Last night my husband and I revisited a sermon by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman. I say "revisited" because I first heard this sermon long ago at a Newman Reading led by Dr. Ron McArthur during my freshman year of college. It was the only such Newman Reading I attended, but the sermon stuck with me all these years. Well, sort of.
Come to find out that actually I was making quite a hash of Newman's message with my Miss Marcel memory. (Our brother Marcel Van is always forgetting what Jesus, Mary, and Therese tell him - this was one way I knew we were twins separated at our respective births several decades apart.) But because my angel has often brought back to my imagination the mis-remembrance of that sermon, I asked my husband to read it to me last night.
Okay, full disclosure: we waste more time watching silly movies than any other married couple I know! So whether you are married or single, please don't be overly impressed by our turning over a new leaf and trying to get high-brow in our late middle age! Try as we might, we can't always resist the promptings of these awesome and persevering angels who guard us!
Yesterday was the feast of St. Bartholomew, and the sermon we re-visited is about what we can learn from this Apostle who is none other than Nathaniel (the friend of the Apostle Philip), a figure who first comes to our notice at the beginning of St. John's Gospel.
As I say, my Marcellian memory of the sermon left me with a reversal of the great John Henry's message, which upside down recollection was finally set properly on its feet again last night, thank Heaven. But wow, what a wonderful message it was when I got it straight! It was oddly familiar, astonishingly reassuring, spectacularly cheering. In a word, perfect. And it didn't take me long to figure out why.
Cardinal Newman in this sermon is defending (well before it gained universal popularity through its most famous advocate, St. Therese) the Little Way!
Here is what he says that struck me so profound a happy blow:
"Now, from what occurred in this interview [between Our Lord and Nathaniel/Bartholomew], we gain some insight into St. Bartholomew's character. Our Lord said of him, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!' and it appears, moreover, as if before Philip called him to come to Christ, he was engaged in meditation or prayer, in the privacy which a fig-tree's shade afforded him. And this, it seems, was the life of one who was destined to act the busy part of an Apostle; quietness without, guilelessness within. This was the tranquil preparation for great dangers and sufferings! We see who make the most heroic Christians, and are the most honoured by Christ!
"An even, unvaried life is the lot of most men, in spite of occasional troubles or other accidents; and we are apt to despise it, and to get tired of it, and to long to see the world,—or, at all events, we think such a life affords no great opportunity for religious obedience. To rise up, and go through the same duties, and then to rest again, day after day,—to pass week after week, beginning with God's service on Sunday, and then to our worldly tasks,—so to continue till year follows year, and we gradually get old,—an unvaried life like this is apt to seem unprofitable to us when we dwell upon the thought of it.
"Many indeed there are, who do not think at all;—but live in their round of employments, without care about God and religion, driven on by the natural course of things in a dull irrational way like the beasts that perish. But when a man begins to feel he has a soul, and a work to do, and a reward to be gained, greater or less, according as he improves the talents committed to him, then he is naturally tempted to be anxious from his very wish to be saved, and he says, 'What must I do to please God?' And sometimes he is led to think he ought to be useful on a large scale, and goes out of his line of life, that he may be doing something worth doing, as he considers it.
"Here we have the history of St. Bartholomew and the other Apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to Him, if improved duly,—nay, affords means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an Apostle. Bartholomew read the Scriptures and prayed to God; and thus was trained at length to give up his life for Christ, when He demanded it.
"But, further, let us consider the particular praise which our Saviour gives him. 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!' This is just the character which (through God's grace) they may attain most fully, who live out of the world in the private way I have been describing,—which is made least account of by man, and thought to be in the way of success in life, though our Saviour chose it to make head against all the power and wisdom of the world."
As if this weren't enough, my happy reversal was crowned this morning by an email from our dear friend Jack Keogan, translator of our brother Marcel's writings into English. Jack was writing to share a story from Venerable Cardinal Van Thuan, the first postulator of Servant of God Marcel Van, a postulator who gave up the position to go join Jesus and Marcel in Heaven, and who has promptly shot past little Marcel on the path to canonization, as you can see from their titles!
The story Jack (and Cardinal Van Thuan) shared is a remarkable postscript to Cardinal Newman's sermon because it takes us a step further on the Little Way, teaching us how to pray. Here is what Jack wrote, or rather transcribed for us from the book Five Loaves and Two Fish by Cardinal Thuan:
There was an old man called Jim who would go to church every day at noon for just a few minutes, then he would leave. The sacristan was very curious about Jim's daily routine and one day he stopped him to ask:
Why do you come here every day?
I come to pray, Jim answered.
That's impossible! What prayer can you say in two minutes?
I am an old ignorant man. I pray to God in my own way.
But what do you say?
