When I was a little girl, I was sure that Christmas was the greatest Holy Day. I was shocked (and more than a little appalled) when a teacher at my Catholic school explained to me that Easter was the biggest Holy Day. I urgently pleaded my case. “But there would be no Easter,” I said, “without Christmas. Jesus had to be born first.” Alas, my argument did not move her, and rather than believe she was adamantly persisting in her error, I decided she must be right – thankfully, I have never been a good heretic, or maybe, I should say, never a willing one – though I didn’t see the reasons for Easter’s preeminence at the time.
I mention this now because the full truth has dawned on me this past Easter weekend of the Octave. But before I explain, let me be the first in eons to congratulate World Culture for its magnificent celebration of the great and high Holy Days.
Okay, so the Easter Bunny still evades sensible interpretation, but Santa Claus (and his many international aliases) is so close to St. Nicholas and the Christmas spirit, and I am so enamored of gifts (Jesus and the Holy Spirit being the greatest of these, but wrapped ones being a lovely fill-in too, in my book), and the delightful custom of sharing family photos and the stories of the year in Christmas letters and Mass cards for those far from us but dear to our hearts, not to mention sparkly lights in darkness (on trees! In the house!) and midnight vigils, seasonal music both secular and sacred, and finally mountains of chocolate and candy for children and all who are children at heart – the real keeping of the Feasts of Christmas and Easter after the little fast of Advent and the big fast of Lent, even if it was "only" giving up sweets – all of these remarkable and joyful traditions let even the most Godless among us (and none of us can really be Godless or we would cease to exist; He thankfully does not stop believing in us, and thus keeps instant annihilation at bay) know that Christmas and Easter really matter.
Let the Bah Humbugs decry the corporate backing, commercialism, and consumer greed that go along with stores lit up like Christmas trees (and with Christmas trees!) from the day the Halloween (I mean All Hallow’s Eve) “season” ends, and the similar appearance of gaudy, enormous Easter baskets and bunnies the moment the St. Valentine’s Day season comes to a close at midnight February 14th… Nonetheless, I am not willing to censure the commercialization of the Holy Days if it keeps them before us, especially before the wide-eyed children, as Days of Eternal Magic.
There is truth in Eternal Magic and it is nearer than we might think (especially those of us who find ourselves in the mayhem and fracas of last minute Christmas shopping or the late night Holy Saturday search for the right size plastic eggs to fill with candy and hide in the yard) to Eternal Mysteries.
A brief word to our sponsor: thank you, corporate America for the contribution of keeping Christmas and Easter on the calendar in a big way. (I don’t know who, besides Al Gore, is responsible for the Internet, but let’s just say corporate America, while not sponsoring me personally, seems to be behind this one too, so why not thank It?)
But now, back to our regularly scheduled program, which today is on The Ranking of Days. Because it all came together for me this weekend when I had an Epiphany on Divine Mercy Sunday about my Birthday. (Ah, the third competitor for top dog enters the fray!)
As I found myself telling a friend recently (and with great excitement), “This year, my birthday falls on April 7th!”
I quickly realized I was not effectively expressing my perennial joy at the annual Magic and Mystery of my birthday being not just any old day but also a Movable Feast. Coming as it does every year on April 7 (see, I am not as blonde as I sound), depending on the date of Easter, my birthday often falls within the Easter Octave. It has sometimes been on Easter itself (thus partially accounting for, in those years, on that Day, the extraordinary Delight of the Universe), sometimes in Easter week, and sometimes on Divine Mercy Sunday. Okay, it has also been known to fall in Holy Week, and Henri Daniel-Rops, for one, even speculates it was perhaps the first Good Friday, but how wonderful is that? God is so mighty and so merciful – Jesus died of Love for us, and maybe even on my birthday back in about 33, but, in my personal recorded history (which as far as birthdays are concerned goes at least back to 1971, the year of the great Donkey Pinata Disaster – one of Jesus’ and my favorite little stories, but a story for another time), He has spared me the dilemma of a birthday on Good Friday.
I know none of the readers here could ask, “Why a dilemma?” Clearly Good Friday is Good Friday and the one day of the year that obliterates a birthday entirely. Or so I’m guessing. Watch, April 7 will fall on Good Friday next year! And I will manage to find a way of celebrating nonetheless, but for now and up until such a conjunction may occur, I’m happy to have more Easter-y birthdays . . .
