You may wonder who these people are in the photo. I can identify the center smiling figure as Servant of God Marcel Van, the little brother of St. Therese and our brother too. But who is the handsome man on the right? Who the sweet girl on the left? I'm thinking they must be Michael Lichens of Catholic Exchange, and Miss Marcel herself. If you're wondering what they're talking about, I've got good news. Thanks to recent advances in modern technology, I can link you to a recording of their conversation where you can hear every word (except when Miss Marcel is giggling because Marcel is so funny - then her words are a little obscured by the laughter, but they mostly come through).
Are you wondering how I can pull this off? Well, full disclosure: I'm not linking you to an archival recording from the time this photo was taken in the 1940's . . . We're very up-to-the-minute, 21st century here at Miss Marcel's Musings, and so I'm about to link you to an interview Michael Lichens did with me not long ago, an interview in which we talk about Marcel for a whole hour! Not long enough, I know, but it was, nonetheless, one of those conversations my friend Jackie used to say is such a great grace. And, thanks be to God and Michael L., this conversation full of grace and truth appeared as a podcast the other day at Catholic Exchange.
Are you ready to eavesdrop? Just below this paragraph you'll find the magic link that transforms you into a fly on the wall so you can listen in. No worries - nothing Kafka-esque about this transformation. As I said, we're very 21st century here, so the experience will be more like Antman, only you won't need a special suit to access your fly-on-the-wall super powers, Simply click your heels three times and say - oh wait, wrong transport. Unless you're wearing ruby red slippers, you'll want to click on the bold words below, that's it, and you'll then find yourself (instantly!) at Catholic Exchange, where you can click again to enter the Wonderful World of Marcel. (Sorry for the two-click system, but think of it as instant gratification with a nano-second time lapse. You'll be there soon enough, and we won't start without you, I promise.) Are you ready? Here's our magic portal:
Fabulous Fun with Marcel in a Podcast!
I don't want to keep you here a moment longer than need be - Marcel is incredibly excited to have you hear our audible musings over at CE! So let's conclude with our quick prayer and then - no seat belt necessary - live dangerously by clicking the bold words above. (The bold words below can work miracles too, but you only need to say them; no clicking required.)
Draw me, we will run!
Now make sure the volume's turned up and go, fly, be free - and have fun with Marcel in a podcast!
You can see I'm not kidding. The veil is very thin, so thin that there in the photo of the famous Dr. Jon Benedict Syren, the veil (he's holding it, can't you tell?) is so thin it's entirely transparent. It's a kind of gift Jon has, his super power, to reduce the so thin veil between heaven and earth to mere atmosphere.
Actually I'm joking when I call him "the famous Dr." because Jon never made it to his med school graduation, but I like the sound of it ("the famous Dr. Jon B. Syren") because it reminds me of Joe Cool and the other great Snoopy persona, "the famous WWII flying ace." Jon Syren was Joe Cool, he was (or would have been) the famous WWII flying ace - he was unstoppable, just the most virtuous, balanced, hilarious Eskie talkin fool for Christ that any of us who know him ever have had the privilege to know. I'm willing to qualify that slightly. If any of us who know him also had the blessing of knowing St. John Paul II, I'd say they were equally cool. Okay, maybe Jon was slightly more awesome, but just slightly. It's a close race between the holy Polish pontiff and the saintly Alaskan husband and father, and since sanctity isn't really a competition, we'll let it go for now.
But wait. You may not have known Jon when he walked this planet, and you may be wondering what he's doing here at Miss Marcel's Musings. Well, today is Jon's feast day, his entry-into-Real-Life day, his birthday into heaven (as well as his daughter's 5th wedding anniversary!), so he definitely merits a post, if not a whole blog of his own.
I met Jon in September of 1983 when we both started as freshmen at Thomas Aquinas College. Jon was the 4th or so in his family to attend TAC. They lived in Alaska and he and brother Lester were late for the start of school that year, having driven down from Alaska in a little Toyota that would become a courier for many Legion of Mary visits, and a fabulous transport for large numbers of students happy to get off campus (thanks to the lack of seat belt laws in those days, and the freedom to ride in truck beds). The brothers were late for school because they'd been at their brother Kermit's ordination to the priesthood before they set off on their journey south. They were late, but better late than never was never truer than in their case.
