I'm so excited that I don't know where to begin. Let me start by saying "Welcome!" to our guest visitor today, Blessed Fr. Clement Vismara. It's his feast today, and he's a super great friend of Marcel's, and so Marcel and I have brought him over here. Even though my first thought is that we're totally taking him away from the party going on in his honor in Heaven right now, I have to remind myself (or, rather, little Marcel reminds me - he thinks it is SO funny to remind me, since he was always being reminded too when he was in exile) that Father is not leaving his party to be with us - rather we are leaving our humdrum going-ons to join his festivities. And you can see in the picture below, that he's a popular and fun guy. For the men reading this, don't worry that he's surrounded by girls. That's just to show he is a gentle soul and the life of the party. He'll gladly welcome boys to the party too!
So who is Blessed Clement Vismara? I could take Jesus' snarky attitude and tell you, "Blessed Clement Vismara is Blessed Clement Vismara, and I'm proposing him to you as a new friend today, and that's all you need to know!" But okay, besides that I might get in trouble for calling Jesus "snarky" (this is a blog of firsts, I feel)(and Jesus, you know I'm just teasing, right?), I really do want you to know more about him than that.
Father Vismara was a P.I.M.E. missionary in then-Burma (now Myanmar, which tends to take some of the romance out of it, but after you get used to the name it is also very romantic, like Shalimar!), and he was there for 65 years, practically uninterrupted, though he was originally from Italy and just a regular fellow - before he grew the long beard and became a great saint, that is. He did all the cool things that missionaries do in books (and before that, in real life) - he built an orphanage and a church and then another orphanage (one for boys, and then one for girls when he got Sisters to come take care of them) all in the midst of a tropical jungle among people who had never heard of Jesus before. And so on, and so forth, as my friend Fr. Maestrini used to say (and hopefully still likes to say, because it sounds so charming with his Italian accent). Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, also a P.I.M.E. missionary from Italy, comes into the story today because it was he who introduced me to Fr. Clement. Excuse me, I mean Blessed Clement, but he was only Father Clement when Fr. Maestrini introduced us. Okay, I can't pull your leg - I didn't actually meet Fr. Clement in the flesh (hence our need for a relic beside his picture, above). By the time I met him, Father CV was in heaven and well on his way (on earth) to becoming Blessed, thanks to the hard work of his postulators and the promotion by his friends like Fr. Maestrini. In the picture below you can see Fr. Maestrini (way before I knew him, and well before Fr. Clement left Burma for more temperate climes in Heaven) talking to a nice couple who are, no doubt, about to become big donors to the missions. My goodness, if Fr. Maestrini ever gets canonized, he'll be the patron saint of fund-raisers!
We'll save Fr. Maestrini's fuller story for another day, but meanwhile, there was Fr. Clement out in Burma, and here was Fr. Maestrini, first in Detroit, Michigan for 20 years or so (after his 25 awesome years as a missionary to China), and then in West Palm Beach, Florida. Fr. Clement needed money to feed the little children in his care - many of them had been neglected or abandoned because their fathers were addicted to opium and their poor abused mamas had no way of procuring much food for them, and so on, and so forth. But that didn't overly worry Fr. Clement. By the grace of God, he just kept smiling, trusted all to Jesus (knowing our Heavenly Father loved these children much more than he did, and he loved them a Lot!), and then wrote letters to the United States so that Fr. Maestrini could spread the word. Incredibly wonderful letters about the missions and the amazing and hilarious things happening there.
Let's see if I can find you an example. I have with me the book that served as my introduction to Fr. Clement (I mean Blessed Father Clement), and which was given to me by Fr. Maestrini when I first met him (Fr. NM, but then through him Fr. CV) in 2001. Fr. Maestrini was then 93 (almost 94), and his friend Fr. Clement had already left Burma for Heaven 13 years before, in 1988, at the age of 91. You see these missionaries love to live long lives. Once they're past the initial danger of martyrdom by unfriendly natives, they tend to keep going - there's so much work to do, they just can't stop!
As you know (or perhaps have forgotten as I have seemed to, but it's up at the top of this page) we are here together at Miss Marcel's Musings, thanks to the generosity of St. Therese and her little brother Marcel. It's time then, that we beckon to them - they're chatting it up with Fr. Maestrini right next to (and on the lap of) Jesus. Those three don't stray far from the Heart of the party! In fact I hate to interrupt them, so I'll just bring them in peripherally for now. You see, I wanted to tell you that Fr. Vismara was born in 1897, the same year that Therese died. I thought that was a cool conjunction of dates. She became the patroness of missionaries - right alongside St. Francis Xavier, missionary extraodinaire, and I just love that they are equals! - so she must've been quite the patroness of Fr. Clement's missionary work in Burma. And then, guess what else? That book I mentioned, the one that's beside me now and was my intro and from which I'm supposed to be getting a letter to share with you (but my goodness there's so much to tell you!) - well you're going to love the title. It's called (because Fr. Clement is called), "Apostle of the Little Ones." Doesn't that remind you of someone? Jesus called Marcel "the Apostle of Children," so you can see now why Marcel was so eager to get Fr. Clement to make a guest appearance on the blog!