Such as the one this past weekend, now extending into its own birthday octave. I know if we were in better communication (instant personal contact of a science fiction variety – maybe mental telepathy, for instance), you would now be wishing me many Happy Returns of the Day. Thank you! Feel free to send your guardian angel to give me a holy kiss and to give Jesus and Marcel kisses for me in honor of my happy day. Because it was So Happy. Ridiculously, absurdly, surreally, Happiest Day of My Life happy. Since such Joy is made to be shared, let me tell you why it was over-the-moon joyful. It did have, in some measure, to do with our Marcel, so I find it pertinent here. Plus it's just as much fun to re-live as it was at the time . . .
For the purposes of the rest of your life (which I hate to mention, but which you may be neglecting at this moment in order to read Miss Marcel’s Musings, and for that I both give you a dispensation and congratulate you – as we are still in the Octave of April 7 and thus I am still Birthday Queen) – as I say, in the interest of letting you get back to some other activity before another year passes, I will not report my birthday to you in real time or with all its 53 gifts. Because yes, after midnight (when I happily did not turn into a pumpkin) on my birthday, when I finished recording all the gifts heaven and earth showered upon me, I reached the number of my years! Not that I was recording every specific gift, but they came into categories which added up to 53 . . . Don’t panic; I am not going to regale you with the infinitude in its particulars. I’ll only tell you of the best gift, which comprises 5 gifts but was recorded as one. The one, in fact, from our little brother Marcel and his entourage!
Let me start by saying it has been a dramatic 10 days in my Marcellian universe. Recently my French contact informed me that Les Amis de Van Editions of Marcel’s works would be available very soon on amazon.com. He was right! They became available through amazon! Thus I was able to reply to a reader who’d clicked the “Contact Me” button in the sidebar to the right and asked where, besides France, she could procure Marcel’s books, that: Voila! She could now purchase these very authentically French editions – but in English – on amazon! That easily! For only $25 each and free shipping!
That was on Spy Wednesday, Holy Week.
Imagine my awe when I realized my French connection had sent me links not just for Marcel's Collected Works (which by God's mercy I have in my house and carry about with me frequently) but also for two books outside Marcel’s own oeuvre: namely, Father Boucher’s Short History of Van and a new book, hot off the press and just translated to boot, Nguyen Van Thuan and Marcel Van - Two Lives, One Mission, about Marcel and Cardinal Van Thuan, his first postulator and now Venerable himself! The first book written by Van’s own “bearded Jesus,” and the second written by Cardinal van Thuan’s sister (the sister of a Saint!) and Marcel’s current postulator, the wonderful Benedictine Abbot Dom Roulhac. Wowza!!!
Imagine my second wave of awe when I discovered that Jesus would not allow me to turn Holy Week into Easter quite yet. The books, when I pursued them on Holy Thursday or Good Friday (I forget now which day, but it was eternally predestined for sure) suddenly showed up on amazon as “Currently Unavailable.”
To quote my favorite comic strip, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!!!!”
Don’t worry. When it comes to books, I am nothing if not persistent. After alerting my Frenchman – and yes, it was Holy Thursday, I remember now because I wrote to him, “I am sorry to tell you this at the beginning of the Holy Triduum . . . maybe it will fix itself by Easter Sunday” – I hoped, whether by internet gnomes or Real Live Amis de Van angels, the situation would right itself so that I could order these two treasures for my birthday.
Day in and day out, it became my 2018 Easter Octave ritual to check if the books had become currently available, and while I did not obsessively check their amazon status every four minutes (I don’t have the internet at home, so that would have been a challenge even for me, even for such an important quest), I did check once every day or two.
Meanwhile I contacted the lovely woman who had contacted me, and asked, hopefully, “Did you (please tell me you did!) order the Marcel books off amazon the instant I told you they were there?” Her Easter-y reply was a resounding, “Yes! On Wednesday and they arrived Monday! But when I went to order more, they were gone!” The gist of her reply was that God was very, very good – she had asked instantly and received nearly instantly, thank Heaven, since that window was quickly shut.
I persisted in my hope that the books would soon be available again, and further hoped that I would see them the instant they became available, order them immediately, and receive them in time for them to be my birthday gift from Marcel.
A word is in order here about Marcel and his status in Heaven.
He is St. Therese’s little brother and indeed “A second Therese.”
She said to her sisters that they’d “Find her in the mailbox” and that she wanted to spend her Heaven doing good on earth – that she’d work, until the last trumpet sounded, to help us know God’s love and to love Him in return as much as she did.
So, given that Marcel is the second Therese (so named by Jesus), I'm convinced that Marcel is also working for this goal of showing us God's love and getting us to love Him in return, and not only does he absolutely thrill to meet us in the mailbox, but I think his job in Heaven is as the mail deliverer!
