Recently when we happened to muse upon Jesus' kisses here, I made sure to be clear that in Marcel's vocabulary, kisses are kisses. This might sound obvious to you - what else would they be? - but I wanted to distinguish the Jesus/Marcel kiss that is a kiss from the Jesus/Mother Teresa kiss that is suffering. And just in time, as Providence would have it! For sure enough, right at the beginning of week 3 in our 33 Days, at almost the first possible opportunity to talk about Mother Teresa, yesterday Fr. Gaitley quoted the famous incident she often related of her conversation with the suffering woman who, upon hearing that her suffering was the kiss of Jesus, asked Mother Teresa to ask Jesus to stop kissing her!
It's a great story, but it forces me to sound like a broken record because, come suffering or sweet consolation, I want to make sure it's known that for Marcel and Jesus, kisses are kisses.
This morning I was on a train headed for Los Angeles (don't worry, thanks to God's mercy I'm already home again, our errand in the City of the Angels having been speedily accomplished) and found myself sadly without my handy copy of Conversations. I wasn't wholly bereft, however, having recently purchased Story of a Soul for my e-reader, and having my e-reader in hand as we hurtled forward.
You might think it was a very romantic train ride when I tell you that I was thinking about kisses. It was romantic because my husband was beside me, but it wasn't romantic because it was about 6 a.m. and we were surrounded by commuters (very kind commuters, but we'll get to that soon enough). And I was thinking about kisses because I was reading the Bible (also on my e-reader - thank You, Jesus). And in particular, I had begun that gorgeous book of kisses, The Song of Songs. Romantic with Divine Romance, it begins, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth," or in another translation, "Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth."
Since the Bible is God's love letter to us, and this book above any other sounds like a love letter, it behooves us to know just what kisses it is we're asking for here. Also with Fr. Gatiley's Mother-Teresa's-suffering-is-Jesus'-kiss story fresh in my mind from yesterday, it was imperative that as a second little Marcel, I explain to Jesus just what kisses I wasn't asking for here.
I'd been struck even at that early hour - or perhaps especially at that early hour - by the kindness of the people we'd met thus far on our journey. It seemed to me that each of their acts of mercy and consideration toward us (and already these were piling up) was like a kiss from Jesus. How wonderful! When I prayed "Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth," I had to acknowledge that Jesus had been doing nothing else but kissing us all morning. And then I wondered what Marcel would say about my thought, about kisses, about everything.
The first Marcel being safely asleep at home, I turned to his sister Therese, always available in a pinch, a sort of ever accessible emergency contact. And since I had the digital version of her memoir with me, it was but the work of a moment to search "kiss" in those delightful pages.
Since Marcel loves being exactly like his sister and following her in everything, I knew that her doctrine on kisses, especially as found in his favorite book, Story of a Soul, would be his too. Did she have any kisses recorded there? I know Marcel and Jesus (and Mary and Therese) speak frequently of kisses in Conversations - asking for them, reporting them given, and generally making sure we readers know kisses are an important part of a healthy diet of love - but what about Therese in her autobiography? Had she known much about kisses before her little brother showed up in such need of them?
Absolutely! And the progression of Therese's kisses in Story of a Soul is a marvelous mirror of the progression of her love of (and from) Jesus. There are no less than 16 mentions of earthly kisses of affection within her family in the first pages of her Story - and that's just to get us to the place where she talks about Jesus' first kiss to her!
Since we're talking especially about Jesus' kisses and wondering what they mean and signify, let's go directly to that 17th mention of a kiss. Let's see what Marcel learned about Jesus' kisses when he read Story of a Soul, and what we can learn along with him.
Therese is talking about her First Holy Communion. She's been describing the day, setting the scene, sharing many particulars with us, but then she writes:
"I don't want to enter into detail here. There are certain things that lose their perfume as soon as they are exposed to the air; there are deep spiritual thoughts which cannot be expressed in human language without losing their intimate and heavenly meaning; they are similar to ' . . . the white stone I will give to him who conquers, with a name written on the stone which no one KNOWS except HIM who receives it.'"
I must comment here on one difference between Therese and Marcel. They both wrote under obedience to their immediate God-given superior (Therese to her sister and mother superior, Mother Agnes; Marcel to his "bearded Jesus" and novice master, Fr. Boucher), but Marcel is also writing in very direct obedience to Jesus, Who has told him to write down everything (and, most importantly, bearded Jesus has given his Church-sanctioned stamp of approval to this plan). I love that Marcel is not concerned to save any perfume! He's another Magdalene, breaking his alabaster flask of spiritual nard at Jesus' feet, and ours.
Therese has been a touch misleading, though, if she's made us think she's stingy with details, despite her observation about the beauty of reticence. She too is a Magdalene and must spill the beauty of her love and the story of her Lover's kiss. For she writes in plain language for us:
"Ah! how sweet was that first kiss of Jesus! It was a kiss of love; I felt that I was loved, and I said: 'I love You, and I give myself to You forever!' There were no demands made, no struggles, no sacrifices; for a long time now Jesus and poor little Therese had looked at and understood each other. That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two, Therese had vanished as a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean."
