Conversations mesmerized me (and continues to charm me) daily, so the others mostly sit on my bedside table, waiting patiently for their turn.
Last night, when I was overtired and wondering what I could possibly write about today, Our Lady gently whispered, "Don't worry, tomorrow you'll feel differently. Just rest now."
Isn't that just like a mom? My own earthly mom used to tell me that kind of thing when I was a girl, and my goodness, she was always right! I've tried to tell that to my own children, and any others I have the chance to mother, and I dare say I'm always right too - it's a law of nature! Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the cycle of nights and days. What a gift to sleep between days, and even sometimes in them.
Which would lead us to Charles Peguy and his poem on sleep, except that I owe it to Our Lady to first use the material she so generously supplied after my good night's sleep - especially because she got me to open Marcel's Other Writings, and there I found a terrific conversation between her and Marcel, one that I'd not seen before.
Simplicity, then, which means Marcel, though so many other things I want to share with you tug at my attention and beg me to go first. Nope, sorry, you'll have to wait in line, you thousand glories of God's amazing world - Marcel is our man, and he goes first.
Which is just and right, as this is Miss Marcel's Musings, and too, he never disappoints, even if giving him our full attention demands a kind of limit on every other wonderful person, place, and thing we'd like to explore. We'll get to those later, if God wills, so don't worry (anymore, ever), but for now - Marcel and Mary.
This dialogue between them comes from September 3, 1952. Marcel was 24 years old and in the middle of a retreat - this is from his 6th day, just a day shy of our 7th today (in our novena). Marcel has written out a poem about how he wants to die so he can see Jesus, and Mary responds:
Mary: O my child, you will finally meet the object of your dreams. Your Divine Friend is coming. Yes, He is on His way. However, His faltering steps are compatible with His little feet, which advance rather slowly. So, remain at peace, since your Jesus is walking towards You. Do not hurry Him too much for fear that Your Beloved may have an unfortunate stumble.
Marcel: Mother, would it not be quicker if you carried Him in your arms?
Mary: That's true, but little Jesus does not wish to spare Himself the fatigue of one or two steps, through love for you.
Marcel: So! This being the case, dear Mother, I must run towards Him to help Him to walk more quickly. But no, I do not know where He is coming from. So, I will send a jet aeroplane which flies at a speed of 2000 kilometers an hour, so that He comes to me without delay and it is you, dear Mother, who will pilot the plane. I will straight away collect the necessary materials for its construction, and I am counting on your sound advice, dear Mother, to bring this project to a successful conclusion. This jet aeroplane will bear the marque "2-M-J", it will fly at the speed of Love and it will have a female pilot, Mary.
[I must interject here that I am not making this up. I certainly do make up lots of things on and for this blog, and there have been accusations - I mean compliments - to the effect that perhaps I'm a few cards shy of a full deck, though the jokers aren't missing! Me? Silly? You betcha! But like a girl dreaming of flying unicorns, I do try to take elements from reality before I skate off onto thin ice with them. I did, for instance, see the man walking with the bike and the wheelchair, really and truly. I didn't have the opportunity to ask him for his side of the story, so I admit I had to put 2 and 2 together myself . . . though how you can doubt it was a miracle is beyond me. BUT . . . let it be known I am only taking my cue from Marcel the adorable. He is the original silly here, and I'm only decorating a pretty, glittery, feathery, brightly hued frame into which I then put his pictures and his writings . . . He started it! And aren't we delighted? But this interjection has gone on long enough. Let's continue the dialogue, because you'll find out that Mary does not hesitate to respond in kind to her darling boy Marcel. I've never heard her called silly - that's not what we say about a loving mom happy to enter her children's games - but she sure is wonderful, so let's get back to business.]
Mary: I will give to you now, my child, the means of constructing this aeroplane: refuse Jesus nothing, not even for the smallest sacrifice. Abandon yourself completely and put all your confidence in God alone. Thanks to this means, your aeroplane of Love will be very effective and will bring Jesus quickly close to you.
Marcel: Mother, is it a good thing to ask Jesus to take me to heaven? Is it allowed?
Mary: Certainly, my child; moreover, Jesus Himself wishes for you to repeat unceasingly this request to Him. Since, in the final analysis, for whom is your ardent wish for heaven, and what is your reason for having this wish? In making this request, you are not acting against the spirit of abandonment, provided that you are not too impatient and that you do not undertake any personal initiative to gain this end. Ask, and at the same time leave to Jesus to care of attending to everything, as you ordinarily do for a thousand other things. You must not, therefore, worry yourself; each day when impelled by an ardent desire to go quickly to heaven is a day of happiness for heaven and an opportunity for the saints to sing the Love of Jesus for His greater glory, and that pleases me a lot.
Yes, you may very well ask to go to heaven. Continue to ask, since heaven belongs to you; God has created it for you, it is quite natural to hope for it, to wish for it ardently. "There, where your treasure is, your heart is there also."
Long ago, I, your Mother, I also wished for heaven, like you. I suffered like you, at having to lead a pitiful life on earth. However, I remained strong in faith and I waited in joy for the coming of the Lord.
Marcel: But you, dear Mother, did you ask the Lord to come and take you quickly with Him?
Mary: Of course, my child! Ardent desire is a permanent supplication of the soul; although very intimate, this desire feels the need to express itself also in words, since we have not only to live with our soul, but also to bear our body with its joys and sorrows.
Marcel: Mother, until now I was a little troubled regarding this question, asking myself if my wish to go to heaven was not contrary to the spirit of abandonment and opposed to God's will. It is now clear, and from now I will continue to express this desire, whilst accepting willingly to live as long as God will wish. In this way I will practice perfect abandonment!
(Today, when I was sad and tears were flowing, there you have given me, Mother, words of comfort.)
+ + +
Oh Marcel! You are such a love! Just when we think you're sillier than silly, you turn around and ask Mary the best questions ever. How helpful to know about our Mystery Mom in the everyday life she lived, and to hear her, the Seat of Wisdom, explain better than the best Doctors of the Church:
"Ardent desire is a permanent supplication of the soul; although very intimate, this desire feels the need to express itself also in words, since we have not only to live with our soul, but also to bear our body with its joys and sorrows."
Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!
Ah, but even if You don't delay, You drag Your darling little feet. We'll try not to complain, Love. And don't worry, little Jesus, because remember, You've given us Marcel to play with, Marcel to amuse us and he keeps us busy and distracted.
I think I must write an essay soon "In Praise of Distractions." It certainly would be a dull world without them, and we'd be far too stern and earnest, I'm sure.
There was, though, another page in Other Writings, another conversation of Marcel with Mary, from which I wanted to steal a quote. Marcel is praying to Mary (talking with her; same thing) and asks:
"Dear Mother, Help me to correct my character, alright? Help me to be a little serious."
If we all pray together now, perhaps we can forestall Our Lady's answer to our little brother's prayer. Because I, for one, want to cry out, "Heaven forbid!" Marcel a little serious? Well, maybe just a little, but not too much! Where would we be then? There are plenty of serious saints, and I'm not alone in preferring the light and bright ones. As my holy mother, St. Teresa of Avila said, (I like to think it was a prayer), "God save us from sour-faced saints!"
Amen! Not that I want to tell anyone else how to live - perhaps God is calling sour-faced saints to live on lemons (instead of lemonade), and their penance may save us all yet - but I'm grateful that there have been others before me who concentrated on cheerfulness. I know silliness and cheerfulness are different - cheerfulness is the attribute of the well adjusted personality that's over 4 years old, while silliness is that quality in the 4 and under crowd. Count me into that latter group! With St. Therese and Marcel, I want to get littler and littler, lest the grown-ups notice I'm a hearty lass and set me to work!
So. Here I am praying against Marcel's prayer - forgive me, Marcel, but we love you just as you are - and I'm thinking this could be a lesson for us: if our prayers aren't answered as swiftly as we'd like, perhaps someone out there is praying the opposite! But let's not start worrying about that - in fact, I decree today as the day we stop worrying altogether.
It's clear God doesn't want us to worry, which should be enough reason to stop, and then He keeps repeating this refrain (about not worrying) to Marcel (and to us through him) - as well as pointing out (to Marcel and us) that everyone else is saying the same thing:
No more worrying!
There are so, so, so many places in the Bible where God tells us not to worry. It would be a great project (and I did this once with the Gospels) to copy out all the many places and many ways God repeats Himself on this favorite theme of His. But we don't have to start on that now - our true Father loves us so much that He anticipated this need of ours and put the best ever argument against worrying in the gospel of today's Mass! In a nutshell, Jesus tells His apostles and us: Don't worry about those who can harm the body, but only the one who can cast you into Gehenna. But don't worry about the one who can cast you into Gehenna, because He loves you infinitely more than the sparrows, and these birds can't even fall off a tree branch without Him noticing (and caring)!
Isn't that the coolest? Isn't Jesus just the best?
He doesn't trust us to actually believe and obey Him though (He knows our frailty too well!), so He gives us His Mother (who taught Him, in His boyhood, these lessons, even though He already knew them as God - He is such a sport!) to be our Mother and teach us, perpetually, these lessons too.
How delightful it is for me to write these blog posts . . . Just now (case in point), I realized that the Our Lady so dear to Marcel as a Redemptorist - Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or Perpetual Succour, as the English would say) - is so special because she is Our Lady who perpetually helps us! And don't we, perpetually and forever, need so much help?!
I've been thinking about the many ways she gives Marcel and us instructions on not worrying, a kind of ongoing tutorial on giving up our bad habit of worrying, but what is so quintessentially maternal about Our Blessed Mother is that when she knows we're not making progress, she doesn't scold, she just changes her pedagogy, or in simpler words, she changes her tune. I'll get to that (my favorite thing in Conversations - if I'm allowed 1000 favorites, and it's my blog, so I say I am!), but let's not rush too quickly past Mary's initial attempts to get us to stop worrying.
Instead of finding some of the places in Conversations where she tells Marcel not to worry (and then too here are the places where Marcel mentions to Jesus, and then Jesus mentions to Marcel, that Fr. So-and-So pointed out that Marcel had nothing to worry about because Mary is his mother), I'm going to take the easy way out and transcribe for you here my favorite words of Mary (okay, okay, I have a lot of favorites, but now I'm going to commit myself: these next words are among the favoritest of my favorites). She spoke them to us some centuries ago when she was dressed up as Our Lady of Guadalupe and assuring St. Juan Diego he had nothing to worry about.
You see, then, this has been a theme of Mary's for a long while. Like Jesus, she is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that same is expressed perfectly in this speech she gave to Juan. I need to add (backstory, context, whatever you call it) that Juan was worried because his dear uncle was gravely ill, and then he got worse, so that Juan was in a big rush to get a priest to administer last rites. If only that kind but talkative Lady wouldn't detain him! In order to avoid her, impolite though it felt, Juan was compelled to walk by a different route, around the mountain where Mary had previously appeared to him, so that she couldn't appear to him now and slow him down.
In fact our little ploys and stratagems are no match for heaven! Besides detaining Juan just as long as she pleased, Our Lady simultaneously appeared to his uncle and cured him. That should take care of his urgent need for a priest, one imagines her mischievously thinking! And that will show my children that they can simply trust in my maternal aid for all they need and (please God) stop panicking.
Well, we still panic, we still forget that Mary's got our back, but here are the words that talk me off the ledge in cases of extreme stress. From Our Lady to us through little Juanito:
Hear and let it penetrate your heart my dear little one:
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else you need?
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
* * *
That about covers all our worries, all our crisis situations, all our moments of panic,
And if I had any sense, I'd end today's blog post right here, but I don't (have any sense), or rather I do (have some sense) and so though I find that I've painted myself into the most marvelous corner, I'm going to do what any self-respecting child would do (and aren't they all fairly self-respecting, full of dignity, if you catch them young enough?) - I'm going to walk over the wet paint to get where I need to go! Which is to the passage in Conversations that I promised you - the one where Our Lady doesn't believe we'll really believe her (even after those great words she just gave us through Juan) and stop worrying, so she's giving us another option.
Could we make a deal, though? I'll tell you Mary's other words, the new song she sings about what to do when we can't seem to stop worrying, despite her gentle reassurance, and then I'll do my best to end the post soon after, and then YOU will please come back to Our Lady of Guadalupe's words to you. I can't bear to think that the Holy Spirit and Marcel and I somehow botched this post so that we didn't end with those words - they're such perfect words! Yes, that's it. I'll make your part of the bargain easy by repeating those words before we close. That eases my conscience, and now we can go on to Mary's Plan B.
At (595) in Conversations, she offers this plan to us and I don't want the first words to scare you - it's quite marvelous and consoling, actually, although Our Lady uses the words "sacrifice yourself." I know, yuck, ouch, ick, and Really??? (Or maybe that's just my reaction.) But what's so miraculous here is that because Mary is finally just one person, all the Our Ladies are really her, and everything they say goes together, even if we might be more or less attracted to one Our Lady over another.
If you, or anyone you know, has a problem with Our Lady of Fatima (sometimes misunderstood, and I understand it because I misunderstood her in just this way) as the demanding and (I hate to say it, but let's be honest) somewhat angry Our Lady - well Marcel and I have great news for you! Our Lady of Fatima was all about sacrifice, it would seem from the news coverage, and yet - since Mary is one and the dearest, gentlest, least angry, sweetest Mother ever, she's cleared up this confusion right here for us in Conversations! We already knew from Our Lady of Guadalupe's words that we have nothing to worry about, but then maybe Fatima comes to mind (haha, especially if I bring it up!). The last word, though, lies with Marcel's Mary or "Our Lady of the Conversations" if I may so name her, and here is how she gets herself out of that unfortunate corner (and somehow without tracking paint!) on May 4, 1946:
My child, did you just mention sacrifice? So, offer your cough as a sacrifice to Jesus. Listen, I am going to tell you a new method of sacrificing yourself. Each time that you are troubled, even if only for the span of a breath, say this: "Little Jesus, I offer You this worry as a sacrifice." Then, remain in peace. Thanks to this sacrifice, you will be consumed in the fire of Love, which will act freely in you. Thanks to this sacrifice, how many sinful souls will be able to avoid an occasion of sin that would expose them to falling into despair? . . .
Always remember this method, all right? Little Jesus loves this kind of sacrifice a lot; He even prefers it to the joy of being able to pull you from the hands of the devil, since it is the devil who gives birth in you to these anxieties with the intention of misleading you. Consequently, if you offer your anxieties to little Jesus, naturally, the devil will be ashamed to see that the net that he holds out to you to drag you along has fallen into little Jesus' hands. Then, little Jesus will make use of it to draw you to His heart, and then He will make use of it to draw many other souls . . . What a blessing for you! What a benefit for little Jesus. Oh, my child, it is impossible to express the extent of this great benefit. And yet, to obtain this result, you only have to say: "Little Jesus, I offer You this sacrifice."
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Dear reader, it is time. You are tired; I am going to let you rest!
And as to our bargain - I've decided to renege. I love that last passage so much it may even be dearer to my heart than Our Lady of Guadalupe's words. For me, I love best Our Lady of the Book, namely Conversations and our brother Marcel. I'm not going to conclude by repeating those previous words, then, and you don't need to go back and re-read them (unless you want to! May Our Lady grant you the grace to read only for fun and for free!). And if either of us tends to worry that we are not fulfilling our part of the bargain, let's say together, "Little Jesus, we offer You this worry as a sacrifice!"