Because last year at this time (or to be precise, a week ago at this time), I said to my husband, “I don’t know what you can get me for my birthday. Nothing, really, because the only thing I want cannot be had for love or money.”
I was so wrong! First off, I love gifts, so there were plenty of things he could get me! But more specifically I was wrong because while it was true that the only thing I really wanted – Marcel’s Correspondence – could not be had by me at that time for money, it could (everything can, if you don’t bar miracles) be had for Love.
I had discovered (or been discovered by) Van some months prior and had procured his Conversations and Autobiography (the first a gift from Therese the day I finished a manuscript on her; the second my husband's 2016 Christmas present to me) – but there was a third volume, that of his letters, in English and in print, at least apparently. I could see a picture of it on the internet, but couldn’t find it anywhere to buy. Finally I found it in the Les Amis de Van boutique (online), but I was shy of ordering from a French website. Especially since I couldn't figure out the price or payment method (not their fault, but I am techno-challenged).
I am also, as I said, persistent.
I did, then, hurl what felt like a couple of very random boomerang emails out into the cyber universe, hoping SOMEONE out there would help me find this book of Marcel’s letters. He even nudged me twice in the Conversations, mentioning his letters in such a way that I knew he wanted to give them to me. If only I could find them!
April 1, 2017: it is a week before my birthday (last year) and I check my email inbox.
It us my lucky day!
How did I know it was my lucky day?
A certain Jack Keogan told me so in no uncertain terms. His email said, "It is your lucky day!" because he would be happy to send me a copy of the Correspondence! For free! Out of the goodness of his heart!
Because he accidentally ordered two?
Who is this Jack K., and how did he come to have two copies of Marcel’s Correspondence in English???
Jack is a man of the “Where there is no love, put love, and there you will find love” (St. John of the Cross) school of thought. He is the man who, when he called Les Amis in 2002 and found that no, they didn’t have a copy of Marcel Van’s Autobiography in English because it had not yet been translated, spontaneously offered to translate it for them . . . This may have happened to you at one time. Possibly on the spur of the moment you proposed to someone (or accepted a proposal), and then found yourself involved in a project of Love for the rest of your life!
Have you ever seen a youngest sibling finally in charge of someone or some thing? It is adorable and comical to see the baby finally able to boss around another, be it only a stuffed animal.
Marcel is that little one, that beloved baby of the family, and my goodness it is hilarious to see how he no sooner wins our hearts than he’s got us doing his bidding! Before you know what’s hit you, you’re spending more than a decade translating his complete works, or tossing aside your resolution to never have a blog so that you can have a Marcel Blog and more fun than you thought possible in this land of exile!
And so, last year, Marcel came through (through Jack, in fact) and for my birthday I received my heart’s one desire.
Imagine – or, rather, share with me! – my ineffable joy when just two days before my birthday, on Easter Thursday I saw Marcel’s books available on amazon again! To heighten the wonder and firmly establish this as a Miracle of Exquisite Solicitude (I guess they all must be such, but I felt this one in the fullness of His Tenderness), the books were now available on “Prime” – and there it was written for all to see in bold internet ink: “Have it by Saturday, April 7!”
It was but a moment’s work to sign up for a month of Prime membership and order the books. A set of the Amis editions of Marcel’s writings and, most importantly, Fr. Boucher’s book and the new book on Marcel and Cardinal van Thuan.
Now (welcome to my emotional rollercoaster), imagine my dismay when, at the “checkout” page, I saw that the books would arrive in my mailbox on Tuesday, April 10th with free shipping. Or, alternately, I could pay $59.95 extra to have them on Saturday, April 7.
I turned to my friends, the Google elves. They quickly provided the customer service phone number for amazon, and I soon found myself explaining my deep sadness to Bryan Q, customer service representative with a wonderful Indian accent. And the kindest man, after my husband and my friend Jack K., whom I’ve ever met. Because he said, becoming the Quintessence of Kindness, “I understand. And since you thought they would arrive on Saturday, and since it is your birthday, I can waive the fee this one time, and you will have these books on your birthday, at no extra charge.”
I know that amazon.com is not my best friend. For my semi-autobiographical account of my love-hate relationship with them – and if you like to laugh – read my novel The Paradise Project. Click the title to see it available, like Marcel’s books are, on amazon; we are doing what we can to redeem the internet. But first, let’s finish this little story of the the happiest-day-of-my-life-birthday.
April 7, 2018: It was supposed to rain in my neck of the woods (usually great news, though not my favorite birthday weather), but turned out to be sunny and eventually clear, just the best in weather that the universe has to offer us here on Earth. I got to Mass and Confession. I had even been particularly irritable during the Easter octave up to this point, so had some good sins to confess – what a relief! Am I the only one with such a bad memory? I know I sin – that is not in question – but how embarrassing to never remember the particulars! On the other hand, I thank You, Jesus, for sparing me intimate self knowledge of that kind, and giving me knowledge of Your Love instead!