That's what we, little Marcels, are asking for when we ask Jesus to kiss us! That is what Jesus-of-Marcel (or better yet and more precisely, Jesus-Marcel) is offering us when He promises us His kisses. Ah, that He may be everything for us; that we may give Him everything forever (which is what we're preparing to do these 33 days), and may we repeat with Therese what every lover feels when kissed by her beloved:
"There were no demands made, no struggles, no sacrifices . . . "
Believe me, I know that struggles and sacrifices and that other awful "S" word, suffering, will come. That's how things work in this valley of tears, but that doesn't mean there's no honeymoon, no foretaste of Heaven, no Jesus. And even though it may well be Jesus Himself who asks us to offer our suffering as a way to show Him our love, let's not worry that this is the meaning of a kiss. Marcel (and Jesus through Marcel) writes for the very littlest ones, and let there be no mistake: for a little one, a kiss is a kiss! Not to mention that a sigh is a sigh, and yet so much more, both of them being our ways of saying to Jesus: I love You, and I give myself to You forever.
Therese touches on this bit of Heaven contained in His kisses when she tells, in further pages of her memoir, of the times she and Celine spent in holy conversation when they were a bit older. She writes:
"I don't know if I'm mistaken, but it seems to me the outpourings of our souls were similar to those of St. Monica with her son when, at the port of Ostia, they were lost in ecstasy at the sight of the Creator's marvels! It appears we were receiving graces like those granted to the great saints. As the Imitation says, God communicates Himself at times in the midst of great splendor or 'gently veiled, under shadows and figures.' It was in this way He deigned to manifest Himself to our souls, but how light and transparent the veil was that hid Jesus from our gaze! Doubt was impossible, faith and hope were unnecessary, and Love made us find on earth the One whom we were seeking. 'Having found us alone, He gave us His kiss, in order that in the future no one could despise us.'"
I know how Therese feels. I've been blessed more than once over the years with the glorious grace of a heaven-sent conversation about spiritual things, and it does lift one up into the cloud of witnesses and near to Jesus' kisses. Being Goodness Incarnate, He will kiss us!
Can I tell you which heaven-sent conversations bring me Jesus' kisses these days?
I am smiling, imagining it's not hard for you to guess!
I feel Jesus' kisses most abundantly when I read Marcel's Conversations . . . when like Marcel did, I read Story of a Soul . . . when I speak to you here of our brother's and our sister's words . . . and finally and most wonderfully, when I tell you about Jesus' words and kisses that I've found in the pages of their lives. Then, like Therese felt with Celine, I feel like we too can say "How light and transparent the veil that hides Jesus from our gaze! Doubt is impossible, faith and hope are unnecessary, Love makes us find on earth the One whom we are seeking!"
Can you believe how lucky we are?!
We will all suffer, and I pray that we will all find Jesus in our suffering as we find Him in our consolations. But His kisses are not reserved only for such times of suffering, not for souls as little as ours. Jesus told Marcel again and again that it was Marcel's weakness and littleness, his great and desperate need for Jesus that brought Him near, so near that He promises they will never be separated!
Speaking of herself in the third person, St. Therese wrote about her First Communion in these words (just after the words I quoted above): "She felt so feeble and fragile that she wanted to be united forever to the divine Strength!"
And again, following her description of the holy conversations she shared with Celine, she wrote:
"When a gardener carefully tends a fruit he wants to ripen before its time, it's not to leave it hanging on a tree but to set it on his table. It was with such an intention that Jesus showered His graces so lavishly upon His little flower, He, who cried out in His mortal life: 'I thank thee, Father, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them to infants,' willed to have His mercy shine out in me. Because I was little and weak He lowered Himself to me, and He instructed me secretly in the things of His love. Ah! had the learned who spent their life in study come to me, undoubtedly they would have been astonished to see a child of fourteen understand perfection's secrets, secrets all their knowledge cannot reveal because to possess them one has to be poor in spirit!"
After reading these words of his sister, no wonder Marcel could say in his Autobiography:
"The book, Story of a Soul, had become my dearest friend. It followed me everywhere and I did not cease reading or re-reading it without ever getting weary of it. There was nothing in this volume which did not conform to my thoughts, and what enthused me still more in the course of my reading was to see clearly that the spiritual life of Therese was identical to mine. Her thoughts, even her 'yes' and her 'no' were in harmony with my own thoughts and the little events of my life . . . .Truly, never in my life have I met a book which was so well adapted to my thinking and feelings as is The Story of a Soul. I can confess that the story of Therese's soul is the story of my soul, and that Therese's soul is my very own." (578)
Oh little brother! Did you ever imagine that you too would someday have a little sibling who would say exactly the same of your book and your soul? That would be me, for one, but I know I'm not the only one! I have had to resist reading your pages sometimes because I'm afraid the many kisses Jesus has reserved for us there will make me swoon! And then your sister's pages are no better, for you are peeking out from behind them, you who read and loved those pages so, and where your charming little face is, there are Jesus' kisses again! You are truly the worthy brother of your sister Therese who, even on her deathbed, invited kisses from those who visited her, begging for "A kiss that makes lots of noise!"