My classmate Angela was particularly anxious for them to arrive. She'd first fallen in love with Jon in 7th grade when her military dad was stationed up in Alaska and she was in Junior Legion of Mary with Jon (while her mom was in the grown-up group with Jon's mom Kim). That Jon didn't share her crush was not a problem. Their time would come.
Freshmen year brought many blessings to me and my classmates. Not least of all were the kindred spirit soul mate friendships that developed, most notably for me among a group that we came to name The Awesome Fivesome, four of whom were myself and my roommate Jackie Ford (we were the happy twins) and Angela and Jon, who later became, the summer after we graduated, Mr. and Mrs. Jon Syren.
There's Jon Syren, TAC grad . . . I never realized it, but doesn't he look a bit like Matt Damon? As to how he sounded, well it depends on what he was trying to communicate. If it was the first month of seminar, he sounded like a variety of animals. I'm not kidding! Dr. Tom Dillon, our esteemed tutor, had to keep Jon after class one night to instruct him in proper seminar audio expression: "No animal noises, please, Mr. Syren." If he was goofing around with Short-man, Jon sounded like an Eskie. If he was doing the ginsu knife commercial with his brother Les, a Japanese accent was in order. And finally, if he was just his very kind, cool, regular self, well I've always thought he sounded a little like Randy Travis, but that's just my opinion.
More important than how he sounded was what he said, and since we were just doing "one holy maxim is enough to make one a saint," I think I'll go with two (as I said in the post below, one is just way too few!) of Jon's favorite expressions. Ready? Jon Syren, the man, the friend:
"God is so good."
That's a holy maxim I use almost daily. I think I might choose it for the one to make me a saint! But then I love, too, his oft repeated:
"Success is not where it's at."
I love especially that this second holy maxim came from someone who spent the summers between our college years doing pre-med so he could pursue his dream, vocation, and mission to become an obstetrician/gynecologist and help restore dignity to women - without waiting any longer than he had time, without wasting a second, though he didn't realize how short his earthly life would be. I think it's safe to say that even if he'd lived among us in the flesh for another 7 decades (that would have made him near 100), his life on earth would've still been too short.
He did begin to fulfill his dreams when he married Angela on the Feast of Our Lady's Coronation in 1987, and with the birth of their daughter and son (who would've been the first of many, and thanks to God's infinite love did become the first of many, though their 7 siblings came later, after Angela remarried a second saintly man, thankfully one who is still aomng us!). And finally, his dream of being a doctor began coming true with his attendance in the WWAMI program - but as I looked up the spelling of this medical educational program, I realized I'm re-inventing the wheel by trying to tell you about Jon without resorting to his official bio. Here's what it says on WWHAMI's page for the Jon B. Syren award:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. While at Seattle during his third year of medical school, Jon developed a cancer that took his life ten months later in Anchorage on August 3, 1992. He left a wife and two children.
Jon, the youngest of eight children, was born in Anchorage on July 16, 1965, where he attended Abbott Loop School and Service High School. After earning a bachelor's degree at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, he finished his premedical education at the University of Alaska Anchorage. During his medical training, Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine. The student must also be in good academic standing.
+ + +
Not a bad track record for one who seemingly advised against success . . . but Jon's secret was in pursuing sanctity - the Kingdom of God, or by another name: Love - rather than world wide fame and fortune, power, popularity, and all the other things that people often mean by "success." Not surprisingly, according to the words of Our Lord, by pursuing first the Kingdom of Heaven, Jon was given "all other things besides."
I've had the inestimable grace to be with Angela and her husband Jack and their family for this 26th anniversary of his death, this 26th feastday, and it's been a feast indeed. As Angela says often, "The veil is thin." And wow, that deserves third place in my holy maxim list, because she is so right! The Communion of Saints is one of my favorite mysteries, more and more visible to me as I realize how close Heaven is to earth. Really, with Jesus in the tabernacle and coming to us in Holy Communion, the Kingdom of God is absolutely among us. And then, as Angela and Jack and Jon demonstrate so very visibly, the work of the saints continues day in and day out, with fruit beyond counting, beyond measure.