There, peace obtained, souls saved, everyone's happy! We've finally found a piece of advice we can follow easily, about eight million times a day! But let's not get too worried about that either (whether we remember to keep saying this dear prayer and offering) - instead, let's end simple as simple, in peace and joy at Jesus and Mary's gentleness and the Father's overarching love:
Draw me, we will run!
"Take with you words, and return to the Lord." (Hosea)
I'm asking the Holy Spirit to give wings to my fingers today so they can fly across the keyboard. I want Him to use me to tell you about the best miracle of all, and We just can't wait!
Yesterday we spoke of purple trees (miracles!), gardenias (more miracles!), the Saints who line up to love us from heaven (more like stars than flowers), and a Rose whose earthly bloom has been restored, thanks to God's mercy and His kind reception of the intercession of the Saints (thank You, Heavenly Father!).
Speaking of a Rose in bloom reminds me of the abundance of earthly roses (signifying heavenly ones, no doubt, but very earthly to begin with) that surround me in my house, my yard, my neighborhood, my town, my county, my state, my country - even my world, which I know is your world as well (unless you're an alien reading this - In which case: Does your planet have roses too?), and all this talk of roses reminds me to remind you to keep your eyes out for them!
We're in a novena here, and your intentions are included, and on the off chance you don't yet know what that means, I'm adding to our intentions that you find out before another day passes! God is sending His messengers out constantly to show you signs of His love, and little Therese and the second Therese, our own dear Marcel, are lining up the buckets of roses and rose petals right along the line of Saints (so many Saints already, and more to come) who want to help shower them down. It would be a shame if we kept our eyes closed (except for a solid eight to ten hours a night and possibly a few power naps during the day) and missed His glory in our midst!
Now that you're ready then, or at least you've been warned - and don't be afraid, just thank God His little Therese chose roses and not bricks! - it's time to get to the heart of the matter, the Heart of Love, the best miracle of all, the One I can finally express in a single word, because it is the Word. Or rather He is the Word (Incarnate for us), and the Word, the best miracle is:
You know by now that my joy is to multiply words, and Jesus is no exception! He is multiplied here in Jesus-Marcel and Marcel-Jesus, and we'll get to that in a moment, but first, a multiplication of Jesus words from a trio of Carmelites is in order. First, because we're in a novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, loving mother of all Carmelites and herself the one who teaches them to know no other Word than Jesus. Second, because it is too funny that every other Carmelite seems to be named Teresa - it will take Heaven to sort them all out because honestly I'm only giving you a smidgen of them in this post. And third, because it's our second Teresa's feast today, so it's only fair to let her give a speech . . .
First then, Jesus words from our holy mother (who so happily took a seat under the Holy Mother whom Jesus gave us from the cross), St. Teresa of Jesus, that is, of Avila, reformer of the Carmelites, lover of Our Lord in the 1500's, so sad that the Protestants had left the Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord that she begged others to join her in being His best friends, hoping with her huge heart to make up for those who in seeking Him, left Him. Here are her words, the words from her many words (oh mother of mine, how I love to follow you in following Jesus, our Love!) which the Church has chosen for her signature passage in the Office of Readings recited by all priests and religious and third order members (of every Order) on her feast of October 15th each year.
From St. Teresa of Avila's autobiography, The Book of Her Life:
Whoever lives in the presence of so good a friend and excellent a leader as is Jesus Christ can endure all things. Christ helps us and strengthens us and never fails; He is a true friend. And I see clearly that God desires that if we are going to please Him and receive His great favors this must come about through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom He takes His delight.
Many, many times have I perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we desire His sovereign Majesty to show us great secrets. A person should desire no other path, even if He be at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. This Lord of ours is the one through whom all blessings come to us. He will teach us these things. In beholding His life we find that He is the best example.
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side, who will not abandon us in our labors and tribulations, as friends in the world do? Blessed is the one who truly loves Him and always keeps Him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it didn't seem that any other name fell from His lips than that of Jesus, as coming from one who kept the Lord close to his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they hadn't taken any other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Sienna. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God's hands. If His Majesty should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares His secrets, we ought to accept gladly.
As often as we think of Christ we should recall the love with which He bestowed on us so many favors, and the great things God showed in giving us a pledge like this of His love; for love begets love. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to waken ourselves to love. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the favor of impressing this love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall carry out our tasks quickly and without much effort.
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Hooray for quickly and without much effort!
Hooray for walking this path in freedom!
Hooray for little Jesus who is Himself our little Way!
But we must make haste, for there are two more Teresas waiting to speak to us!
Next up is another St. Teresa of Jesus, but this one "of the Andes," and much nearer our own time. Today is her birthday on earth, for she was born July 13, 1900 in Santiago, Chile, and named Juanita. She grew up loving to swim, play tennis and ride horses, joke around with her siblings and friends, and most of all, loving to love Jesus. Her dream of intimacy with Him brought her to enter the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites when she was 18. There she was given the name of our holy mother, Teresa of Jesus, and there she gave herself so completely to Jesus our Love that He couldn't help but take her to Himself even more quickly than He takes your average saintly Carmelite nun (there's a trend in saintly Carmelite nuns to die young) - she was only 19, dying a mere 11 months after her entrance. Wow! Talk about making haste!
Here is what Teresa of Jesus of the Andes has to tell us in the Church's choice for her Office of Readings on her feast (which is today) - you'll see that she was rightly named after the first Teresa of Jesus! Oh, and if you wonder why you haven't heard of her before (if you haven't), it's because she isn't on the universal Church calendar - those days fill up so fast! - and, too, because Jesus wanted to give me the pleasure of introducing you to her. Or rather, our little brother is tugging on my sleeve to remind me to tell the truth - so that Marcel and I would have the pleasure of introducing you to her! So without further ado, from the Carmelite Proper to the LIturgy of the Hours, St. Teresa of Jesus' words on our True Love:
Jesus alone is beautiful; He is my only joy. I call for Him, I cry after Him, I search for Him within my heart. I long for Jesus to grind me interiorly so that I may become a pure host where He can find His rest. I want to be athirst with love so that other souls may possess this love. I would die to creatures and to myself, so that He may live in me.
Is there anything good, beautiful, or true that we can think of that would not be in Jesus? Wisdom, from which nothing would be secret. Power, for which nothing would be impossible. Justice, which made Him take on flesh in order to make satisfaction for sin. Providence, which always watches over and sustains us. Mercy, which never ceases to pardon. Goodness, which forgets the offenses of His creatures. Love, which unites all the tendernesses of a mother, of a brother, of a spouse, and which, drawing Him out of the abyss of His greatness, binds Him closely to His creatures. Beauty which enraptures . . . what can you think of that would not be found in this Man-God?
Are you perhaps afraid that the abyss of the greatness of God and that of your nothingness cannot be united? There is love in Him. His passionate love made Him take flesh in order that by seeing a Man-God, we would not be afraid to draw near Him. This passionate love made Him become bread in order to assimilate our nothingness and make it disappear into His infinite being. This passionate love made Him give His life by dying on the cross.
Are you perhaps afraid to draw near Him? Look at Him, surrounded by little children. He caresses them, He presses them to His heart. Look at Him in the midst of His faithful flock, bearing the faithless lamb on His shoulders. Look at Him at the tomb of Lazarus. And listen to what He says of the Magdalene: "Much has been forgiven her, because she has loved much." What do you discover in these flashes from the Gospel except a heart that is good, gentle, tender, compassionate; in other words, the heart of God?
He is our unending wealth, our bliss, our heaven.
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One is tempted to never speak again, unless to repeat the words of the Saints! They are the ones, truly, who have fulfilled the words of Our Lord in today's gospel: "Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of Your Father who is speaking through you."
How can we doubt it when each of the Saints speaks, one after another, only the one Word spoken by the Father, the Word whose Beauty has eternally brought forth the Spirit of Love? Ah Love, is there any other word that captures our hearts? Only Jesus, who is Love!
Jesus who is Love, He is the best miracle, but as we never tire of repeating here, He, Love, delights in making all things new, and so in a sense we can say He makes Himself ever new for us, or perhaps we could say He makes our union with Him ever new in an unceasing succession of miracles, each of which seems to outshine the last in Best-ness.
Which brings us to the third Therese, by name Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, also known as St. Therese of Lisieux, "little Therese" (the name she asked to be called), and "The Little Flower."
Chronologically, she's the second of the three we're hearing from today (and when we bring in Marcel, for he won't be left out, she's really the second of the four), but I'm letting her speak in third place so she can act as as a bridge between all other Teresas, bar none, and Marcel.
Which is funny and deserves an explanation, because Teresa of the Andes, like Elizabeth of the Trinity and every other Carmelite who came after Therese, no matter how barely "after" (Elizabeth was born before Therese died), knew of Therese through the immediate and nearly immediately universal distribution of Therese's accidental autobiography, Story of a Soul. Yet it was Marcel alone who has been given the gift of not only learning from and following Therese through her writings, but being so united with her and her Little Way (Jesus), that he is called by both Jesus and Mary, "The second little Therese."
I can hide it no longer then - finally, the best miracle I've seen yet (it ties with another Something New that Jesus is planning to make known, but we will leave that equally adorable miracle in silence until He deigns to reveal it). As I've said already, nothing other than Jesus Himself, but this time as Jesus-Marcel, or in other words to express His other self, Marcel-Jesus.
Who? How? Why? What???!!!!!
It starts with little St. Therese the first (though third today - we are experts at making the simplest complex here at Miss Marcel's Musings) - the discoverer and promoter of The Little Way of Spiritual Childhood which is the way the Holy Spirit taught her to live in order to please Jesus and go to Heaven to be with Him forever.
This passage comes from Manuscript C of Story of a Soul, the part written last, written for Mother Marie de Gonzague and presented in recent editions as Chapter X and following (in earlier editions it's Chapter IX and following). As I pinpoint the passage I want to give you (Marcel and Therese and Jesus want to give you), I'm again tempted to speak only the words of the Saints - and this time ALL the words! But no, be still my beating heart and refrain from transcribing the entirety of Story of a Soul. Let's limit ourselves to what we have time for and what will make our point best. Come Holy Spirit!
O Mother, how different are the ways through which the Lord leads souls! In the lives of the saints, we find many of them who didn't want to leave anything of themselves behind after their death, not the smallest souvenir, not the least bit of writing. On the contrary, there are others, like our holy Mother St. Teresa, who have enriched the Church with their lofty revelations, having no fears of revealing the secrets of the King in order that they may make Him more loved and known by souls. Which of these two types of saints is more pleasing to God? It seems to me, Mother, they are equally pleasing to Him, since all of them followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and since the Lord has said in Isaiah: "Tell the just man ALL is well." Yes, all is well when one seeks only the will of Jesus, and it is because of this that I, a poor little flower, obey Jesus when trying to please my beloved Mother.
You know, Mother, I have always wanted to be a saint. Alas! I have always noticed that when I compared myself to the saints, there is between them and me the same difference that exists between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and the obscure grain of sand trampled underfoot by passers-by. Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new.
We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: "Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me." And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for. But wanting to know, O my God, what You would do to the very little one who answered Your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered in Isaiah: "As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you." Ah! never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.
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This is the Little Way. This is the way that is ever ancient as well as eternally new, and we heard about it today at Mass in the first reading from Hosea: "Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them."
We are - each one of us - such a jumble of sinner and just, wise and foolish, prudent and blank of knowledge as a newborn babe. What shall we do, then, to ensure that we make it to the end of this path, this way? Therese tells us what Isaiah told us centuries ago: Climb into the arms of the Good Shepherd! He is certain to hold on tight and will carry us where our wandering, faltering steps might take us, but the ride in His arms is so much less lonely, so much more cozy! He will not only carry us but clasp us close to His Sacred Heart. He will caress us and comfort our little souls like a mother caresses and comforts her tiny baby at her breast. Ah, what love! It was not enough for God to be our Father, He had to find a way to tell us He is a mother too, the most tender of lovers, the bestest of friends, the kindest of brothers, and on and on! Let's not waste any more time trying to walk by our own pathetic powers. He's reaching down even now to scoop us up - let's reach up to let Him!
I don't want you to think I'm making things too easy. I'm not.
That is Marcel's job!
Because here is our fourth Teresa, our second little Therese, the one to whom it's been given to convince the skeptics that the Little Way is the only way worth traveling.
Forget for a second the roses, it hit me recently like a ton of bricks! This is our best miracle, this appearance of Marcel-Jesus in our lives, up close and personally ready to teach us his version of the Little Teeny-Tiny Way.
I have known, loved, and tried to follow St. Therese and her Little Way for (let me count back, hold on, almost have it) - well since October 7, 1983 (so you can do the math if you must have a number, but it keeps increasing, the time lapse between now and then!). I have climbed on and fell off and climbed back onto the Little Way innumerable times, always glad to get my feet back on the path, always relieved to have my big little sister take my hand again and lead me on to Jesus.
Then on October 19, 2016, Conversations arrived in my mailbox, a rose in answer to a prayer to Therese (whether Marcel's or mine is hard to say, not to mention Fr. Maestrini's prayer - I'd say it was all of them that stormed heaven, and Therese had been waiting, Marcel-rose in hand).
Since then, Jesus has been teaching me the Little Way, the Way that is Himself, through His conversations with Marcel. And why did He wait so long? I'm going to do it - I'm going to do the math: It was 33 years and 12 days from the time I first met Therese and her Little Way of Spiritual Childhood (in a holy hour where I sat with Jesus and read from a book called Complete Spiritual Doctrine of St. Therese) until the day I met Marcel, and the Little Way began to hold me like a strong magnet holds an iron filing. What will we say about this 33 years (enough time to live Jesus' whole life with Him)?
Here is what we can (and can't) say. I am Miss Marcel, which I call myself because as Therese is to Marcel, so Marcel is to me. If by force of persistent asking (or simply by using the name) I can make Jesus and Mary call me the second Marcel, as they called him the second Therese, I'll be happy. (Of course I'll still likely hanker after a white Mustang convertible, another chance to hear James Taylor in concert, and a s'more or two before I depart this exile for Heaven, but those are small fries - oh, yes, and a small order of hot, fresh, salty fries, please - compared to my Real Desires.)
But if we go with it and grant me my title (and don't forget a tiara and a bouquet of roses too!), then what Therese (and Jesus and Mary) said to Marcel is said to me, too.
We already know Jesus meant His words to Marcel for us all - He said toward the outset of their Conversations, on November 4, 1945:
"All the words that I have spoken to you from the beginning until the last one I speak to you in the future - know that it is not to you alone that I am speaking, but to all souls."
You will recognize the truth, too, of Therese's words at her first meeting with Marcel, and how they are equally meant for us (in answer, prophetically, to my question above re. "Why So Long?" before we met Marcel), as Marcel recorded in his Autobiography (592). Therese said:
Yesterday you criticized yourself for having disdained me; in reality it was nothing of the sort, since to feel love or scorn for anyone, it is necessary first of all to know them. Not yet knowing Therese, how can you say you disdained her? You grumbled again, saying, "I wish I'd known you a bit sooner! And then from how many illusory fears my life would have been liberated, how much more would I have tasted the charms of love!" But no, little brother; the dispositions of Providence are realized, necessarily, at a very precise moment which is not brought forward, even for a second, nor does it allow an instant's delay.