I say: "Jesus, here I am, it's Jim" and then I leave.
After some years Jim became ill and had to go to hospital where he was admitted in the ward for the poor. When it seemed that Jim was dying, a priest and a nurse - a religious Sister - stood near his bed.
The priest asked:
Jim, tell us how it is that from the day you came to this ward everything changed for the better? How is it the patients have become happier, more content and friendlier?
-I don't know. When I would walk around, I would try to visit everyone. I I greeted them, talked a bit with them. When I couldn't get out of bed, I called everyone over to me to make them laugh, to make them happy. With Jim they are always happy!
-But why are they happy?
-Well, aren't you happy when you receive a visitor? asked Jim.
-Of course, but we have never seen anyone come to visit you.
-When I came here I asked you for two chairs. One was for you, Father, and one was reserved for my visitor.
-But what guest? the priest asked.
-I used to go to church to visit Jesus every day at noon. But when I couldn't do that any more, Jesus came here.
-Jesus came to visit you? What does He say?
-He says: " Jim, here I am. It's Jesus."
Before dying, Jim smiled and gestured with his hand towards the chair next to his bed, as if inviting someone to sit down. He smiled for the last time and closed his eyes.
+ + +
Jack continued his email thus:
Cardinal Thuan explained that prayer is a very simple act that triggers a relationship between man and God. He went on to say: "Often we behave rudely during prayer, talking endlessly, never allowing God the opportunity to say a word!"
* * *
Naturally, I (Miss Marcel) was quite concerned at this last statement of the Cardinal. It's precisely this kind of comment that makes Marcel my favorite saint, even if he's never canonized, even if Cardinal Thuan lived a very impressive life (he did) and becomes St. Van Thuan while our little Marcel remains merely a happy little Servant of God forever. Because it's not for nothin' that my mom called me Chatty Cathy once or twice . . . I'm not arguing with the Cardinal's point that we can be, perhaps, a bit talkative at prayer, but I love to read Marcel to know all the rest I need to know about this conversation with the One we know loves us, and how He responds to our blah-de-blah'ing.
When Marcel, who is just like us, sometimes chatters on and forgets to listen to Jesus or Mary's replies to his questions and comments, Our Lord and Our Lady simply tease him out of it! So really, Marcel shows us that we needn't worry too much that we never allow God the opportunity to say a word. If even Our Lady has the power to interrupt us and laughingly make sure her word gets said, how much more our Blessed Triune God can do so, He Who is all-powerful!
But I love the lesson Jack draws from Cardinal Thuan's story. Our hero (for how can the man who gave us English-speakers the writings of Marcel Van be anything less than our hero?) says:
This reminds us of Saint Therese's first meeting with Van: "So, when you speak to the good God, do so quite naturally as if you were talking to those around you. You can speak to him of anything you wish: of your game of marbles, of climbing the mountain........."
Ah yes! We can speak to Him of reading a sermon, of having remembered it wrong for decades.....of reading a blog post, of living a quiet life.......
Let's be natural with God! He has so supernaturally set aside all the trappings of His Divinity so that we won't be shy of Him. Like Marcel, speak to Little Jesus. Tell Him all that's on your mind and in your heart. And yes, sure, pause for breath and let Him get a word in edgewise. He'll be amazed by your manners!
I have a surefire way of doing this myself: I open up Marcel's Conversations, and there I see what Jesus has to say to me. You might have another favorite spiritual book. The Gospels are ideal. But most of all, be yourself.
If you're anything like me and like "most men" of whom Cardinal Newman makes mention, you live a life that is not fascinating even to yourself sometimes! That's okay, it is always fascinating to Jesus because He loves you infinitely. He can't get enough of your little stories, so don't be afraid that your life, however small or large its scope and influence, will bore him. Never! Here is what He said to me this morning so that I could say it to you now. From His words on October 8, 1945 to Marcel (and all of His words to Marcel He assures us are meant for us too):
"My little flower, how beautiful you are! But I do not want your beauty to appear externally . . . I will use the appearance of your simplicity in order to hide you in my hands . . . My little flower, the more beautiful you are, the more you will be smothered with caresses."
Those caresses are from Jesus to your soul, and they are just for you, as your beauty is just for Him!
How marvelous it is that regardless of our littleness - no, even because of it! - Jesus Who is all beautiful loves us without ceasing. As He says to us, again in Conversations, this time at (374):
"The glance of your weakness is still more powerful than mine. Yes, a single glance of your weakness suffices to charm my Love and to draw my heart to you . . . "
Thank You, Little Jesus! And though You don't have to wait long for our weaknesses to show themselves, still in case we forget to glance at You, we ask that You please do not cease to glance at us! Ah, You are God! You won't forget!
Draw me; we will run!
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