But back to the letter I promised, to give you a picture (besides the ones above) of the adorable and insane life of a missionary. We'll see where the Holy Spirit leads us with this - I'm going to open the book at random and let Him choose. Here goes . . . .
Wow! As usual, God has surprised me! Leave it to the Holy Spirit and things get very interesting. I'm on page 74 of Apostle of the Little Ones . . .This particular letter is called "My Boys are my Life," and it was written in 1934. (Fr. Clement had 54 years of life with his boys ahead of him - how good God was to them all.) We'll start a little before where the Holy Spirit opened the book, so it will read better. (Just like cheeky Marcel to correct God, eh?) Here we go then - these are Fr. Clement's words from Burma:
There is no contrast between rich and poor here. Everyone is poor, and they have no hope of changing or improving their own destiny. Is one of the families starving? Almost invariably, the entire village is starving, too. Trouble shared is trouble halved. Trouble halved is the consolation that encourages them to go on living.
Here in Mong Lin I am considered a gentleman; perhaps this is not a good thing. Let me explain. Everyone thinks I'm a rich man. Although I myself am unable to understand what my wealth consists of and where my assets are. However, when I compare myself with the poor people around me, I come to the conclusion that I want to stay here forever, so I won't have to go back to being a commoner again.
And yet it is a fact that, in addition to everything else, a true religion must indirectly aim towards raising people to a better level, both materially and spiritually. Only healthy eyes are capable of seeing clearly; an empty stomach is not inclined to search for knowledge. If I want to talk like a philosopher as well as a poet, I must add that even though material well-being is in the last place of importance and dignity in a person's life, it is nevertheless first and foremost in the line of vital needs.
Since this is the way things are and we are living in such misery, if it weren't for love or the instinct to survive, people would be better off dead. You shouldn't be shocked that a mother or father, not knowing what else to do to earn a living, should agree to give their own children away for the highest price simply to allow the rest of the family to survive. Although the children who are given away may lose the warmth of their own nest, such as it is, they gain the advantage of a full belly.
I do not believe the missionaries of Keng Tung are in any danger of dying without heirs! In practically every parish of our mission there are orphanages for boys and girls with as many as eight hundred children who are alive simply because the priest or nun is there. If any public speaker would criticize Catholic celibacy, I would be happy if he would support even one percent of the children that I have. I came here about ten years ago, and I don't know how many children I've taken into my orphanage because I've never taken the trouble to count them. But give or take a few, I would guess about two hundred of these little children have come to me, and I have raised them until they were capable of earning their own living. After they left the nest, they flew away--and they're still flying. Some of them have told me, "Thank you!"
. . . . I think that now you may understand the burning desire of a jungle missionary who has eyes for seeing and a heart for loving and is eager to improve the spiritual condition of his people. It's the most natural thing in the world; it's just cause and effect. If one doesn't want to be bothered by this unceasing desire to do more for these people, there's only one way out: don't become a missionary. In other words, don't love. Be like stones.
Although he will wear himself out working for others for as long as he lives, to the point of breaking his back, a missionary will never accomplish his goal of saving the whole world. But this thought does not discourage him. He may be sitting alone by the side of a mountain trail, wiping away the sweat with his shirt sleeve, and he will spontaneously say: Patience! Only God can do it. Leave a bit of work for those who come after.
When you are a missionary, another strange thing happens to you. God grants a hundred fold of all you have given up for His love. I believe that on this entire planet, with the exception of the mission world, there is not one father who is more of a father than I am. And I can prove this with a single indisputable fact: When the father of a family sits down to dinner, one table is enough for his entire family; but when I sit down to eat with my boys, we need at least four tables, each eight feet long, with eight benches just as long. It is the same with my girls in another building.
The "one hundred times over" promise of the Gospel is just an expression. In reality it could even be two or three hundred times over. Someone once said, "There are three beautiful things in the world: children, flowers and stars." Here we have all three: plenty of children, along with the flowers and stars. . . .