Aside from the sacraments (or, rather, including them), the day was one joyful surprise after another. I wish I could tell you every single delightful surprise, but I promised you I wouldn’t keep you here for 24 whole hours . . . So let’s jump to the moment when the Fed Ex man handed over a package from amazon.com. Haha, Marcel – you didn’t find me in the mailbox! You found me standing on the sidewalk outside my house! But the joke was on me, because you made it the 2nd Annual Make-a-Wish birthday dream with your gifts of yourself and, by definition, Jesus!
All of which leads me to this conclusion:
Deferring in all things to Holy Mother Church, I readily admit that Easter is the Highest Holy Day. But since Jesus defers in all things to us (have I mentioned that you will love His Conversations with Marcel? There you will find His explanation of how He and the Father do our will more than we do theirs – but for now, instead of an argument from Divine Reason and Authority, I will give you a teensy tinsy argument from induction, which means from my one example) – as I say, since Jesus defers in all things to us, my birthday, my happiest day of the year, falls with bliss-inducing frequency in the Easter Octave where it becomes a Solemnity and Highest Holy Day (as well as my favorite day of the year) thus solving the “Which is better? Christmas or Easter?” dilemma.
Not only that, but the best gifts in the world turn out to be not of this world, but from Heaven, whose residents slyly use their earthly minions to deliver the goods. So thank you Jack Keogan, thank you Bryan Q, thank you C. in France, thank you Les Amis de Van, and most of all thank you Marcel-Jesus, Jesus-Marcel, and Therese who boldly said "I choose all!" with full confidence you would receive it. Truly, we obtain from Him as much as we hope for! And if you, dear reader, fear that you do not hope enough, please do not worry. My birthday gift to you is an abundance of hope – which I happily hope for you: the hope itself, and all the Gifts of Heaven and earth for which we hope! – so your job is simply to be prepared to receive.
As Truth Himself so truly said to Marcel on Easter Sunday, 1946:
“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)
I love making mischief with Marcel, and my best advice is to tell Him that you don’t understand, but you will believe it when you see it! Ha! That should produce results!! Kind of like a Divine Dare! Of course, if you do understand, you can simply tell Him so with a big smile. And whether you understand yet or not, do tell Him you love Him a lot. He loves to hear you say it!
And finally, if you have the funds now, I offer at the bottom of this post the links to Les Amis’ Marcel books on Amazon. The four volumes of Marcel’s own writings are just $25 each, and with or without a Prime membership, shipping is free and I’m confident you'll get them quickly. Marcel just can’t wait to meet you in your mailbox! Fr. Boucher’s book and the book on Cardinal van Thuan and Marcel are both less than $25, and similarly have free shipping. And if these books are beyond your budget, do save your pennies (even pick them up off the street!) and soon Marcel, who was poor too, will help you amass the funds needed. When I first found Conversations online (having providentially found his Autobiography in our library here at Thomas Aquinas College), I couldn’t afford it, but eventually saved enough money to order and receive it at just the right moment. Along these lines, here is what Therese told Marcel in their first conversation (which he recounts it in the Autobiography):
“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 . . . This 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 of us. You don’t have to complain any more, since Therese has always been your Therese and you, Van, have always been equally the little brother of Therese, since the moment when we existed, both of us, in the thought of God.” (Autobiography, 592)
Therese never hesitated to paraphrase God’s word to make His point. Let me paraphrase her, then, in order for you to know the truth: You don’t have to complain any more, since Marcel has always been your Marcel, and you, dear reader, have always been equally the little sister or brother of Marcel, since the moment when you existed, with Marcel, in the thought of God!
If you are able to hop over to amazon and take advantage of Marcel’s charming new availability, congratulations! I recommend starting with Conversations, but let the Holy Spirit move you as He will (or choose all, if you are able). And if you must work to procure the funds to procure Marcel’s books, know that you do not have to work to procure his love. He loves you already, and I will keep writing about him here so that your friendship with our little brother can continue to grow.
Oh, and in case I don’t get a chance to tell you when your high holy feast rolls around:
Many happy returns of the day!!!
And without further ado, here are some gifts for you from Marcel and his French friends:
Marcel’s Conversations with Jesus, Mary, and Thérèse
Marcel’s Other Writings
Fr. Boucher’s Short History of Van
Nguyen Van Thuan and Marcel Van - Two Lives, One Mission
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.