I don't want to leave you, dear reader of the beautiful pages of Fr. Gaitley, to fret for another second over the beautiful meaning of Jesus' kisses. Mother Teresa is a truly great Saint, a gift to our times, a friend who teaches us so much about loving Jesus and giving ourselves to Him through our Blessed Mother Mary, but we, disciples of Marcel, can take what we like, and leave the rest in this matter of the meaning of kisses. So letting our brother at last speak for himself, let me show you what is in my heart, what I like, what I mean, what I discover when I flip open Conversations to find you a passage on kisses:
Marcel: Little Jesus, I have some time now and I feel less tired; after more than an hour of recreation, how could I not be rested. You spoil me a lot, little Jesus. A moment ago there was no electricity; I asked You for it and You gave it to me immediately. The only drawback is that You amuse Yourself a little in not ceasing to make my light blink instead of leaving it steady. So, little Jesus, speak. You suffer from the defect of giving me too many kisses. Before I have even finished saying; 'Jesus, I love You' and from the moment that I appear a little joyful, You do not cease to cover me with kisses as if You have never given one to anybody. (237)
This morning when we were heading out to catch the train to L.A., we found our tiny freeway closed. Just for us, it seemed! We took the detour, prayed a Memorare, and hoped for the best. We were nearly at the train station with only a few minutes to spare, when our last remaining intersection shone at us a light that was red. Just for us! The other drivers, those going straight, had a green light, but in order to turn left we had to wait for our green arrow, and you know how that is. We'd have to wait through the whole cycle, letting everyone else go in every direction before we could expect to be allowed, finally, to go left. Perhaps too late to catch the train! Perhaps to be left to drive our car all the way into downtown Los Angeles! Yikes!
"Let's say a Hail Mary," I suggested.
We did, and for the first time in the history of the electric stoplight, or at least the first time in our history with electric stoplights, before another moment, let alone another cycle, had passed, our left arrow agreeably shone forth green. It was our own little miracle, and so I can appreciate Marcel's gratitude and joy when he writes, "You spoil me a lot, little Jesus. A moment ago there was no electricity; I asked You for it and You gave it to me immediately." Thank you, too, Blessed Mother! We asked you for a green arrow, and you gave it to us immediately!
What will Jesus and Mary do for you next? I'm so excited for you to find out! When you discover yourself in need (and if you're anything like Marcel and me, that's constantly), don't stand on ceremony, but ask so that you can receive. Then tell Jesus you love Him and get ready for the onslaught - of kisses! He will give them to you as if He's never given them to anyone else.
And what will He say when He's finished (for the moment) covering you with His kisses? We know what He'll say because He said it to Marcel, and in His infinitely tender love, He has promised that what He said to Marcel, He says to us. Here is how He replied to Marcel's happy accusations and how He replies to us too:
"Marcel, be happy. You have spoken long enough, it is now my turn. Really, Marcel, I indulge you in everything and I love you dearly. My only wish is to converse with you, to take delight in you and to joke with you, in a word, to do everything with you. Marcel, does this thought not please you? You always receive my kisses and my smiles; to each of your sighs I respond with marks of my love . . . Marcel! If you did not love me, whom would you love instead of me, your little Jesus? Marcel, think only about loving me; love me with all the love of your heart since only love is eternal. In heaven only the love to love me will remain in you, as your sister Therese has taught you." (238)
If Jesus' directives ("think only about loving me; love me with all the love of your heart") seem slightly daunting and above our pay grade, don't worry a single bit. If there's one thing Jesus is big on besides kisses, it's reminding us not to worry. He knows far better than we that only He can make our dreams (and His) come true.
Our sister Therese has just now taught us that she too felt feeble and fragile and thus had to depend entirely on the Divine Strength. Toward the end of Story of a Soul she explains the secret of Charity, the secret of loving: it is Jesus loving in us. If we are wondering who in us will love Jesus (for it seems unfair to give Jesus only His own Love), don't forget about the Holy Spirit! The Blessed Trinity to the rescue, I say, and that most Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' Mama (and ours) too. Let's ask them to love Jesus in us, and we'll be all set.
For the rest, let's say our prayer and call it a post. Jesus' kisses can be exhausting, and we don't want to use up our entire store of energy: we'll need some reserves for laughter, which is a given when our little brother is near at hand. How do we know he's near? Where Jesus' kisses are, there is Marcel! So pray with me, and then we'll give everything to Mary and worry no more.
Draw me, we will run!
We give ourselves to you through Mary, but one more thing:
Little Jesus, please kiss us with the kisses of Your mouth - in Holy Communion, in the kindness of others to us, in our kindness to them, and always, always, in joy and laughter!
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