Who knows? If you had known me an hour sooner, perhaps you would not have found yesterday the source of grace which filled you with happiness. That is a mystery, and we can only believe in the mercy of God our Father who, in His wisdom, rules in the slightest detail the lives of each one of us. You don't have to complain any more, since Therese has always been your Therese and you, Van, have been equally the little brother of Therese since the moment when we existed, both of us, in the thought of God.
The ardour of your desires until now has led the good God to lead you to the truth. He experiences a great joy in seeing that you look only to follow Him and to learn the means of pleasing Him. Try to imagine if there is any happiness for a father comparable to that of seeing his small child follow him everywhere, offering him everything he can collect, and finally to have complete freedom to carry him in his arms, and to caress him whenever he wishes. Yes, try to imagine with what love this child will be loved by his father. Can he want or ask for anything that his father will not give him, often even more than he asks for? And although he is only a little guileless child, what wonderful reward has his father not already prepared for him in the future?
This infant I have just described is your soul. You have run after Jesus, seeking only to please Him. Sanctity consists precisely in that. You have practiced this holiness until this day, but without well and truly understanding its real nature. Thanks to the sincerity of your heart, this error was not intentional on your part; it only came from a lack of guidance.
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I met Marcel first in his Autobiography, but immediately craved his Conversations, confident that there I would get much more of the guidance in the Little Way that St. Therese promised Van (and us through him). You can imagine my joyful chagrin when I realized, soon after I held Conversations in my hot little hands and began reading, that of course when a soul's interlocutors are St. Therese, Jesus' Mother Mary, and Jesus Himself, the one to attend to, the one to provide the most Divine guidance, the one who will delight and charm as if there's no competition (because there isn't!) will be Jesus!
I have always loved books, as long as I can remember. From Dr. Seuss to Beverly Cleary to Louisa May Alcott, from Great Books to The Good Book (without rival) to good books to silly books sparkling with fun, books have been my companions since childhood, and I can justly call them, too, the Little Way that Jesus touches my heart and teaches me things. And in my ongoing quest for the latest book-as-best-friend, I have long desired, underneath every other desire, most of all to find a book-as-best-friend-forever.
As St. Therese told us (and she is only repeating the words of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross), "God cannot inspire unrealizable desires." Then, too, He loves nothing more than fulfilling our wildest dreams. And so He gave me, after my seemingly endless wait (but I'm not complaining! I agree that His timing is always perfect!), my ultimate best-friend-forever-book, Conversations. And if I had to distinguish, I'd say it's on account first of Jesus-Marcel whom I've met in its pages, and then on account of Marcel-Jesus, that this book is my favorite ever. But taken together (and they certainly would, neither of them, consent to be separated for a nano-second), they are the Best Miracle yet, thanks be to God who is Love.
Which brings me to the end of this post, only it wouldn't be right to end without noting another Saint waiting to join us in our prayers of thanksgiving and petition in this novena. Today is also the feast of St. Henry, and that is the name of my dad, to whom I used to run when I was a little girl and he came home from work, and who showed the greatest delight in scooping me up and hugging me close, thus preparing me to understand the love of God so poetically and truly described by Therese. Thanks, dad! May St. Henry and his wife, also blessed, continue to intercede for you and mom until the day you both meet them both in Heaven! And while they're at it, may they intercede for all parents of all readers here, and for us who are parents too, and for our children. Though they were childless in exile, that's only one more reason they'll be glad in Heaven to take us on as spiritual children and lead us safely Home to our true Father, who awaits us, His arms open.
But no, He's not waiting. I see Him leaning way, way, way down to earth to scoop us into His arms before another minute is wasted apart. May He cuddle you close, and may you snuggle close to His Heart full of every blessing and all Divine Love. And from your safe place in Love's arms, why not join me in a final prayer?
Draw me, we will run!
Before anything else today, I must introduce you to the Purple Tree, by name to her friends, Jacaranda. I've just looked up the meaning of "Jacaranda" - it's believed to come from the Tupi-Guarani language and means "Fragrant." You could knock me over with a feather! If I were to name this tree, I'd definitely name it an exotic word that means PURPLE, but it turns out (little did I know, but always so happy to learn) that the Jacaranda tree is not only purple, but also has fragrant bark.
Do you, dear reader, know how much I love you? So much that instead of doing what any normal girl would do - namely running off to go smell a Jacaranda tree - I refuse to abandon my post. Ha! Pun intended, I guess! (After you accidentally commit a pun, when you realize its double meaning and relish it, then would you say the pun is intended? I guess it will have been when you said it, and now is, after the fact. A conundrum for another day, however.) The reason I refuse to abandon my post is that, far from my heart's desires, the ole "time pressure problem," as the wondrous Fr. Dubay used to call it, has reared its familiar and menacing head. So little time! So much to write! What to do? Come Holy Spirit - we must depend on You more than ever today. May I type fast with few mistakes, and may You fill this post with the many miracles I'm longing to share . . .
So, miracle number one: Purple trees. Yes, they exist, all around my little SoCal town! If when you think of Southern California you think Hollywood and the Beach Boys, you're not totally wrong . . . but you're missing out on so much more . . . Avocados and citrus groves, bird song (though alas, not my lovely cardinals which seem to be everywhere but in California - Jesus, I offer you this immense sacrifice - empty purgatory, please, though I know it continues to re-fill on a daily basis), and then the most surprising plants and trees and flowers you could ever hope to come across. Don't get me started on the succulents. That sounds like something delicious, but is really the name of desert plants that can be surprisingly pretty, but for me, they remain desert plants. (No, Jesus, You don't have to amuse Yourself but teaching me to love them more than roses - I'm so happy with roses!) They, and cacti and other dry-and-dusty plants will flower in the most incredible ways - one of my favorites being a cactus that ends up looking like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. But then, setting the succulents and cacti aside (watch out for those needles on the cacti!) there are the flowering trees, and what astonishing flowering trees they are! I do miss the glorious dogwoods of Virginia, and the cherry blossoms of D.C. (not that I ever went to D.C., but it was nice to know there were cherry blossoms aplenty there in Spring), and perhaps most of all the redbud, although Jesus has given me a huge something-like-a-redbud just a few blocks from my house. And more than that, give me a tree sprouting red tulip things among its otherwise bare branches, another bush-tree that blooms bright yellow (so bright! so lovely!), a magnolia (which, in flower, looks like its sporting huge white roses!) and best of all, give me purple trees, and I'm not going to complain.
To be perfectly clear, the trunks of Jacarandas are not purple (which the trunk looks to be in the photo above) - but in the early to mid summer, these tall graceful trees bloom purple like it's going out of style (which I think means it's their last chance to show off). And to increase the magic and the miracle, when the flowers are ready to end their short lives, instead of turning brown (nothing sadder than a border of white azalea bushes past their prime), they stay purple and fall down to carpet (really, like a purple carpet!) the ground beneath the tree. Oh. So. Exquisite!
And do let me assure you that I chose the particular photo above to illustrate that (although not the trunk and bark and branches which are an understated but appropriate tree-brown color) these trees are seriously purple! Isn't that a miracle?
As if that weren't enough, I was hearing today about ptarmigans and picas in Alaska. That is, I heard about them in my kitchen - no, that's not quite right - I mean that in my kitchen, a young man recently returned from Alaska told me of seeing ptarmigans and picas there (in Alaska), and in addition to the silent "P" (I can never quite get over the delight of a silent P, and if you haven't yet read Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse - the P is silent, though not in P.G. but in Psmith - please do, right after you've finished watching Harvey) - that is, in addition to the silent "P" in ptarmigan, for I understand it is articulated in pica - the description of these northern animals was delightful. Miracles everywhere!
Closer to home (the Jacarandas are close, but the ptarmigans and picas are not, as far as I know), three more miracles occurred that I want to tell you about. We're in the middle of a novena, and that means miracles. I find it so encouraging to reflect on miracles because it reminds us that they are plentiful, and we should expect them! God is, after all, omnipotent (I loved learning that word in 2nd grade or so) and then omniscient too, and finally we should add that He's omnivorous. Not only that He, when He became man, ate vegetables, fish, and meat, though He did that, but more importantly that He loves us SO much He wants to eat us up! A new meaning of omnivorous, perhaps, but I just couldn't think of the word for All-loving that starts with omni!
However you say it, He is all-powerful and all-knowing, so He knows all we desire and He can provide it easily (if He was, say, 93% powerful, He could probably provide what we wanted and needed, but maybe with a little effort, but nope, that's not the reality. He is, in fact, 100% powerful, so it's all easy-peasy for Him!) . . . but the clincher is that He's All-Loving too (I don't like that "too." Let's say ESPECIALLY), and that means not only does He know what we want and need, not only does He have the power to give it to us, but most importantly: He wants to give us everything!
Take the man with the bike and the wheelchair.
Yesterday I was driving up to 5:20 Mass at Thomas Aquinas College. From my house to the chapel there is a long stretch of winding road up into the mountains. On this road I passed, walking toward me (but well away from me on the road, so don't picture the miracle as my having barely missed hitting him, although then again, let's be grateful I missed him by a long shot) a man walking while carrying a bike slung over his shoulder. And wheeling something beside him which appeared to be. . . yes, it certainly was -- a wheelchair! IT WAS A MIRACLE!
I thought, "We need more wayside shrines in America. Here is this poor man having to wheel his wheelchair instead of leaving it as a what-do-you-call-it at the wayside shrine." (Do you know what I mean? People leave their crutches and canes, wheelchairs and slings and so on at Lourdes and other places they've been healed, and similarly, why not at a wayside shrine? There's a name given for these suddenly out-moded crutches, but we won't worry about that now.)
An alternate interpretation, given by my sister-in-law when I told her of this man's miracle, was that he wasn't yet strong enough to ride the bike. Yes, that is possible. He'd just been healed, no doubt, of lifelong shriveled legs, and now he was able to carry his bike over his shoulder because he already had upper body strength (though come to think of it, was the bike a miracle too? Where did THAT come from?), but he was a little hesitant about using his legs for riding until he gets them limbered up after the years of no use.
This interpretation was supported by what I saw on my way home from Mass a while later. There was the man (now we were traveling the same direction, to town) walking still, but now wheeling both the bike and the wheelchair, one on each side of him. He was still on a stretch of lonely road, but much closer to town where, I imagine, he would be able to leave the wheelchair in thanksgiving (as a what-do-you-call-it) at either of our parishes, Our Lady of Guadalupe or St. Sebastian's. But no matter the real story of the miracle and what he intended to do with two seemingly incompatible vehicles, that was a very happy thing to behold - a man walking with a bike and a wheelchair - and with my fertile imagination, the possibilities of exactly what the miracle was behind this strange sight, well they are practically endless! God bless that man!
Which brings us up to date, namely to July 12th, today, when the miracles continued.
I feel bad not telling about the miracle of the gardenias, but this can be done briefly (and must be, because it is not precisely a miracle of today, though it's a miracle that keeps on giving like the miracle of my husband letting us get a poodle).
+ + +
I must mention, in case you are tempted to finish this post and immediately find and buy plane tickets for SoCal, anxious as you are to experience the great Jacaranda miracle, that (1) the Jacarandas in my neighborhood are about finished with their gorgeous flowers for this year and (2) the bark is, it turns out, quite disappointing, at least to this fairly sensitive nose. You see, by one of those other kinds of frequent modern day miracles, namely the miracles of technology, I had to take a break after writing about the Jacarandas and before writing about the man-with-the-bike-and-the-wheelchair, and in that break I stole the opportunity to park near a Jacaranda that lives near me and step onto someone's (who shall remain nameless because I have no idea what their name is nor who they are - I only know they have 3 Jacaranda trees in their front yard and they were home so I hope they didn't see the nutty lady who quickly hopped onto their pristine) lawn and smell a Jac and even break off a teensy piece of bark, lest I was missing something.
Because the fragrance, if it was there, was positively underwhelming. No particular fragrance at all that I could smell, so don't buy your tickets, but gaze freely with love and admiration at the fully flowering Jacaranda in the photo atop this post if you need to be fortified again by its miracle. I promise: You're missing nothing in the smell department.
But I mention all this not only to obey our truth-in-advertising laws in California (I feel like Elmer Fudd in this parentheses - I keep wanting to mention here that CA is a very litig - litig - litig- Awwwww lots of laws kind-of-state). My other purpose in being up close and personal, at least with the Jac so I could tell you the sad fact that mine, at least, ("mine" used here in a loosey goosey manner) do not provide the fragrance that supposedly gave them their name, is to get to the miracle of the gardenias.
The first question is, then: Have you ever smelled a gardenia? If not, don't waste a moment. Either smell one pronto, or if you're not in the room with one as we speak, please put it atop your bucket list (not the gardenia itself, but to smell one, silly).
Along these lines, in Persuasion, Jane Austen has Catherine M say that from HT she "learned to love a hyacinth." A noble sentiment bound to awaken appreciation in all hyacinth lovers, but appreciation fades if you've ever had a hyacinth in the house for any length of time.
When we lived in our small town in Virginia, there was a sweet custom among friends, a custom of bringing Easter flowers to one another on Holy Saturday. Hence on a few different occasions (all around the Easter season), I hosted some truly delightful hyacinths in my northern Virginia home. But similar to what I've heard lately about guests staying only 3 days so that like fish-starting-to-smell they don't overstay their welcome (so bizarre - never heard this in my life and suddenly I'm hearing it everywhere) - well if we must have a saying like that, I think we should revise it to something like, "Guests, like hyacinths, should not overstay their welcome, for both, after several days, become cloyingly sweet."
Or at least hyacinths do!
But now that we've ruled out Jacarandas (no smell that I could discern) and hyacinths (way too much smell), that leaves us with gardenias.
My mom had gardenias in her wedding bouquet.
My Nana had Calla lilies in hers, and it's one of the joys of my life that I know this, and that my husband, when he was just a guy who was dating me for some odd reason neither of us yet knew but turned out to be so we could eventually marry and live happily ever after, well, he gave me Calla lilies once in a very Ralph-like-fashion (and if you don't get the literary allusion, put "read The Paradise Project" onto your bucket list right after "smell a gardenia").
So, then, having had the joy of Calla lilies already, and gardenias being a flower I loved because my mom had some in our yard as I was growing up (in honor and memory of her wedding bouquet), I too had gardenias in my wedding bouquet. Wow, the flowers at my wedding were just the best.
Fast forward 25 years and here we are in California, living in a house with two gardenia bushes planted in front. Perfect! Except . . . they never bloomed. . . Until - our 25th anniversary summer, when they started blooming like crazy! Like there was no tomorrow and this was it, now or never, bloom it or lose the unique gift.
There were so many blooms that summer: So many white gardenias, day after day, week after week, just waiting for me to admire them, adore them, break them off and bring them inside where they could put out just the exact right amount of their spectacular smell into the air around them. (They're super easy to break off of the bush, as if they're happy to come with you wherever you choose to take them.)