Thanks Jon B. Syren! Thanks Jack and Angela! Thank You, Jesus, for letting me live with the saints!
If you want to get to know Jon, ask for a sunflower - it's his sign of his presence, just like the rose is for St. Therese. And if you want a favor today (or just a sunflower to mark the beginning of a new friendship or the renewing of an old one with Jon), ask away, and tell him Suzie sent you. He never refused me any favor I needed back in the day, nor in all these few years since.
We may have a while before we meet him face to face, and in the meantime, life is short and we have plenty of souls to save (not least of all our own!), so let's get to it! Nothing too big or scary - remember, success is not where it's at, but God is so good that He will surely answer our happy plea:
Draw me, we will run!
It is the feast of St. Alphonsus, our dear Marcel's "holy father," founder of the Redemptorist Order, Doctor of the Church, and all around total sweetheart!
When I first became excited about the Faith, a sweet Rose introduced me to St. Alphonsus Ligouri's books. I wonder if any of you readers remember good Fr. Ronald Tangen (God bless him!) and his mass reproduced editions of St. Alphonsus' works? Fr. Tangen sold them cheaply (especially if you bought them in bulk) and used the proceeds, as well as copies of the books, for the education of seminarians in the Philippines, if I'm remembering rightly.
Wouldn't you know I was a huge fan of those books, and more than once took advantage of the amazing pricing to buy boxes of copies of The Incarnation, Birth, and Infancy of Jesus Christ, The Passion and the Death of Jesus Christ, and The Glories of Mary. I'd distribute them to unsuspecting family members (well actually, they suspected me soon enough!), and put them in the backs of parishes before there were such marvelous things as Lighthouse Media stands. Ah, holy books! Reading about St. Alphonsus in 33 Doctors of the Church recently, I discovered that St. Alphonsus not only wrote these tremendous books (and many more) but he also - very much like me - cared deeply about how his books were produced. He didn't like clunky books, or ugly books. He wanted easily carried, beautiful books so that readers would be able to enjoy them in every way.
Oh good St. Alphonsus!
When I came home from college on vacations, I would often visit my Gido (Arabic for "grandfather") who lived with Yvonne and Charlie. They had married later so had no children, but how much love was in that house! Yvonne would ply me with Turkish coffee and almond cookies; Charlie and I would talk St. Alphonsus. I can still hear his marvelous voice with a bit of a Texas drawl: "Suzie . . . St. Alphonsus de Ligouuuuuuuuri!" We both loved St. Alphonsus and his books, and it was such a joy to discover this common source of grace and light. Charlie was also some degree of cousin, while Yvonne had spent time as a little girl playing around my father's family home, her family and his being close friends. How tremendous that these two married and moved near to my parents' home in Northern California, and were able to have my dear Gido live with them.
Charlie became a third order Carmelite in later years, and when he left this life for the next, you can bet he was welcomed by many of our favorite Saints! A year ago I had the great grace of visiting Yvonne again, and a thrill went through me when, after I asked, "Now what was the date on which Charlie died?" Yvonne told me "April 7th." Charlie's birthday-into-heaven is the same as my birthday-on-earth! Well, that made me feel more special than ever and so happy for these friendships that so easily transcend time and space. I asked Yvonne about Charlie's St. Alphonsus books, and she gave me one (to keep!) that was much older than the ones I had shared with him - a lovely hard cover copy of The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection (which to my surprise and delight turns out to be prayer!). I opened it early this morning, hoping to find a quote for you on this great feast. I flipped to a page marked with a familiar looking Madonna of the Streets holy card. The inscription on the back reminded me that I'd given it to Charlie for Christmas in 1985! And there on the open page it marked was a sentence Charlie had underlined in pen (at least I think it was Charlie, though I am so smitten with this sentence that I wonder if I underlined it after Yvonne gave me the book and I peeked into it). Regardless of who did the underlining, the Holy Spirit was behind it and clearly this was the sentence that Charlie, St. Alphonsus, and that darling Marcel wanted to give us today. I wonder if you'll love it as much as I do? (I don't wonder very much - I know you will!) Here it is:
"One single holy maxim, well ruminated, is sufficient to make a saint.”
Isn't that spectacular?