In the evening - every evening about six o'clock - I go to the big church to pray the rosary with my little orphans. When we come out, the stars are twinkling in the sky. I close the church door myself because I am always the last to come out, which suits me. The pavement in front of the church ends with three steps, which were built with bricks and covered with cement. The tropical sun heats them so much that they stay warm until late. I sit on the first step, stretch my legs over the third one, and sit there with my nose in the air and my eyes staring up into infinity. My three dogs, which are familiar with their owner's habits and want to enjoy the warmth of the bricks, come quietly to keep me company. All four of us sit there comfortably.
What do I think about? Is it "a nostalgic longing for sanctity," as a Protestant author wrote? Sadness never overwhelms me. I don't know what it means to be sad, even when things go wrong. Immeasurable light-heartedness yes, but never sadness. According to a French writer, there is only one sadness in the world: not to be a saint. At such times, I'm not actually thinking. It's more like sitting dully, sluggish and numb, but never sad.
"Eni, hey, Eni. Bring me my pipe, the big one!"
A little twelve-year-old boy comes running when I call. He's the "man Friday" of my house, which is only eighty feet away from the church. He brings me an ember, a box of local tobacco, and my pipe. Sometimes he's nice enough to fill it and light it for me. Sitting here alone in oblivion with my pipe going, what am I missing? Please tell me, because I don't know. The sky is everything at Mong Lin: in front of me, I can clearly see the Southern Cross, and the North Star is behind me. There are supposedly two thousand stars that I should be able to pick out with the naked eye, but I've never counted the "lilies" of the heavens.
Thousands of fireflies are flitting across the field. They even fly into the church. Stars in the sky, stars on earth . . . and me in between!
. . . If you follow your star,
you can't miss the glorious haven.
When you are born lucky like me (!), you don't need to follow your star. I just needed to remain firm in order to reach the glorious haven. The worst thing that could happen is my pipe could go out.
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There were many places in the above letter where I thought, as I finished typing a sentence, "Now that should complete the excerpt," but then I would make the mistake of reading on, and how could I not share the next sentence, and then the next with you?
Oh glorious saints who were once cheerful workers on earth - share your joy with us as we share your words with each other! Rain down your heavenly roses on us and get Jesus to pour down heavenly graces on our heads. How can we be like you? How can we smile hugely at the plethora of children, flowers, and stars with which God continues to bless even our sad world?
Marcel has an answer for us. Always, and today is no exception.
What can we do when we meet a new Saint and are in awe of his goodness and then (if we pause to think, which we should never do, but we are weak!!) we nearly despair at our own distance from his vision of joy in the simple things, the abundant good with which God surrounds us too? As I say, if you are like me, we nearly despair! But mightn't we instead follow Fr. Clement's example and instead sit daily, sluggish and numb, but never sad? Ha! There's a solution that appeals to me! Unfortunately we are not out on the warm step looking at the stars - we are more likely sitting sluggish and numb before a movie with parts we have to skip! No matter, the saints never despair on our behalf, for they know from whence true virtue and strength and, best of all, cheerfulness comes. All from Jesus, through Mary, and even through the likes of Marcel and themselves. And they will help us! They will never leave us alone with our despair and our middling attempts at entertainment.
If you think about it, they're cheering each other up, even in the Presence of God. Can't you just imagine how much Marcel must make his brothers and sisters, the Saints in heaven, laugh? All they have to do is catch a glimpse of his Conversations, and if they glimpse the right pages, they will be laughing as much as we are. But then, if they - and we - catch a glimpse of some other right pages, we will all be in awe of what Jesus has done with this little boy, what He has taught little Marcel through Therese and His Mother and His own words.
Let's catch a glimpse of some of those best pages. I've found the perfect passage for today, and it will help explain my title above. No, you don't have to scroll up - I'll tell you again, oh forgetful one who so belongs here with forgetful me and Marcel!
The title of this post is DAY 1 - and that's good news, hopeful news really. Hopeful because it presages eight more days; I'm hoping to write for nine days in succession so that we can pray a novena together! I don't want you to get the idea that I'm only about mini-novenas. I love all kinds of novenas! Okay, full disclosure: I'm not a fan of every novena. I'm a total failure at those that have long prayers for every one of nine days, especially if the prayers are different each day. Maybe there is a grain of simplicity in me after all! Or is it holy laziness? (Haha - sounds better with the adjective, doesn't it?)
Regardless, you have nothing to fear from any novena I'd suggest. And I'm not quite clear on this one yet, but it'll come clear as I write, so keep reading for a couple more lines and we'll have it.
My happy idea today is: How about we say a novena together? I'll try, with God's help and Marcel's, to give you nine posts (this is the first) - a veritable novena of Marcel (!!!!!!!!! - nine exclamation points to celebrate, and a tenth to say Thank You to heaven!) - and we'll pray some fun prayer together each day.