I suppose you could say the difference between a hyacinth in the house and a gardenia is that the hyacinth is imitating (or being imitated by) the woman who's drenched herself in Giorgio, whereas the gardenia has found her signature scent and perfectly applied it so that when you pass by where she stands, elegant and timeless in her beauty, you get just the right amount of her heavenly fragrance lightly accompanying you, like a benediction.
But enough of the poetic imagery. Go smell a gardenia when you have the chance, and meanwhile, rejoice with me and praise God because again, this summer, the summer of our 30th anniversary, the gardenias here are blooming with all their little might!
Gardenia blossoms galore - which brings me to our next miracle:
Suzannes and Susannas in almost equally absurd numbers!
You see, the man who married the lovely bride with the gardenia bouquet (the first gardenia bouquet, and though this lovely bride's wedding dress was worn by the second gardenia bouquet bride, again, this lovely bride of the first gardenia bouquet wore it first), he had a little boy's crush on a cute little girl who sat near him in school when he was young. No, not his later bride - she was from Detroit, and he went to school in his native Lebanon, then in Venezuela, then finally in Canada, so it couldn't have been his bride - but a little girl named Suzanne. Naturally, then, many years later when God gave him a bride, and then two sons, and then the first of his two daughters, the former little boy suggested they name the first daughter "Suzanne," and his lovely bride agreeing, that is what they named me, because I was lucky enough to be that girl!
My middle name was (and still is, to my constant delight) Antoinette, after my paternal grandmother (that would be Situ in Arabic) who was called Budwea, for Padua, for St. Anthony of Padua. Believe you me that was not a lucky thing to have known as a girl with two older brother who loved to tease. Or to avoid redundancy, let me say simply "with two older brothers." Leaving that aside, however, the passing of the years having shown me the many, many blessings that go along with St. Anthony as a name-saint, and I've ended up depending much more on Anthony than on Suzanne for inspiration.
Then, too, my confirmation name is Aquinas (I seem to have a gift for acquiring Saints-with-cities), so I happily consider St. Thomas a primary name-saint. And finally, when I became a secular (third order) Discalced Carmelite, again I could choose a name and took "Therese Elizabeth of Jesus." Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, then, have been additional name-saints, and latest of all there's Marcel (of Miss Marcel, my newest name) . . .
Where does this lead me? Add on my last name "Andres" and we get St. Andrew, whom we don't honor nearly enough, but I trust he's watching over us in addition to the others. The only problem then is that with this gallery of stars to emulate and feast days to celebrate, I've spent my whole life ignoring St. Suzanne, and/or St. Susanna as I've heard her called.
When, some years ago, I discovered that one of the Japanese martyrs is a Blessed Susanna, a laywoman married to a Blessed Peter, I began to quietly consider February 6 and the feast of Paul Miki and Companions as my name-saint day. Except later I found out that, unlike the 120 martyrs of China we so recently honored here, Paul Miki and Companions were actually companions and all martyred on the same day. Blessed Susanna and Blessed Peter were martyred on the same day too, but a different same day than Paul Miki and Co, namely on July 12th.
But it gets better, because one Susanna does not a plethora make.
I knew, vaguely, there was a St. Susanna, martyr of early Roman times, too. Or even two, too.
But last week on July 5, my dear priest-who-knows-everything emailed to wish me a happy Blessed Suzanne day for July 6th. Turns out there is a lovely and wonderful martyr of the French Revolution, Blessed Suzanne-Agatha Deloye (whose name as a Benedictine nun was Marie Rose, which happens to be the name of another very good friend of mine in heaven, little Marie Rose Guadalupe Cain, whose feast we celebrate privately on June 28). Wow!
But it gets better still, because when I went to look up Blessed Suzanne-Agatha Deloye and the feast of July 6th, I got mightily confused (granted, a frequent event, but this was with good reason) because Google gave me a Saint Susanna U Surim - a laywoman and widow martyred in Soeul, South Korea in 1846, who was canonized by St. John Paul II in 1984 after having been beatified in 1925 by Pope Pius XI - just a month and a half after this dear Pius canonized St. Therese, whom he called "his guiding star," and, if you must know the date (of this Blessed Susanna's beatification) - it was July 5th, the day I first made her acquaintance last week!
Do you mind if it gets better again?
Looking up this Saint Susanna so I could tell you about her, and also wanting to make sure I hadn't made up Blessed Susanna of Japan (both were Asian martyrs and I couldn't find my Japanese Susanna and was starting to panic that I had made her up, but no, thankfully I hadn't) --well what did I find but ANOTHER Blessed Susanna martyred in Korea! And her martyrdom occurred on July 2, 1801, so her feast was just ten days ago and only a few days before this long line of Suzannes began stalking me!
Oh holy stalkers - I don't mind! Thank you for finding me, since I was so long in finding you! And since we're counting you off by name, let me add to your roster those early Susannas I was so cavalier about for so long, but who have just today asked if they might count themselves my patronesses too. Oh yes, please and thank you to:
St. Susanna of Rome, whose basilica was built over the home where she was martyred in 295 after refusing to marrying Diocletian's son-in-law Max but managing to convert the messengers he'd sent. If I'm remembering rightly, I visited Santa Susanna's in Rome in 1983 and 1984: it was (until 2017) assigned as the American church in Rome, and is across the street from Santa Maria della Vittoria where not only is Saint Victoria incorrupt, but she gets to host in her church Bernini's sculpture (which defies description and I consider a miracle in its own right) of Saint Teresa in Ecstasy!
And please and thank you to St. Susanna of Eleutheropolis, martyred in Palestine in 362.
And just to complete the line up, please and thank you too to St. Susanna of the 2nd century, one of a group of wives of 2nd century martyred soldiers under the command of Saint Meletius. Following the death of the soldiers, the wives and children were martyred as well.
I can only say that I am overwhelmed with the love of these many patronesses who refused to be ignored any longer. I think they got wind of the blog and started chatting among themselves about how happy they'd be to intercede for us and our intentions, if only they could figure out how to get our attention. Marcel, always eager to make introductions, offered to plead their causes. Thank you, Marcel! Please give each of the Suzannes and Susannas kisses for us!
Let's see. That's the miracle of the Jacaranda, the miracle of the man with the bike and wheelchair, the miracle of the gardenias, and the miracle of the Susannas. I think I've given you even more than I had hoped, except there are two miracles remaining. At least two, but there's always tomorrow to start on more after that . . .
The first of these last two is a miracle to top all the others, a miracle sent from Heaven to show God loves us and loves our little prayers and loves, most of all, to answer them.
One of my intentions in this novena (as well as in the triple novena I said a while back, and in our novena of novenas here recently) has been for a lovely Rose in my life who has cancer.
I mean who used to have cancer! Just before this post goes to press I got an email that said her cancer is in remission! We'll keep this special Rose in our prayers still, for continued health, but please join me in thanking and praising God for this miracle and joy. I called this a novena of gratitude, and sure enough, God wants to keep us true and faithful as He is! Thank You, Jesus!
And last but not least (well always least and yet never least in our hearts) a final miracle: a word from Conversations. I find it a continuing miracle that God has given us Marcel - more on that tomorrow, I hope - so let's be grateful for him even as we let him instruct us and show us the Little Way.
From 6 April 1946. Jesus says to our brother and to us:
"Marcel, comfort me; say to me, 'Jesus, my brother, I love You a lot.' Marcel I am very pleased with you; and heaven grant that there may be a great number of souls which, like yours, allow me to come and go freely to them. Then, how happy I shall be . . . I love you; I press you against my heart and cover you with kisses . . . Marcel, time has passed, love me well. I, Jesus and you, Marcel, we make only one whole in God the Father, in Love (the Holy Spirit) and in the arms of Mary. Marcel, I kiss you unceasingly, and the more I give you, the more I wish to give you. Marcel, time is up."
Ah, we knew it was so, but Jesus Himself has confirmed it: the more He gives us, the more He wishes to give us. Let's compete, then, in piling up petitions to see which of us can most delight Jesus who so longs to give us everything! It's a competition of Love which we all shall win! And now, together let's pray with confidence:
Draw me, we shall run!
"Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid."
This morning I woke early, a joy because I take this as a sign that Jesus is waiting to chat together. There was a lot of nose blowing (on my part), which made our tryst slightly less romantic, but I am a Miss Marcel with allergies, and as they don't stop me from enjoying life, I don't really mind them. Today, then, they and Jesus woke me, we took an allergy pill (me and my allergies), and then I settled down to be with Our Love. Soon enough (maybe from the get go) I was sleepy, and as I began to drift off, I imagined Jesus saying, "Everything you do pleases me. You can choose - go back to sleep or . . .
start a District Attorney's office in Atlanta."
What a choice! Reason told me, as it was losing its grip, "Definitely choose sleep; you clearly need it and we're halfway to dreamland already." But my sense of humor had taken hold. I can only repeat: what a choice! I was so amused, I had to write it down to share with you here. It amused me awake, after surprising me so: I thought my choice would be between sleeping and writing this post. Who knew my destiny might await in the Deep South?
Nothing new under the sun, as they say, and certainly not a new D.A. office in Georgia started by moi. Technically, the "they" who say there's nothing new under the sun are the Trinity, the same Who tell us that Jesus makes all things new (we read this both in Isaiah and in Revelation). Huh. Lots of recycling going on? Or maybe we can read it better and resolve the conflict (we're not huge fans of conflict here at MMM) by lettering it "Nothing new under the Son," because He sees and knows all, which doesn't prevent Him from making everything new - even though He's known the old and new already - for us, for whom each surprise from His hands is more surprising than the last. Or, in a broader and more Winnie-the-Pooh based interpretation, perhaps every book needs its Eeyore and, for the Bible, that would be Ecclesiastes!
More to the point, however, is this paradox (nothing new and all things new) as we find it in Jesus' admonition, counsel, advice, suggestion, frequently repeated and invariable wisdom: "Let not your hearts be troubled," aka, "Be not afraid." I love how Papa John Paul was telling us this truth constantly too, as if it were new - or rather, as if we weren't remembering. So true! We weren't and we aren't - or should I speak for myself? No, I think I speak for everyone on the planet this time. We're so bad at not worrying!
Can you imagine if there was an Olympic sport of worrying? You know why there isn't? They could never decide on just 3 winners! The judges would need medals in every possible metal, and then they'd have to start forging medals from other elements. "And the hydrogen medal goes to - Miss Marcel of the U.S.A.! We present it in this handy paper bag (California resident? that will be 10 cents, please) to facilitate recovery from her hyperventilating! Congratulations, Miss Marcel!"
No, please don't worry (I add my own refrain to Jesus'), I am not prone to hyperventilating as well as allergies. It was just an example - a made-up one - but I had you going, didn't I? Because my funny story is not far from the truth: really, we are so wonderfully good at worrying that the other reason they couldn't make it an Olympic sport is that so many of us are professionals. And yet, isn't it wonderful how Jesus never gives up on us?
I love Marcel and I love his Conversations because I know they are real. After 51 and a half years of carefully studying reality (I'm of the Aristotelian-Thomistic-John Holt school of thought that recognizes man's natural desire, ability, and just-can't-seem-to-stop addiction to knowing, and I'd say it begins at least as soon as we're out of the chute) - so after 51 and a half years of this learning and knowing, when I met Marcel and Jesus in him (and in his book), I recognized the Real Thing. As I was thrilled to hear again last Sunday (thank you, Kathleen G!), "Truth Himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true." St. Thomas Aquinas said it in Latin, Gerard Manley Hopkins rendered it in English, and it gets me every time. I love that resonant "Yes!" that echoes in the heart when Truth Himself speaks truly, whether it's in the voice of Aristotle, St. Thomas, John Holt, Snoopy, or Jason Bourne. Granted my last example is a little out there (have I welcomed you to my world lately? A warm welcome, absolutely!), but given everyone's propensity to shoot on sight in Bourneland, "We're blown!" rings as consistently true in that fictitious world as "Fear not" does in the real world, where Jesus loves us infinitely (and never shoots to kill, only to wound our hearts with Love).
Which brings me to something big. I started that last paragraph by saying I could tell from the get-go that Conversations was the real thing, and my conviction has only deepened in the two years of our acquaintance. I think Lionel Trilling said something about the book knowing the man as well as the man knowing the book. And then there's that quotable quote from Hazlitt:
"Books let us into the souls of men, and lay open to us the secrets of our own."
Yes, exactly. Conversations lets us into the secrets of the souls of Marcel, Jesus, Mary, and Therese. Some souls! And simultaneously (or a fraction of a second later), it lays open to us the secrets of our own souls. Like in this matter of worrying . . .
My "something big" relates to Jesus' heartfelt and oft-repeated efforts to get us to stop worrying, stop fearing, and trust Him (and our true Father and the Holy Spirit) to take care of everything. I'm not even going to begin quoting Scripture or this would be the longest blog post in recorded blog post history. Let's just say that we could meditate on certain passages from Isaiah, St. John, St. Paul's letters, take your pick, and never exhaust their beauty and gentleness, their truth and depth, their common theme which is repeated tirelessly by Jesus in Conversations (and, too, in the exhortations of St. John Paul II, starting on the balcony minutes after he accepted the daunting task of being Peter, Christ's vicar, our Holy Father). . . "Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid."
Nothing new! And yet Jesus is always doing something new, and when He suggested I open a D.A.'s office in Atlanta (okay, it's not clear whose idea that was, and it might well have been my guardian angels' idea - of a joke!), I got it. I don't mean I got the idea that I should, and I don't exclude that I got the idea I was half dreaming already, so why not choose sleep, but primarily I mean that I got the message which is this:
As Jesus does not tire of reminding us not to worry (thank God He has the patience of Job!), neither does He tire of coming up with new ways to tell us the same old, same old: namely, not to worry, nor does he tire of finding new ways to make us laugh. He's God, so He's known this a very long time, but it occurred to me only this morning that it's hard to laugh and worry at the sa me time.
I'll grant you the nervous laugh seems an exception, but we're not speaking here of sad, wimpy, pathetic excuses for laughs, but rather of seriously hilarious, L.O.L, even R.O.T.F.L. (that's "rolling on the floor laughing"), side splitting, stomach aching, hiccup inducing, I-just-can't-stop,-So-sorry, tears rolling down the face laughs.
Like when I'm lying in bed trying to decide what to do next at 6 a.m., and Jesus (having broken me in via Marcel and his silliness, which competes with mine for the gold medal) suggests the Georgia lawyer thing as if its a viable alternative. Sometimes He has me going with His outrageous morning ideas that I think sound reasonable (let's just say my husband, the brains of the operation here, has to swat these ideas down like flies every few days, though he likes a truly good idea as much or more as the next guy), but this one - starting a District Attorneys' office in Atlanta - it just cracked me up!
And when one is cracking up, there's no more room for fear!
Sure, those around the cracker may be more than a little concerned (if you haven't seen Harvey lately, you have my permission to watch it right after you finish this post; it's one of Marcel's favorite movies!), but the one cavorting with invisible friends is usually having too much fun to worry even what those around him are thinking. What a blessed relief such friendship and resulting unconcern are from our usual state of low level paranoia!