It got me ruminating right on the spot, though this is not perhaps the holy maxim we want to use, all on its own, to make us Saints! I think it would be much more fun, now that we have the mold, to fill it with something sweet and see if the angels will stir it up into a kind of heavenly confection that not only tastes good (you know, "Taste and see that the Lord is good"), but also make us as holy as Charlie, St. Alphonsus, and Marcel!
So here is my idea.
I'd like to open up the floor for suggestions, contributions, and favorite maxims from Marcel (or those who so love to converse with him from Heaven). You can send me your favorite (via the Contact Me button in the sidebar if you haven't yet been in touch but would like to join the fun), and I'll put up a post soon - maybe about a week hence - with the holy maxims you've sent to me!
I know I'm going to need a week to choose a single one. Oh, but that's sounds too hard (the single one part), so feel free to send more than one if you just can't possibly choose. I can't wait to see what your favorites are, and I'm also looking forward to thinking over mine, especially keeping in mind the lovely (so lovely!) thought of our holy father, St. Alphonsus, that this single holy maxim could, all on its own, make me a Saint! Wow! Of course he did say something about our ruminating well, but I figure we've got two outs. (Not outs as in a baseball game; that would be bad. More like two escape routes).
First, we are so little. As Therese explains, God's justice is just as safe and trustworthy as His mercy, because He knows how little and weak we are and takes that into account. Similarly, He knows how bad we are at ruminating (unless we're really good at it - and then this "ruminating well" won't be a problem!), so we can trust that He'll surely help us become Saints by sheer proximity to a holy maxim, rather than insisting we impress Him with deep thinking about it.
And then too, there's the holiness of the maxim to be considered. I figure if we choose a really super awesome holy maxim (which will be quite easy with so many of them coming from Jesus, Mary our Mother, and Therese to Marcel), that will be another reason why sheer proximity to it (to Wisdom!) could be enough to launch us into sanctity.
If you want to, when you send your fave saying, you can tell something about why you love it or how it's been working miracles in your life, and let me know if I can share that here too. I won't be naming names, except to call you all "Miss Marcel"s and "Mister Marcel"s . . . but wouldn't it be delightful to read about the miracles that Marcel and his holy maxims are working in our lives?
Ah, God is so good! I want to post this before another second of our feast ticks away, so you can rejoice in dear St. Alphonsus' loving solicitude (just like Jesus'!) - what a sweetheart indeed, to give us such freedom and peace in the news that just one single holy thought could be all we need, ever! Not that he'd begrudge us many, many holy thoughts. My goodness, he collected such enormous numbers of holy thoughts, it boggles the mind! If you've never read any of his works, here is a miraculous link that will take you to How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God. Just click on that title, or HERE and you'll see how smart Jesus was to call Marcel to be a son of St. Alphonsus. This great Doctor of the Church was the perfect gentle spiritual guide for our gentle spiritual brother. Although I must say that if I had to choose between any of St. Alphonsus' books - any among all the books written by all the Doctors of the Church, in fact - and Marcel's Conversations, there would be no competition!
Oh! That makes me realize something wonderful! If I ever get asked that "What book(s) would you take with you to a desert island?" question, I now have the answer! Alleluia, that was a troublesome worry in the old days B.C. (Before Conversations), and now Jesus has taken that worry away forever. Thank You, Jesus! Thank You for Marcel, thank you for St. Alphonsus, thank you for St. Therese and St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales and St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and the other Doctors too!
I have it on good authority that it's okay to start that list of Doctors with Marcel's name. The last and littlest shall be first, and in one of Marcel's books (I think in Other Writings), there's a line about St. Alphonsus calling Marcel his "little doctor!"
But I could go on like this all day, which would be pleasant, but I've got to let you go. It's a glorious feast and the Saints are nearer to us than ever, and I need to finish writing so you can finish reading and go have a chocolate lava cake in honor of our holy father! How about we conclude with one of our favorite holy maxims (just to get the ball rolling); one which I'm sure would be enough, all by itself, not only to make us great saints, but all those we love too! Happy feast day, and I hope to hear from you soon! Meanwhile:
Draw me, we will run!
I've written books and articles and even a novel. Now it's time to try a blog! For more about me personally, go to the home page and you'll get the whole scoop! If you want to send me an email, feel free to click "Contact Me" below.