Do you have your intentions ready? No worries if you don't yet. Perhaps like Father Clement then and Blessed Clement now, you already have all you want. (Big smile here.) You can pray for my intentions! They add up like the stars in the sky, the flowers in the field, the sand on the seashore - you name it, anything that adds up quickly so as to become almost uncountable is a perfect image of my intentions, which tend to pile up as the days of a novena progress.
But again, no worrying any more ever! Jesus and Marcel and I are not counting on you to already have all you want. In fact, we're counting on you NOT to have all you want, and thus to be motivated to join me in this prayer. You don't have to tell me all your intentions, and I'll keep mine a secret until the last day. Well, by then I won't be able to tell you all of my intentions, since though the internet gives me unlimited space in which to write, my own life does place limits on my writing time. Not to mention the limits on your reading time! I'll just do my best to get here once a day for these nine days, and you do your best to either read what I've got for you (and pray here with me) or if you can't stop by, simply join me with a quick glance to the heavens and a smile - Jesus will know that's your contribution to the day's prayer! And if you forget even the quick glance and a smile, you're a perfect Marcel-ite - if we're all flowers in God's garden, we Marcels and Marcellas tend to be Forget-me-nots. We forget You too often, Jesus, but thankfully You never forget us!
For this special novena, I have three intentions to start with, and those are the three I'll tell you at the end of Day 9. Some of you know me a little better than others do, and you may suspect you know my intentions, but I bet you don't! They came to me all in a rush this morning, and I beg you to pray with me for them, just as I'll include your intentions as I pray . . . And if our intentions (singly and collectively) start piling up so that, thin or thick as they may be, they begin to threaten to reach heaven - well that's the idea! For here is what our brother Marcel has to say about asking for the moon. Finally! You thought I'd never get to him? I certainly thought I'd never make it. This is the passage I found for you this morning - once I got the idea for this novena, tempting as many pages were to quote, I knew just what I wanted (or rather just what Marcel wanted) to tell you. This is from 30 March 1946 of Conversations, at about (341).
Marcel: My dear Mother, I always feel some distaste, but during these latter days, and today particularly, I seem to taste in my soul a little joy. Mother, reminding myself at this time of the method that I use ordinarily to ask something of God, I feel an immense joy. Later, in heaven, I will continue to use the same method without changing anything. God is my true Father. Now, to please Him and to act in such a way that He is always pleased with me, I will not cease to keep close to Him and to ask Him for graces in great number. One might think that this will be very boring for Him, however, I know that His Father's heart is not like that of earthly parents. Yes I know that He is a Father with an infinitely kind heart, that He leaves His children completely free to come and importune Him unceasingly, and that He finds His happiness in this since He can then show them His goodness and His mercy . . . As for me, little Marcel, when I speak to Him, my Father, I will know how to behave like a skillful and importunate little child. When I want to ask Him a favor, I will present myself first of all before Him, or rather, kneeling before Him, I will place both my hands on His knees and I will speak to Him in these terms: "Father, I love you dearly. At this time I have need of a favor, be it for me or for another. In the name of 'Your merits' and of 'Your love' I beg You to grant me this favor." Dear Mother, I am sure that my Father will take pleasure in granting it to me, since I will have prayed in the name of Jesus who is "Merit itself" and in the name of the Holy Spirit who is "Love." I am absolutely certain therefore that He will give me a sign to go and find you, dear Mother, and when I do, I will speak to you like this: "Mother, through pity for me, grant me this favor." Surely, Mother, I will then be comforted. Yes, I will be greatly comforted; however, dear Mother, it is only in heaven that I will enjoy perfect consolation . . . Dear Mother, I love you dearly. Time is up.
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Time is up for us too, so let us simply say, as our first novena prayer, "Oh Marcel! You are little like us and you used to be weak, but even then you knew - at least this once - the perfect way to pray, on earth and in heaven. Now that you are in heaven, remember us who are still stuck on earth. Pray for us, Marcel, to Jesus and Mary, for all the intentions of our hearts: those we can think of now, and those we'll think of later. Take them all for us, your little sisters and brothers, to our loving Heavenly Father too, and with your inimitable charm, obtain for us even more than we think to ask! And then give us a sign of your Heavenly love - a flower, a star, a child in our midst, through which we can see you smiling at us. We love you a lot, little Marcel! Kiss Jesus for us - kiss Him a lot for us!"
Amen! But before I go, here's one last photo of someone you need to meet. This is John C. H. Wu, who on Valentine's Day 2001 first introduced me to Fr. Maestrini who introduced me to Blessed Clement Vismara, whose party we're crashing today. Who is John C. H. Wu? Don't get me started! But come back tomorrow, and if we're lucky, I'll tell you then . . .
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