What started this train of thought early in the a.m. (don't worry: not a heavy and serious freight train of thought; more like a brightly colored Duplo train of thought, complete with giraffe in the third car) was my seeing the Divine Mercy Image shining out at me as I tried to recover from my allergic waking. Don't worry (again; our theme!), it was neither an allergy-induced nor Heaven-sent-find-me-a-good-spiritual-director vision, but merely the framed picture hanging on the wall. Due to the morning light seeping through the blinds beside Him, Jesus-in-the-picture was illuminated beautifully, and I was sitting across from Him realizing just how wonderful He is.
Can you imagine what Love motivated Him to appear repeatedly to a Polish nun (only a few years before He began chit-chatting with Marcel) in order to provide us with the whole Divine Mercy package? Chaplet, Feast Day, but simplest of all - somewhat disappointing picture of Him (poor Faustina, so distraught over the unlikeness between Jesus' painted face and Jesus' real Face!) which - MOST BRILLIANT IDEA EVER, thank You, Jesus! - has "Jesus, I trust in You!" emblazoned across it so that just as we can't help but read the cereal box in front of our bleary eyes of a morning at breakfast, or the name tag of our best friend at a party (you know the person, you begin the greeting, but THERE! there's something to read on your friend's lapel, so your eyes drop and you read it before you finish your greeting, thus implying you couldn't quite remember the name of your best friend and needed the name tag!)......so in exactly the same way we can't help, bleary eyed and empty headed as we are, but read (and consequently pray, in some manner), "Jesus, I trust in You!"
When it comes to His conversations with Marcel, Jesus didn't request a painting, nor (in His Mother's style) a medal, nor a church to be built at the site of their gab-fests. He simply asked Marcel to write down everything they said to each other. Oh merciful Jesus, thank You! These words do me more good than the most beautiful paintings, medals, and cathedrals in the world! You know I love all those signs of Your love, but somehow in these words Marcel wrote for us, You share the eternal spring of Your Holy Spirit, the Living Water that begins at last to quench our thirst. Jesus, we love You a lot! Keep us close to You and Marcel forever!
And so, along these lines, I have been thinking lately of the many suggestions Jesus and Mary offer us, in Conversations, to help us stop worrying. It makes me smile (and even laugh!) to think that after all my thinking, this post is about the littlest way of all, the way of children, the way of laughter. Thank You, Jesus, for giving us Marcel to make us laugh!
And now, how to lightly and smoothly introduce some words from the boy himself? I think we'd best resort to the age-old custom of letting the Holy Spirit choose. Let's open the book at random and see what He has for us today . . .
Can I tell you a secret? I was a little worried (yes, worried! will I never learn? Probably not, but this is good because it will force Jesus to keep trying to teach me not to worry, and that will keep Him close) - I was a little worried about whether the Holy Spirit would come through this time with the random-page-as-His-choice maneuver. Ha! Silly me! This is the Holy Spirit we're talking about. Not a problem for God, and even in the hands of an amateur, Conversations is a bit of a trick deck - every page a Face card. First time out, then, our Love picked a winner; here it is, around (457) :
Marcel: This year, little Jesus, I am not going to serve Mass at the Carmel. I remember that last year I really felt like laughing and I said to myself: if I had succeeded in becoming a Carmelite, no one would have known that I was a man. In fact, last year I said the prayers with the sisters and my voice blended so well with theirs that no one knew that it was I who was reciting the prayers. That is why, after Mass, the brothers said to each other: "There was certainly a sister outside the grill, because the voice of a sister was heard clearly on the outside reciting the prayers." No one could guess; I was the only one who knew who was saying the prayers on the other side; and this question of my brothers made me want to laugh. It is only later that they learned the truth and they found it strange that my voice was so similar to the sisters. This year, little Jesus, my voice has broken, but if I imitated the voice of the sisters, no one would be able to tell.
Jesus: Like you, little brother, my experience was the same; the more I grew, the more, also, my voice changed too. But, concerning you, little brother, if you had entered Carmel I would certainly not have loved you as much as I love you now, since you would not have had the strength to put up with the austerities of the Carmel.
Marcel: So, I am very weak then?
Jesus: One could not be more so . . .
Marcel: However my sister Saint Therese who was able to put up with it [the austerities of Carmel], never stops saying that she is weak. What, then, can be said of my own weakness?
Jesus: Little brother, I have already spoken to you on that point, but you have a very short memory. Physically, your sister Therese was stronger than you; but spiritually, in regards to Love, who is not weak? It is true that physical strength can help with enduring sufferings with a little more joy; but my Love knows how to choose crosses which are suitable for each soul, because if I sent the same trials to all souls, I would certainly not have a single one as spouse. Do you understand, little brother?
[And here, if I may interject, is one of those times when I'm wondering: what will Marcel respond? Jesus has said something very beautiful. Do you understand, little brother? I won't mind if you say "no," for then Jesus will explain more. Let's see what you will say to our Love in reply to His explanation . . .]
Marcel: Little Jesus, at one time I really would have liked to enter Carmel, but one thing frightened me . . .
[Oh, so no direct response? Or perhaps you're leading up to that. Poor Marcel, what frightened you about Carmel? The mortifications? The austerities? The silence? Forgive me for interrupting; I will let you speak and tell us . . . ]
Marcel: One thing frightened me; it was to have to wear a brown habit. I do not at all like to wear clothes of that color. I remember when I was small, my mother, one day, made me a very nice pair of brown trousers that I went and tore up immediately; I only liked to wear white clothes and my mother had to bend to my whim.
[Marcel, you little imp! The brown habit was your fear? You are as bad as we are! And what a naughty little Peter Rabbit you were! But I'm interrupting, and you have more to say. Sorry, but you're too funny!]
Marcel: When I was still a postulant, Brother John Baptist gave me a brown shirt that I did not at all like; and because I was ashamed, I waited two or three weeks before daring to wear it. Afterwards my sister said to me to make me laugh; "Dear brother, you resemble me a lot. I also had to wear a brown habit; but now it is you too who must wear one. Truly, you resemble me a lot . . . Yes, evidently we must both resemble each other." That is all she said to me and I felt like laughing. I made an effort to wear that shirt sometimes and, once used to it, I no longer wished to change it for another and I continued to wear it until my entry into the novitiate. Actually, I do not know if it still exists. My sister Therese is very skillful at joking with me. It is enough for her to say something amusing to me to make me wish for things that I did not want.
+ + +
Fr. Boucher adds here: "I have witnessed this very simple fact."
+ + +
Jesus: Little one, you are already tired. That's enough, go and rest, I am giving you a kiss. Rest yourself, otherwise you will be too tired and our Mother will not be pleased.
[Ah, Holy Spirit - You think of everything! We are in our novena to Mary, so we must have a word about our Mother, and here is Jesus introducing her, and next Marcel speaking to her. Thank You!]
Marcel: My dear Mother Mary, today little Jesus has not given me any collation; and, a short time ago, He did not cease asking my forgiveness. I forgave Him gladly, without giving Him any penance. We only laughed together and expressed our love for each other. Our mutual relations could not be more attractive and, in my opinion, even if in heaven there were only little Jesus and me, that would be enough to make you joyful. What can be said, then, of your happiness since there will also be in heaven the true Father will all the saints. Dear Mother, I love you a lot . . .
* * *
Yes, dear Mother, we love you a lot! I have only one worry left now . . . In the Murillo painting of you that I so love, up at the top of this post, I find that although your lap is as capacious and welcoming as I remember, little Jesus is so very big that He's taking up most of the space! And He's standing! So we will ask you to have Him sit, and shrink please to make room for us (He must decrease so that we, His brothers and sisters joining Him on your lap, can increase!), and then could we watch a movie? (Marcel still wants Harvey, as a day-after-his-birthday treat.) And Mama, today we add to our intentions everyone who has to wear brown: all the Carmelites and the Franciscans, and any others whose habits or clothes are brown, and then the rest of the religious orders, for perhaps they have austerities of their own, and crosses to carry, and then too, dear Mother, please take tenderly into your care all those who are sick or suffering in any way - in body, mind, heart, or soul . . . You are our true Mother and know just what we need. Take care of us, and don't forget to make us laugh! We love you Mother Mary! Kiss Jesus for us, and Marcel, and Therese, and St. Benedict on his feastday, and all the Bens in the world, especially our own Ben, and Papa Ben (and Papa Frankie too, giving him a huge hug as well since he is our earthly Papa).
And with that, we only have to ask (before the movie starts): Is there popcorn?
Or should we go with Sugar Babies and Red Vines? (Marcel loves Sour Patch Kids, a popular choice at our house, too.) Whichever you choose, don't forget to turn the lights down and the volume up. Or maybe just the lights down if, like me, you woke early to Jesus' teasing. In His words, "Little one, you are already tired. That's enough, go and rest, I am giving you a kiss. Rest yourself, otherwise you will be too tired, and our Mother will not be pleased."
There it is - Truth Himself speaks truly, and as we all know, if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
Happiness to all the mamas, then, and rest to all the children, and if you fit both categories, don't choose, just laugh! And then, a final prayer before our droopy eyes close altogether (one more reason not to read these posts while driving) -
Draw me; we will run!
It's Marcel’s feast day, his birthday-into-heaven day, and we have so many things to talk about! But before anything else, before a single other word, I have to thank, from the very bottom of my heart, two little darling Miss Marcels of Michigan (it's a big state, so I don't think I've blown your anonymity, and note that adding in MI makes you 2 MMMs!). I have to thank them with a million hugs (if only virtual for now) because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture of roses is worth about a thousandth of a real rose, and guess what I found on my porch after a Feast Day run to Baskin Robbins?
Yes! ROSES! Nine roses - one for each day of this novena! - three red for love, three yellow for friendship, and three white for . . . the white gowns we'll be sporting when we meet in Heaven? Our hearts resting safely, white as snow, in Our Lady's most pure and Immaculate Heart? Haha, good possibilities, but I have the fuller answer at my fingertips - an answer (through Google) from a place I know we can trust because they're also letting me know "Roses are on SALE!" Yes, they're definitely our friends, and listen to what they (rose experts, no doubt) have to say about what the colors of roses signify:
Red roses: Love, beauty, courage, respect, congratulations, job well done, I love you, and passion!
Yes, I'll go for all of those - thank you my two dear MMMs! Thank you for your love, for your courage, for your respect, for your congratulations, for your job well done (getting roses from MI to CA on Marcel's very day?!?!?! WOW!), and I love you too! And oh heavens yes, we are passionate about Marcel and the Little Way here, so thank you for sharing the joy! But wait....we still have yellow and white to go!
Yellow roses: Joy, gladness, friendship, and delight.
If that doesn't describe our life in Marcel-Jesus and Jesus-Marcel, I don't know what does! Maybe white?
White roses: Purity, innocence, silence, reverence, humility, youthfulness, heaven.
Cowabunga, we've struck the mother-lode! Sounds like the Little Way to me! And if only you could see how beautiful these roses are. Sadly (but it's okay, we'll fix this soon), I had to leave them as soon as I found them (after putting them in a place of honor inside - and oh, when I get back home I'll make a fun Marcel-Jesus-Mary-Therese altar so I have the perfect spot for them!), but I left with good reason - I had to share this beauty with everyone here. You do realize, I hope, that this is an answer to our prayers?
And so, before I explode with happiness and delight, I must quickly say that although I have nothing but a gajillion words of love to give in return, I would like to offer the following post in special recognition of love, kindness, and ROSES (both earthly and heavenly) received, especially today, from: the 2 MMMs (thank you, dear extras!!!!!!! You know that I can't say "you made my day" because Marcel and Jesus had already done that, but you took Their day for me and skyrocketed it up into the sun, moon, and stars with love, beauty, gladness, delight, heavenly joy, and all the rest!!), and to Miss Marcel East, who sent me Marcel Day greetings before any one else (just because she is in the East and stays up way way way too late is no reason to dismiss her first greeting!), and the little lover of Marcel who emailed to share her joy in the day and her love for Marcel and me too . . .
But not to leave anyone out, let me now wish you all, dear and gentle readers, many happy returns of this day – May our little brother Marcel lead us by the hand through a remarkably happy life-in-exile until he pulls us up into Heaven beside him, where we will finally be free! Free of worries and cares, free of work and duties, free of sadness and suffering, free of guilt and tiredness. What shall we do There when we’re free? Let’s hop right onto Mary’s lap beside Marcel, Therese, and little Jesus, and give them all kisses! (I love my Murillo “Our Lady of the Rosary” because she has such a copious lap!)
And what about our brother Marcel? He is There now. Which brings us to an interesting question, namely:
What do you think he's doing There?
He chatted a lot with Jesus and Mary (and Therese) while he was here, making plans for what he’d do There. And I have a hunch I know which of his prospective activities he's occupied with today. Do you want to hear? It's my favorite of his ideas and among the funniest plans I’ve ever heard, for anything really. Best of all, I discovered this on the last page of his writings. It wasn’t the last thing Marcel wrote, but it happened to end up (I’m sure this was the Holy Spirit who got great delight from this plan and didn’t want us to miss it) at the end of Volume 4 of Marcel’s Complete Works. Even that our brother has an opera omnia is awesome (and fun) – did you know there are still Doctors of the Church whose works have remained almost entirely inaccessible to us? Remind me to tell you about St. Lawrence of Brindisi sometime – I think he’s the one – but meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .
Marcel and his Complete Works. I sometimes wonder how he’s not better known yet, but then I remember that (a) he's much more known in France and Vietnam than in our dear U.S. of A., and that’s a sign that God does have a special predilection for those two beloved countries, and also (b) though our brother may not yet be universally known, he’s known and loved by the right people (ourselves among them, thanks be to God) – people who have gotten his cause up and running, people who have translated his books, people who have given his books to us. Okay, that would be Fr. Boucher (m's novice master, spiritual director, bearded Jesus), Les Amis de Van, and Jack Keogan. Thanks so much, guys!
Because where would we be without Marcel? For those of us who’ve known and loved him for a minute or more, it’s hard (and painful!) to imagine our lives without him. I think I can speak for us all in the words of his young friend Hien, the first little brother whom Marcel instructed in the Little Way (very soon after St. Therese began instructing Marcel himself), and truly say for each of us, “Van, I think that if I had never met anyone in my life like you to understand me, I would have probably died of sadness” (Autobiography, 639).
Actually factually, I don’t think many people die of sadness, and my heart might be too hard to break in this way, but I can say that to think now about not having this grace of knowing Van is to think a thought that’s liable to send me spiraling into serious depression and despondency. Perish the thought! And what an unnecessary thought and depression because, my dearest friends (and how can you who are here loving Marcel with me not be among my dearest friends?), the truth is that we have been given Van as our little brother, spiritual guide, translator of St. Therese, goofy playmate, kindred spirit, and best friend! Hooray!
Hooray for Marcel! Hooray for Jesus! Hooray for our Heavenly Father’s infinite love in giving us so much joy and laughter!
Oh, but I’m forgetting. I wanted to tell you about Marcel’s hilarious plan of action; not quite his mission in Heaven, but his threat to Jesus. Again, it wasn't the last thing he wrote, but it does come as the last thing in what he wrote, that is, it’s placed last in the four volumes of his writings as we have them today.
Here's the context: At the end of Volume 4 (Other Writings) of his Complete Works is a series of letters Marcel wrote to the Child Jesus on the 25th of each month. This was a lovely Redemptorist tradition for the novices, both in their first novitiate (for Marcel this was August 1945 – August 1946, during which time he also wrote Conversations; he was 17 - 18 years old) and then in their second novitiate, the six month period before their perpetual vows (for Marcel this was March to September, 1952 when he was 24).
If you were to open Other Writings and flip to the end (like I did), just before the back matter (Chronological Notes, List of Van’s poems, Contents), you’d find as the last bit of Marcel’s own words a letter to Jesus dated 25 August 1952. Again, not the last thing Marcel ever wrote, but I love that it’s last in the order of what we’ve been given, because it’s vintage Marcel! Here's how it starts:
To my beloved friend, Jesus-Marcel
Dear Jesus, this is perhaps the last time I will take my pen and ink to express my intimate feelings to You. My burning desire is that, after this letter, I will no longer have to express to You on this earth my feelings in written form.
However, I am in no hurry to leave immediately for paradise; all I can do is express my wish to You and leave it to Your will. However, if You are not there for the rendez-vous, it will be very humiliating for You.
There are a number of things which I would wish to do on earth, but it is impossible for me to accomplish them. My sole hope is that, once in heaven, I will see all my wishes accomplished.
+ + +
You may be thinking that our boy’s plans are nothing out of the ordinary, at least as far as Saints’ plans go. Well, except for the wonderfully Marcellian part about the rendez-vous and Marcel's concern that Jesus not be humiliated by missing it! But leaving that aside, the wish to do many more things on earth, the acknowledgment that he can't accomplish these, the sole hope that once in heaven all his wishes (no doubt for conversions of individuals and nations, peace, more love of Jesus from everyone, etc.) will be accomplished - this is typical Saints' fare. Which is why we must jump down to the last paragraph of the letter, the last paragraph of Marcel's writings. I promise, you won’t find anything typical – or maybe I should simply say that I’ve never run across anything quite like this in other Saints’ writings. Although he begins even this last paragraph with nothing unusual (for a Saint), saying "I will be a happy saint, but I will surely die of sadness" - happy for Jesus, sad to not be with Him more perfectly - finally we get to the real plan. Here is what Marcel concludes:
“I will be a happy saint, but I will surely die of sadness . . . Nevertheless, Jesus, I am not annoyed with You; do not be sad because of me. Sooner or later I will be in heaven where I will sing as I wish. I will then be very skillful at composing verses, and I will entertain myself in publishing poems with really strange titles, to tease you, Jesus-Marcel. Moreover, having Therese as editor, this will be so much more exciting. I am giving you a kiss and I sign myself: Marcel-Jesus.”
What a nutter! I hope the build-up wasn't too much; I hope you aren't disappointed; but golly I love that our Marcel is having fun in Heaven! It's all just right! And it's especially right because, as I discovered today in preparing to write this post (don't worry - it was a one-off - I don't usually "prepare!" but today is special, or rather, special-er even than usual) . . . did you know that Marcel LOVES poetry? Well of course he does - how could he not, being such a lover? But the cool part is how he came to love poetry, which is what he told me about today and wants me to tell you - and in poetry, no less! Poetry that he wrote, which is included in his Other Writings, and from which I'll copy out (time allowing) two poems from 1951. The first is called "Mermaid Soul meets Jesus above the Rainbow Clouds."
Okay, just joshin! But isn't that the kind of strange title we'd expect from him? It wasn't my idea! Um, well, yes, that particular strange title was sort of my idea (with a curtsy, a wink, and a hug to A in CO!), but I mean the strange titles are what he was going to be composing in heaven! I just wanted to free him up on his big day . . . but really and truly, this first poem is called;
The Time when Poetry is Born
Dedicated with love to my holy religious sister Therese of the Child Jesus
It is thanks to you my sister that I got to know "poetry."
Naturally, at that age I knew nothing of it.
The beauty of the fields with a thousand colors,
The gentle breeze on the tufts of rice
Gave rise in me to no emotions.
The filao tree on the side of the mountain,
The spring which gurgles at my feet,
The sound of music left me unmoved;
I understood nothing then of poetry.
Then spring came with the flowers
Of pervasive perfume which prompted nostalgia.
However, my hand had no wish to gather them,
Being happy to gaze on them in silence.
And that persisted until the day
When on the hill I made the acquaintance
Of this flower completely imbued with the delights of love.
Strongly attracted by such beauty . . .
I gave myself to this flower;
Intoxicated by its perfume, in the singing wind,
I remain attached to it, to be never separated.
And since then, poetry has been born in my heart.
14-2-1951 J.M.T. Marcel
You see our brother is a true poet, for this was written to Therese on Valentine's Day!
And there is more - he, like Jesus his truest Love, is full of suprises - for Marcel writes as a kind of postscript to Fr. Boucher, "My Father, you see that this poem contains nothing but a description of nature: fields, spring, mountains, etc., but that all these things have a spiritual meaning. I think you will find here nothing difficult to understand."
I guess we should have known that things would get deep somewhere along the line! And after all, Therese learned poetry from her holy father St. John of the Cross (by reading his works), and she was the one who taught poetry to Marcel, so he's a kind of grandson of St. John of the Cross, the greatest mystical poet ever (besides, and in league with, the Holy Spirit). I just love Marcel's "I think you will find here nothing difficult to understand," after telling us that his natural images all have a spiritual meaning. Hmm. I'll get back to you if I later find these images suddenly transparent!
And now time is indeed running short, and so I'm going to renege on that second poem and once again put off my explanation of Celine's painting of Therese (which we posted at the start of this novena). How about I'll wait till later in the week to tell of the painting, and whether we'll recite more poetry in the next days we'll let God decide. For today, I want to leave you with a word from Marcel to Mary - again from Other Writings, a kind of Feast Day treasure box - a word (or several) which will show us how Marcel and Therese want us to pray.
This expression of joy and gratitude Marcel wrote to Our Lady on September 2, 1954, just two weeks before he left South Vietnam for North Vietnam in order that someone would love Jesus there among the Communists. At the same time, he was understandably concerned about the well being of his family; it was imperative for their safety and well-being that they leave the North (where they lived) to reach the South. Here is what he writes:
Oh! My Mother Mary!
This morning I am filled with joy . . . I have received a telegram from my cousin telling me that my parents had been able to be evacuated to Saigon on 9 August.
Dear Mother, how happy I am! My father and my mother have been able to escape from the communist net at the price of much suffering and difficulty. I was assured in advance that it would happen; I had placed everything in God's hands with confidence, with the certitude of being heard. Truly there was never any doubt in my confidence. If, until now, I had not ceased to worry, it is probable that I would have been deprived of the joy and peace that one tastes in Love.
O Mary, your child, Marcel, feels truly happy! And he owes this happiness to your maternal heart. Yes there is nothing I wish for in secret and in calmness that is not fully granted. It is the obvious sign that, in spite of my worthlessness, Jesus, my heart's friend, spoils me to this extent.
Dear Mother, thank you with all my heart, and with you I offer to Jesus an infinite thank you.
Dear Mother, enfold me always in the spirit of abandon.
Now, I am asking my sister Saint Therese to see that my parents find a means of earning a living, so that they may not have too much to suffer in their old age.
* * *
Do you hear what I hear? First, joyful gratitude. Then more joy, more gratitude. Then, listen for it . . . another request! Let's imitate our little brother! Let's thank God for so many blessings. Let's ask our heavenly Mother to procure for us a spirit of abandonment, as well as the calmness that Marcel speaks of. And then let's ask for everything we can think of! All that this poor world of ours needs! We are told by the Holy Spirit in Sacred Scripture (St. Paul would be the little secretary writing this down for us) that Jesus became poor that we might become rich. (I think St. Peter pointed this out too!) Our Jesus did become so poor - now let us ask Him, risen and ascended into Heaven and seated at our loving Father's right hand, to make us rich - not with money (except enough to take care of our needs without worry, and enough more to share with others), but with love, with peace, with joy, with the Holy Spirit's gifts! And we can pray too for so many others - the whole silly world!
Today let's add into our novena our parents and grandparents and theirs too; our brothers and sisters and their families; our children (and grandchildren, if they're in the picture); our godchildren and confirmation children; and any special souls who've become part of our families . . .
And now, in a spirit of simplicity, let's end our Marcel's Day post with that favorite and universal prayer from the Song of Songs and Therese . . .
Draw me, we shall run!
I hope your day was glorious and joyful - and may tomorrow be even better and brighter! You'll be one day closer to Heaven, and for the nonce, we've got Marcel and Jesus to keep us company even in exile. They'll never leave us, as Marcel explained to his first little Miss Marcel, his sister Anne-Marie Te. She'd said, "Marcel, my only desire would be to never be separated from you." To which he responded, "Little sister, that is one thing which never presents any difficulty if you remain always closely united to Jesus. Jesus, He is Marcel and Marcel, he is also Jesus. And it is the same for you with Jesus, since love makes us all one in the unique love of Jesus" (Notebook 3, Other Writings).
May Jesus keep you close in His Heart, and I'll meet you there!
We're in day 2 of our latest novena, this one in honor of Our Lady and Marcel. You'll notice by the title above that I'm pretty stoked about it being the day before July 10th . . . and if you're fashionably late to the party, let me tell you what's so thrilling about the day before July 10th. It just happens to be the day before Marcel's birthday-into-Heaven!
There's something else about the day before July 10th, though, that's got me smiling and accounts for the beautiful image of Our Lady of Beijing now gracing our humble abode here at Miss Marcel's Musings. Wouldn't you know it's July 9th (I bet you were way ahead of me on that one), and I discovered at Mass this morning that July 9th is the feast of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions. I'm getting a huge kick out of that "and Companions" designation. What would you guess? Maybe St. Augustine Z.R. was a Chinese convert (his name sounds foreign) and this is the day the Church celebrates how he and five or eight of his compadres - perhaps Jesuits, all converts and some priests with a few brothers and a catechist or two - were martyred when things got tough?
Try again, mustard seed! The group is not so small, nor so contained as to be from one religious order, nor even all contemporaries of Augie. This is the glorious feast of none other than the 120 martyrs of China who gave their lives for Christ from 1648 to 1930. Some gave short lives - the youngest martyr was 9; some longer lives - the oldest martyr was 76; and all were canonized by St. John Paul II in the great Jubilee Year of 2000 on October 1st, the feast of St. Therese, patroness of missionaries and the missions. Wowie zowie! St. Augustine was himself Chinese, as were 86 others of the bunch, while 33 were European missionaries, so although I keep wanting to call them the 120 Chinese Martyrs (reminiscent of the 5 Chinese Brothers of storybook fame who, cleverly and contrarily, did not give up their lives), they are "of China" in the sense of being martyred there, but not entirely from China.
How do I know so darned much? Well it's not really me. I'd like to thank the editors of Magnificat, Google, and Wikipedia, but most of all the credit goes to a certain Italian missionary I've mentioned here before and whose feast is following fast on the heels of Marcel's. I met Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., first through the book Beyond East and West by the Chinese convert (and non-martyr, though during the dark days of World War II, with the Japanese in China it was a close shave for both Fr. Nicola and his spiritual son) John C.H. Wu. That book inspired me to track down Father NM's Forever Love, which in turn led me to write a fan letter to Fr. Maestrini. The date on the letter? February 18 (2001), which I later discovered to be the anniversary of the date on which Pius XII beatified Alberic Crescitelli, another Italian P.I.M.E. priest who'd been sent as a missionary to China, just like Fr. Maestrini had been - only Alberic's time there ended in martyrdom in 1900, while Fr. Maestrini's time ended in expulsion (technically it was the order from his Order to head to another mission territory, but this was on account of the coming expulsion) from China in 1950. You might think that for a missionary to be forced to leave his mission land would be worse than martyrdom - and you're right, and you're wrong. This I didn't pick up from Magnificat or Google or Wikipedia, but from Fr. NM himself, as I'll tell you in a moment. Marcel loves this story, and I think you will too. But we'll get there through Alberic's story. (And might I just add that I can't believe God's kindness in letting me tell you these stories? There's nothing more fun for me, and I hope you're enjoying it too!)
I can't wait a moment longer to tell you that Alberic is one of the 120 martyrs of China, which is why I'm compelled to tell you about him today. But before we get into his story, here's a picture (from a photo) of Alberic in Chinese dress, taken shortly after his arrival to his mission in China in 1888. He was 25 years old. People didn't waste time in those days! Interesting to me is that he set out from Italy for China on April 8, 1888, just one day before little 15 year old Therese entered the Carmel of Lisieux where she would pray for priests and missionaries; he arrived in China on May 19th, the birthday of my older son, who has always prayed for the conversion of China, and who chose that image of Our Lady of Beijing as his Christmas present many years ago. Here, then, is Alberic:
And what shall we say of him? He faithfully served his mission for 12 years. A Franciscan missionary who knew him said of Alberic:
"I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that Father Crescitelli was a true model of the fervent missionary. He was always humble in his conduct and very devout at the divine cult, especially in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries - so much so that, for purity, he seemed an angel when approaching the altar. He was endowed with that wisdom of the holy which teaches the performance of the sacred ministry with exactitude and devotion. Thirsting for the salvation of souls, full of love for everyone without distinction, compassionate to the utmost towards the poor, loving towards his brethren, respectful and blindly obedient to his superiors, he was always joyful and patient under any vexation, inconvenience, and hardship, ready at all times to sacrifice his entire self for the glory of God and for the splendor of our Holy Religion . . . All these virtues were hidden and accompanied by the greatest humility, for which reason anyone who saw him would have told of finding nothing in him that was outstanding and extraordinary. But the saints have always been, and always will be, that way.
"Besides, he nourished a tender devotion to the Most Holy Mary whom he called his sweet Mother. And when he came to me for advice on mission matters or for confession (which was often) . . . he would take the beads in his hands before going to rest and invite me to say the Rosary with him."
Oh beautiful Alberic! Sweet son of our sweet Mother! What an example you are for us, what a motivation for us to pray for priests and missionaries that they may even now, 130 years after your death, imitate this holy purity and devotion, obedience and zeal that seemed to clothe you like your Chinese dress! Yes, let's add all priests and missionaries to our novena!
And what shall we say of his martyrdom? In 1900 Alberic was sent to a new district to bring the faith to the pagan Chinese. The combination of a famine and unrest in the region, an evil and vindictive Empress, the Boxer Rebellion, and treachery from one of his own, brought about Father's passion and death. Pope Pius XII said in his beatification homily, "Humanly speaking, his martyrdom was horrible, perhaps one of the most atrocious recorded by history. Nothing was missing, neither the cruelty of the torments, nor their duration, nor the most barbarous humiliations, nor the sufferings which touch the heart, nor the hypocrisy of false friends, nor the hostile and threatening clamor of cutthroats, nor the darkness of abandonment!"
Oh Alberic! Pray for us! We are Marcel's little sisters and brothers. We don't feel strong enough to endure a fraction of what you did! Won't you send us one to encourage us lest we become discouraged by your heroic witness?
Happily Fr. Alberic long ago sent me his confrere, Fr. Maestrini, whose story includes moments we are more likely to laugh about than cry over, moments that we can see ourselves imitating because Fr. Maestrini had the great good fortune to enter the missions NOT simultaneously with our sister St. Therese, but after he'd served, as an altar boy, at her beatification and canonization Masses. These inspired in him a desire to read Story of a Soul (he was a young teen in the Lateran Seminary; later, desirous of being a missionary rather than a Church diplomat, he transferred to the P.I.M.E. seminary).
When his seminary rector told him no, he was too young for St. Therese's book, little Nicola wrote and asked his father to procure him a copy. Silly Nicola! The mail all came to the boys at the Lateran through the rector of the seminary! Father laughed as he told me how he was called in from study hall, into the rector's office where he got a tongue lashing and a warning and a verse of Scripture on obedience written into his new copy of Story of a Soul - but it was his copy now, and that was all that mattered! At 93, he grinned mischievously as he retold the story, asking me to guess whether he'd taken the lesson to heart! (The implication being that he remained true to Therese's example throughout his long life - obedient to the Church and his Order and superiors, but always ready to sneak a little if it served God better!)
And then there was the conversation between young Nick and his buddies in the P.I.M.E. seminary - they remind me of the Apostles, whispering and wondering in a cluster, and here comes Jesus - or in their case, the rector of this P.I.M.E. seminary, none other than the future Blessed Paolo Manna. "What are you boys discussing?"
"Well, Father Manna, we were talking about what will happen if we are faced with martyrdom in the missions. We don't think we could handle that!"
"Silly boys! This is a grace God gives you when the occasion arises. It's nothing you could be capable of by your own powers! Now off to play!"
And possibly my favorite of Fr. Maestrini's stories, the one about his first mission assignment. He was seated beside his best friend Orlando in a huge auditorium on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The place was packed with would-be-missionaries awaiting their orders. The moment came and (Blessed) Paulo Manna's voice rang out, "Maestrini and Orlando, Hong Kong!"
Poor Nicholas! He'd joined the missionaries hoping to be sent to the jungles of Burma, like his heroes. Instead he was being sent to a cosmopolitan city! The moment of his disappointment passed quickly, however. Orlando, reading his mind and sensing his reaction, elbowed Nicola. "Stupid! This is God's will for us!" That was all he needed to hear - God's will! Deo Gratias!
I love St. Alberic, and I love that soon after he was canonized - just four months later! - he introduced me to Father Maestrini so I would have a missionary after my own sensitive and timid heart. Not that Fr. NM was timid, ultimately, but he was definitely sensitive and had such human sensibilities. Praise God for saints we can identify with!
Speaking of which, it's high time we turned our attention to the almost-birthday-boy, Marcel. He is very pleased with this talk of Asia, missionaries, martyrdoms, and his friends Alberic and Nicola, but we don't want our musings to end in the foreign missions, but rather in Marcel's own Conversations. Don't worry, Marcel, Fr. Maestrini will return later in our novena - he died on the Vigil of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so we'll talk about him again (and ask his intercession) on July 15. For now, let's see what treasures Our Lady has for us on the day before July 10th.
This morning I opened my favorite book and found Jesus reassuring us that yes, He absolutely wants us to pile on the intentions. "Bring 'em on!" would be my colloquial translation, which is why we can be grateful that Jack Keogan had the official task of rendering Jesus' words into English, but the upshot is the same. We are not to be shy, not to hold back, not to think that God is parsimonious with His gifts. Quite the contrary, as Jesus explains:
"Come, come, little brother, the goodness of your true Father is without measure, as I have told you many times already. Even if, in His Love, He indulged you in everything, filling all your desires, He would never find it enough for His Love; He would only be afraid that you might not have the strength to receive all His treats. Whatever I do to spoil you, I consider it all as being nothing. Little brother, do you understand?" (492)
Isn't Jesus so good? Not only is He much better than we'd imagined, but He is determined to let us know so that we will stop fearing Him, stop worrying that we are burdening Him with our many requests.
Let's see: I started out with four intentions for this novena (leftovers, we might call them) plus one new entree. That was late last night. As of late this morning, I'd added on one large group of people and their families, two dear ones suffering from cancer (and their families), an aspirant to the religious life, her sister's family, and . . . I think I've lost count already, and I haven't mentioned all the priests and missionaries we've just tossed in. We are only in day 2. I can't wait to see how long my list gets - or rather, thank you guardian angel, for keeping track of that for me! Oh, and of course I'm including all YOUR intentions too!
Our Lady was not far behind Jesus in her offerings for today - her passages of loving kindness that appeared before my eager heart and begged to be transcribed. Ah, but what with one thing and another, it's time to get dinner over here, so I need to ask her again to choose - this time her very favorite passage, just for today. There will be time, God willing, for the others as the days progress. Yes, Jesus, You are right! We may not have the strength to receive all our true Father offers us! Just one more treat, then, for the day before our brother's Big Day.
I think this is the one - it complements Jesus' words of love by telling us, in His Mother's affectionate and teasing way, of Mary's tender and abounding love for us too. Marcel has just told her of a conversation he had with Jesus. Marcel had praised Jesus' beauty, and Jesus replied, "Yes, I am truly beautiful and if I did not possess all the beauties, Marcel, you would not love Me. But of all My beauties, the most beautiful and the most distinguished is that of My Love for you." Marcel's says they laughed together after this confession, especially since, as he tells us and Mary, "I had a strong desire to laugh."
Don't you love how accommodating Jesus is? He is the one St. Paul was imitating in trying to be all things to all men, weeping with those who weep, laughing with those who laugh, and Jesus does it perfectly!
But here is Mary's sweet reply, showing she is a worthy Mother of such a wonderful Son, capable herself of loving us beyond measure - and no wonder, since she was the one who showed Jesus, by her ever present maternal example, how to empathize, sympathize, console, cajole, and all the rest. She tells Marcel (and us):
"My little Marcel, you are very beautiful, the most beautiful of all, more beautiful even than little Jesus, since all that belongs to little Jesus belongs to you alone and to that add all the beauties which come to you from me, from your sister Therese and from the host of other saints in paradise. If, after that, you are not more beautiful than little Jesus, who else could be? My child, you are very beautiful. If, at this moment, our true Father in heaven asked me to part with one of my children, I would prefer to part with little Jesus than with you, my little Marcel. My child, your beauty is greater than that of little Jesus, but from a different perspective. your beauty moves me to have compassion for you more than for little Jesus. As for the beauty of little Jesus, it is inferior to yours, in such a way that little Jesus only deserves to receive my love. Now, as compassion takes preference always over love, it is in this sense that I would rather part with little Jesus than with you. [Here Mary adopts a joyful tone and continues while laughing.] So, since you enjoy such happiness, what more can you wish for?" (516)
I would say I don't know what more we could wish for - certainly we ought not to wish for more, but we are the little siblings of Therese, full of desires like she is, ready to say (as she did), "I choose all!" So with gratitude as our keynote, we must say first, "Thank you, dear Mother Mary, for loving us more than you love Jesus! Thank you for so much love and for your laughter too!" and then please join me in saying, "Oh, but since you ask, I will make you laugh even more, dear Mother, by telling you exactly what more I am wishing for!" and then proceed to pour out your heart or tick down your list, whichever is easier!
Or, for the easiest little way of all, join me in our signature prayer, written by God, given us by Therese, and sure to obtain every good thing for everyone! (And then get a good night's sleep - tomorrow is bound to be full of copious amounts of love, laughter, and the Father's treats, seeing as it's Marcel's birthday in Heaven!)
Draw me, we will run!
Oops! I just realized I promised to tell you more about Celine's painting of Therese, the picture just below these words. Let's make that one of our treats for tomorrow, and meanwhile, sweet dreams!
By some miracle of grace, I've managed to remember that in our last post we quoted St. Therese's marvelous explanation of how to get more out of the good God. You might think no tricks or stratagems are needed, that God our loving Father is ready to give us everything without our clever ploys. You'd certainly be right to think so, but I'm afraid that after all, after the Fall in fact, it's unlikely we've remembered, with full confidence, that God's infinite love means He'll take care of every detail and give us every good thing.
So if you're not yet at the heroic-virtue-take-me-now-I'm-ready-to-go, -fully-perfected,-I-see-all-reality-with-total-clarity-and-no-more-fear-since-Love's-totally-cast-it-out stage of your existence, welcome to the club! We're big proponents of the Little Way here precisely because we need every Lift we can get - and our preferred Lift is Jesus' arms taking us straight to heaven by His power, not ours. We're the children not quite able to reach that first step yet, though we're willing to keep raising our foot (unless we get tired, in which case we simply rest in a heap at the foot of the stairs) while we cry out for Mama and Papa.
Which is right where Therese and Marcel's tricks and stratagems come in handy. If we're going to be like children (because we are children), why not be adorable and irresistible children? And what's more charming, adorable, and irresistible than gratitude? A little gratitude goes such a long way, and who knows how long our way will be? We could find ourselves in Heaven before the week is out, or we might be stuck here for years and years. No use telling each other how time passes quickly - yes, the years fly by, but the hours sometimes crawl. So however you calculate it, and whatever God's plan - whether the way is short or long - let's make the trek more comfortable by climbing into Jesus' arms and letting Him carry us. We have plenty to whisper in His ear while He holds us close, and no time to lose.
Because . . . did you know that if we make haste, we can manage a novena that includes Marcel's birthday-into-heaven? My latest research indicates that he left this exile at mid-day on July 10, 1959. Next year, in 2019, that will be 60 years ago, which is a cool round number. But in just a short while, this year, it will be precisely 59 years ago that he was born into Real Life. Do you know what that means?
By my calculations, we're heading at breakneck speed for our little brother's Golden Birthday into Heaven! The year he left this exile -'59 - is matched by the number of years from that July 10th to the July 10th we'll shortly be in: 1959 to 2018 is 59 years! Now don't think you've had a faulty education if you've never heard of a Golden Birthday into Heaven before; I just made it up! So much to celebrate, and we have to name it to claim it! (Yes, I made that up too; isn't it good? The angels are egging me on, they're so excited about Marcel and his upcoming feast.)
In a trice, then, we'll be rejoicing with all Marcel's brothers and sisters at his entrance into Heaven on July 10, and only four days after that it will be time to join him in praying for France.
Without doing a ton of research on this one, I'm pretty sure July 14 is "Bastille Day." As I mentioned in the last post, we're co-opting that day for the glorious wedding of L & R, two beautiful Catholics about to become one, and on the very anniversary of (slight correction here) the groom's great-grandparents' wedding day. So much to be grateful for, and also the perfect day to pray for France. We can't congratulate the eldest daughter of the Church for her rejection of Mom (the Church) and Dad (our Heavenly Father), but what a perfect day to join Marcel in praying for our big sister's homeland, the country she and Jesus were always commending to his love and prayers.
Ultimately, though, as far as novenas are concerned, soon after the 14th is July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. And if we start now (the day on which I'm writing, July 8th), we've got exactly nine days to go to get to what, for my husband and I and the whole Carmelite Order, is not merely a feast, but a Solemnity! A big feast of Our Lady, a solemnity for the Carmelites, a day of joy for all who love the scapular, and a day dear to the heart of Therese (and therefore to Marcel) - the perfect opportunity to gather our gratitude and our petitions and surrender everything without reserve.
My goodness we have a lot to celebrate, but there's actually much more than I've let on, and this is where Therese's gratitude will serve us well. In case you missed the last post, or if you're like Marcel and me (forgetful), here again is the spectacular advice our big little sister Therese, a Doctor of the Church, has for her novices, among whom we're happy to count ourselves:
"What most draws down graces from our dear Lord is gratitude, for if we thank Him for a gift, He is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank Him again with the same sincerity, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this, try it and you will see. My gratitude for all He has given me is boundless, and I prove this to Him in a thousand ways."
I don't know about the thousand ways, that sounds exhausting, but in our own little tiny way on our novice mistress' Little Way, we can thank Jesus for the graces He's showered down during our last novenas by trusting Him with the intentions of our next novena.
We recently hosted a novena of posts here at Miss Marcel's Musings in order to pray for each others' intentions, including several birthday intentions which culminated in Jack Keogan's and Miss Marcel East's "many happy returns of the day" Day. It was tons of fun, and we're never exclusive here - you're welcome to be part of that novena now too, even if you weren't at the time. Thanks to the wonders of the Eternal Internet, not only can you find things you'd like to buy online that are being sold at the perfect price, only in 2012, but you can also find our Big Novena posts (July 15 - July 23) which should continue to be available until the last trumpet sounds or the world wide web goes kablooey, whichever comes first.
My own techno-wonders being less than optimal (or perhaps exactly optimal, but less than impressive), I recently resorted to googling word chains that produced over there (on Google) the entries that brought me here to see those old posts in the 'hood, since scrolling down you'll only glimpse the newest post and the 9 before it . . . but hopefully you're smarter than I and could find it without leaving our little asylum (what kind of asylum it's not for me to say!). Or, come to think of it, we can quickly transport you to our "say it with flowers" summary of the Novena-of-the-Stars, HERE.
But as well as that ultimate novena we prayed together, you may not know (can't remember if I mentioned it here, but think I didn't, in which case you wouldn't, so no worries - never any worries, in fact, any more, ever) that prior to that group novena, I was storming heaven from mid-April to mid-May with three consecutive novenas to St. Therese. A veritable trinity of novenas, even if that wasn't the original plan - once I started, I just couldn't stop! And you'll be glad to know that the result was the answer to so many prayers I can't even begin to relate them all . . .
Or actually, I can begin - it's finishing that's a problem! And I must begin because the important thing here is what reminded me of that triple novena, a novena which began in desperation for some special intentions, and grew, and grew, and grew, both in intentions (as my novenas always do: why not pray for the whole world?) and in length, successively culminating on Therese's beatification day, St. Joseph's Day, and Pentecost. I was reminded of it by the sudden realization that the answer to one of the original desperate primary intentions of that almost-entirely-answered novena silently and finally floated down like a rose petal from Heaven the day before yesterday. God can be so quiet in His giving!
To mark this unexpected miracle, the long-awaited answer to prayer and the peace, freedom, and joy that this heavenly rose petal signaled, we had hugely high temps in our area, which led to a symbolic but very real second miracle in my backyard.
On this day of answered prayer, our thermometer registered 113 degrees at its highest (right around the Hour of Mercy, 3 p.m.), and later my son told me that somewhere near our vicinity was the hottest spot on the whole planet for July 6, 2018. Yowza! What a grace and kindness, then, that my guardian angel took me out of the relatively cool indoors (with our a/c set to 75, we managed to keep it at 79 degrees) into the weltering world of my (or rather Therese's) four rose bushes behind the house. There, waiting for my solicitude, I found many new buds (yay!) looking just like Bugs Bunny on his way through the Sahara (not so yay) . . . They were beyond gasping and panting for water; they were bent double on floppy stems, ready to give up their little ghosts! It was so very sad.
Before you weep, though, let me assure you that God's goodness saved the day. Frequent trips outside to move the hose gave me a real appreciation for the relative cool inside, and more importantly encouraged the buds to raise their heads again and hope for a more natural end to their little rose lives. This morning I made a tally - although three are still in critical condition, the total is 27 promising buds (I include the guys in ICU; "Never Give Up" is one of our mottos here at MMM).
27! That's the number of days I prayed for my countless intentions in the triple novena that preceded our recent birthday novena . . . 27 revived roses to remind me to be grateful, to encourage me to hope, and to share them with the world once they bloom, because there's nothing like a rose to say God is not only Love, but He is Love who loves us!
And then, because rose petals do tend to fall like autumn leaves once they've started falling, last night I heard about another of the primary intentions of that triple novena (an intention added later, but so important it crowded in on the originals and took top billing in the latter days) and how it, too, was recently answered - though once again, this favor came silent as a rose petal touching the ground at the recipient's feet.
The original remaining primary intentions of that novena (which, like every novena I pray, collects additional intentions like barnacles till they're practically uncountable) were two, and they also have had rose petals in their honor.
Truth in advertising, however, requires me to acknowledge at this point why I'm announcing a shower of rose petals instead of the more popular image of whole roses (no thorns, please) as Therese's signal of Heaven's answer to our prayers . . .
I'm not blaming the Big Guy Upstairs, but the problem is that, as occurred to me after my most recent reflections, each of these intentions/requests has been answered to about half of its potential. If we think of our novena(s) as one of those ginormous thermometers measuring donations to a pledge drive or annual appeal, the generous gifts of our Major Donors (God and the Saints) have brought the red line to only about the half way mark. Not that we're complaining, but it may be time to bring out the dancing bears (I never actually watched a Jerry Lewis Telethon, God rest his sweet soul) or start playing Andrea Boccelli. In other words, more tricks and stratagems to get those phones ringing and that red line up to 100%!
The funny thing about both the most-recently-answered prayer requests is that they've been fervently prayed for more than a decade - maybe even two decades! When I think of prayers God has taken His time answering, I think of the conception and birth of St. John the Baptist, but in this case, unlike Zechariah seeming to forget about his and Elizabeth's youthful prayers for a child, the recipients of these new graces have prayed (and had others of us praying) for years, right up to the moment of God finally answering our heartfelt petitions this past week. Yet even with all this consciousness and continuous prayer, the answers - which are unmistakable - will remain largely hidden from the rest of the world, just as the petitions and needs were long hidden.
This is the Little Way, and I thank God for this little blog in which to catalog His huge love and mercy. We could never tell the fullness of His infinitely solicitous love for us, but it makes us happy to try. And so, though I can't even relate the particulars of these oh-so-marvelous and long awaited miracles in the lives of very dear friends (you know, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and all that sort of thing), still, I can start another novena in celebration of so many good gifts, and in petition for their complete fulfillment. A novena of gratitude, but while we're at it, a novena of confident pleading for more cake and ice cream, please.
I'm starting out with these two intentions, then, plus two more that are left over from that triple novena - I can tell Jesus wants us to keep praying, because He's answered all four to some extent, but none to the super-eminent degree that would signify it's time to move on to worrying - I mean trusting Him - about what's next on our to-do list.
But since Scripture tells us and experience proves that Jesus does love to do new things, I'm adding in one more request - something I've been hesitant to ask, and yet now with these special feasts coming up, the time seems right. Won't you join me? Do you have prayers you've been saying for what seems like forever, prayers that you know God wants to grant, but He's waiting for - who knows what? Maybe He's waiting for us to ask together, and with Marcel and Therese asking for us too.
And what about something more, something for which you haven't dared to ask? I think we've gotta go with Marcel on this one. He said he'd spend Heaven asking the Heavenly Father for all sorts of things, because that's what delights a Father's heart - the opportunity to spoil His child. Let's not be shy. Let's feel free to add whatever petitions come our way during the next nine days, and let's remind God that He promised, over and over, to give us all we ask in His name.
God willing, let's make this a novena in honor of Marcel's love for Our Lady, and hers for him (and us). Let's not worry if we miss a day or two - the very definition of a little novena! - but let's fill our petitions with gratitude: gratitude for the miracles God will work for us, gratitude for those He's worked already, and gratitude that we're among the lucky ones chosen to pray on behalf of those who don't know how.
We'll start with these lovely words of Marcel from Conversations, from a page marked in my book with the same picture that tops this post, an image of Therese painted by her sister Celine. I'll tell you more about this painting tomorrow; for now, here's what Marcel and Our Lady wanted us to find to begin our little novena to them:
"Mary, my Mother, since I am still allowed to chat with you at this time, I am going to speak with you, if you want to. Will you listen to me, dear Mother? Even if you did not wish to listen to me, you must, nevertheless, hear me, because in hearing me whispering in your ear unceasingly, even if you did not wish to answer me, at least you would have to resign yourself to listening to me.
"But Mother, what foolishness I have just said there! How could it ever happen that you were not happy to listen to me? I know very well that my true Father and my true Mother are always ready to listen to all my stories in all their detail." (348)
Dear Blessed Mother, give us Marcel's confidence in you, the confidence Therese taught him and you nurtured by your loving attention to him. Give us the confidence to tell you our stories and to pour out our hearts to you these next nine days. You know how little we are, which is all the more reason for us to snuggle next to your loving Immaculate Heart, a Heart that knows only how to love us. We have so many petitions - some we may have forgotten before we've properly begun, but you are a true Mother who anticipates all our needs. Bless our families and our nations, bless those we love and those who need our love. Give Marcel a kiss for us, and little Jesus too! And Marcel, kiss Mary and Jesus for us, and our sister Therese, and Celine also. Kiss all those we love who've gone to God before us, and enlist them in our novena - the angels too! May we fill Heaven with gratitude, and may Heaven fill us with peace and joy. We ask this through little Jesus, our Lord, Amen.
Oh, and one last prayer for a beginning -
Draw me, we shall run!
Doesn't St. Therese look happy? I know, her grin isn't ear to ear like Marcel's tends to be (over on the right there), but photography being what it was at the time, she had to hold her pose for quite a while, and her sister Celine (the photographer in the family and the Carmel, although she didn't take this pic) tells us that Therese's expression would harden and lose its naturalness as the process dragged on. All things considered, then, and though her sisters didn't love it, I think this particular photo quite wonderful in capturing a kind of Mona Lisa smile. Therese is 16, she's been in the convent 9 months, and she'd received her habit only a few days before. Even the tiresome stillness necessary for a successful photograph can't bring her down: she's just too grateful for God's many blessings!
Therese is definitely a glass-is-half-full kind of gal, and she has great advice for the rest of us, whatever temperament we naturally sport. She made gratitude a policy, and through experience learned that this was not only conducive to joy, but also inducive to God (and I think I just made up a word, but you'll see why we need it) to give us more gifts. Our big little sister explains how it works perfectly in one of my favorite passages from all literature (right up there with Bertie Stanhope's conversation with the Bishop in Barchester Towers and the opening pages of Shopaholic and Sister, though I don't recommend the latter novel with the same sweeping gesture as the former). As Therese wrote to her dear Celine:
"What most draws down graces from our dear Lord is gratitude, for if we thank Him for a gift, He is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank Him again with the same sincerity, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this, try it and you will see. My gratitude for all He has given me is boundless, and I prove this to Him in a thousand ways."
Try it and you will see! I love Therese's enthusiasm - Celine is down in the dumps and insisting that even if the sun comes up tomorrow, it'll still be a lousy day, but Therese will have none of it! And lest Celine, in true sisterly fashion, is about to accuse Therese of having all the luck, her younger sister has pre-empted her. "Do you think I've got more blessings? I'm sure you have some too, and start with however little you might, I've got a plan for exponential growth in your talent portfolio." I can just see little Therese under a shade tree, playing with her talents like mud pies, smacking and molding them, multiplying them with delight as she separates and stacks them, smiling all the while in the sight of her Heavenly Father.
It's that time of year - a good day for mud pies if you can find some shade; sunny where I live, but then it's almost always sunny where I live. No, though, more than mud pies I'm thinking of apple pies and cherry pies, strawberry-rhubarb pies (your favorite nine pies, even) and the many firework inducing holidays that come in the first half of July.
The other day I was lucky enough to be included in a Canada Day celebration. Today I'll be part of my own country's 4th of July. And in another ten days, there will be a big fete in France, and more importantly in my world, a lovely wedding on the anniversary of a long-ago lovely wedding. I won't get to attend any of these July 14 celebrations, but I'll be praying for France and for Liam and Rose and for Liam's grandparents. As Therese pointed out, prayer in gratitude, especially, is so very powerful, and if you join me, I'm sure we can bring many more graces down on my country and yours, as well as our sister's country - so dear to Jesus that He was forever recommending it to Marcel's prayers. With all these intentions knocking on our hearts, let's break protocol and get our praying in now, before we get distracted and forget what we're about. Ready?
Draw me, we shall run!
Thank You, Jesus, for the many blessings You've showered upon our countries and all the countries of the world. Send Your Spirit of Love to help us be more grateful for all You've given us and more generous in sharing Your gifts. Thank You for the many weddings that will bring together each two lives into one; bless them with children, love, peace and joy beyond reckoning. Bless our countries too. Whatever our histories and our futures, may we live in the Light of Your Love in this world and in the Glory of Your Face for all eternity in Heaven. Amen!
+ + +
And now that we've taken care of business, while we're on the subject of nations and celebrations, wouldn't you know my angel has found for us something more to celebrate? Not the passage in Marcel's Conversations that I'd hoped to offer (about Jesus' favorite "political" party being the prayer party, but there, that was easily enough said), but some words from our Blessed Mother in reply to a good question from Marcel.
After telling us that our role is to love Jesus in joy (how perfect for a day with fireworks!), and after the heartfelt admonition, "Each time I speak to you, I can only suggest the same thing: prayer," Our Lady gives Marcel and us a wonderful variety of ways to pray, including our favorite, the simple glance of love: "When you turn your glance in my direction, remember what I am saying to you now, that will be a very easy manner of praying that you will be able to use many times a day" (261).
Marcel then asks: "Dear Mother, which country will be specially the apostle of the expansion of your reign in the world?"
Our Lady replies: "I do not choose my apostles exclusively in one particular country. I choose them in all the countries and there are some in every country. The army of my apostles is divided into two groups which accomplish the same mission and pursue the same end . . . One of these groups takes it upon itself specially to pray and the other to announce to the world the coming of my reign. Thus, little by little my apostles will become more numerous each day and, thanks to their always-increasing number, they will succeed little by little in establishing my reign. I am pleased to tell you this: I will choose the apostles who will work for the spread of my reign exclusively from the kingdom of the love of Jesus, since, at that time, the world will become the special kingdom of Jesus" (263).
Well that's good news for sure, and just in time really. I'm going to enjoy my hot dog, potato salad, and watermelon much more tonight, knowing that the world will become the special kingdom of Jesus! I have so many countries I love, so many countries that have given me gifts beyond counting, not to mention my very existence, that I couldn't possibly limit my gratitude and celebration to just one. Knowing that the whole world is destined for Jesus (we'd suspected as much, but it's nice to have it confirmed by Mary), I'm happily including every country I can think of in my gratitude list for today.
To give you a preview: My father was born in Lebanon; my mom's mom came from Poland. My father stayed with uncles and brothers in Venezuela (please God, restore peace and sufficient food, water, shelter, and clothing to dear Venezuela), then he lived in Canada with another brother's family, which led to his meeting my mom (across the border) and her German/English father and Polish mother in the U.S.
Living in southern California in a predominately Hispanic town, I have tremendous love and gratitude for Mexico and all her dear people. My husband is Irish, German, and Italian (Sicilian, no less), and how can we fail to mention that our sister Therese is from France, and our brother Marcel from Vietnam? Finally (though not really finally, but for now) our gratitude list would be incomplete without our good Jack K., loyal citizen of the British Empire (God save the Queen!), without whom we wouldn't have Conversations-in-English - a loss we daren't consider lest we cast a pall over the day! Sorry, again, Jack, about that inexcusable waste of tea in Boston - I'm going to have a cuppa today in gratitude for England and all she's given us, not least of all you!
Therese tells us that we can expect even more (yes, more, believe it or not) gifts from God as His response to our response. The initiative is always with the First Mover, but how wondrous the ways He allows us to get in the game. What will He give us next? Our Lady has hinted at it - something about her reign after Jesus'. For those of us in countries less blessed with royalty, the language may sound foreign, but perhaps in deference to Marcel's insistence on Mary's maternity far outshining her queenship, our kind and solicitous Mother explains herself next in terms more familiar. She says:
"If I was happy to accept only Jesus as my child, nobody would have been able to reproach me. However, through pity for you, mankind, I have not disdained to accept you also for my children and it is with all the love of Jesus that I myself have loved you . . ." (265).
And it gets even better! Just as Mary was the one through whom little Jesus came to us, so now she has no other role than to bring us back to Him. What a relief, that we don't need to try to get to Heaven without a mom to nurture us on the way. She explains the whole plan to Marcel (thank you, Marcel, for writing all this down!) as follows:
"In order to show His mercy towards the human race more clearly and wanting me to cooperate in a more obvious manner in the work of the Redemption of men, God has bequeathed me to you as Mother so that you understand that His love for humanity is truly without limits. Therefore I have agreed to be the Mother of the world so as to make known to men the love which God has for them, in such a way that the love I carry for Jesus unites with the love I have for men, my children . . . And if Jesus wishes to establish my reign in the world, following the reign of His love, it is equally so that the world clearly sees His great mercy towards men" (266).
Once when I was a girl, I spent an evening with my Lebanese Grandpa (Gido), and my dad and his siblings at Uncle Mike's house in Windsor, Ontario, watching Miss Universe. It was a blast! We all rooted for different countries - Miss U.S.A., Miss Canada, Miss Venezuela, Miss Lebanon, and I think a few more who were just too beautiful to leave out. I don't remember which lovely lady won the title (and I don't remember what year it was, so even our friend Google can't solve this memory lapse), but thanks to Marcel's Conversations, we have a more lasting answer to our need for a heroine we can all admire. In the midst of the foregoing passages that I've followed Marcel, Fr. Boucher, and our man Jack in transcribing, I left out a sentence that brings together all our countries in a winning solution. Our Lady says to Marcel:
"My child, give me the name Mother of the Universe."
There's no question she's the fairest, her platform is the most far-reaching (nothing less than bringing the entire world to Jesus), and she's in no danger of losing her modesty and humility, knowing as she does that her beauty is entirely from God, only the slightest glimmer of His perfection. What a satisfying ending to a blog post; what a heart-warming beginning to our gratitude!
Thank You, Jesus, for our countries: for their histories - especially when they remembered to invoke Your protection and appreciate Your blessings - and for their futures, upon which we call down Your mercy and providence. Thank You most of all for giving us Your sweet Mother to be our own, the Mother of each of us and the Mother of the Universe. May she hold the whole world in her loving embrace, keeping us close to You and those imps who never wander far from You, Marcel and Therese. Shower us with Your heavenly roses, as well as with fireworks, and may our gratitude increase along with Your gifts, and Your gifts along with our gratitude!
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