Little Saints and their Little Gifts
Today is the feast of Saints Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima! They are the youngest non-martyred canonized Saints! Congrats, little sister and brother! And thank you so much for loving Jesus and Mary so well!
Under the icon of Jacinta and Francisco you can see Marcel looking at us (Therese is in the background and their expressions are similar) - and he's saying, "Really? So I can NEVER be the youngest canonized non-martyr Saint?" Well, sorry, Marcel, but I think others besides the little Fatima Shepherds have come before you who had already ruled you out as youngest - like how about your sister Therese? She was only 24 when she exited stage left, which means even if you get canonized, you won't beat her record (let alone J and F's).
But actually, I may have mis-interpreted Marcel's look. On second thought, I imagine he's saying, "The third paragraph? You're leaving our readers in suspense about the mystery photo until the THIRD paragraph?"
My goodness our little brother is testy today! Yes, my manners are atrocious, and I have left you in suspense too long, and I won't let Marcel's impatience stop me from getting to the point at last (in the fourth paragraph, I might add): That lovely woman in the photo on the right is none other than Pauline, Therese's second eldest sister, first of the Martin girls to enter the convent, and eventually Mother Agnes of Jesus, named to that post (after she'd held it a couple of times) "for life" by one of the Popes who realized it was silly not to let the one who formed St. Therese be the former of the Lisieux Carmel and the top dog (or, rather, top nun) in charge of the Carmel's work spreading the word on the Little Flower.
So . . . what is Pauline doing perched atop our post today? She has a surprise for us - okay, she's as bad as Marcel (which makes her smile; everyone in Heaven loves being compared to Marcel!), interrupting me before I've even had a chance to say what her surprise is. But she wants you to know that her surprise is not really hers, but from Our Lady of Joyful Surprises and her little shepherds, whose day is today (this is the day, in 1920, that Jacinta went to heaven; Francisco preceded her by several months, going to heaven first of the three seers, on April 4, 1919. Poor Lucia! She had to wait until just a few years ago to join them, in March of 2005 when she was 97!).
I can't contradict Pauline on this because I know she's right. With our morning prayers, my son and I invoke Our Lady under one or other of her titles, and our favorite seems to be "Our Lady of Joyful Surprises." We're always ready for any number of joyful surprises, and Our Lady is wonderful at fulfilling our hopes.
This morning, once again, we invoked her, and true to form, she came through in a big way. And today's surprise, which I was tempted to attribute to Pauline, is at least written by Pauline, when she was Mother Agnes and helping spread Therese's message of Spiritual Childhood from the Lisieux Carmel to the four corners of the world. It's a big world, but the message spread quickly, and one of my most delightful activities is capturing echoes of the original shout-outs the Carmel sang to the glory of God.
The first such echo I struggled to hear many years ago was sung by Celine (written by her, technically) and it led me to meet John Wu and his friend (who became mine), Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., an Italian missionary who called little Therese "his guiding star." Eventually they led me to Celine's (anonymously published) book, The Spirit of St. Therese. If memory serves me, I ordered it, once I'd tracked it down, from Wales!
Another echo I've enjoyed re-capturing recently was sung (written) by Celine and Pauline together (Sister Genevieve and Mother Agnes, I mean, but both incognito, as the sisters always are in the Carmel). It's the Little Catechism of the Act of Oblation, very highly recommended, currently in print with Sophia Institute Press.
But most recently I've been wandering in the hills and vales looking for (hearkening for an echo of) At the School of St. Therese from the pen of Mother Agnes/Pauline. It's taken a few months, but thanks to the love of Our Lady of Joyful Surprises and the mischief of little Jacinta and Francisco, this latest treasure, this rose of incalculable beauty and heavenly fragrance, this dear slim volume came to me today on a kind of informal inter-library loan from a Los Angeles Protestant seminary to my local public small town library just five minutes from my home. Thank You, Jesus! Please bless all who brought this book to me!
I didn't know this book existed until a few months ago. That is, though this book has existed (in English) for 81 years, I only found out about it a few months ago. I've been confident since then that God would provide, but now that it's here, this sweet manna from the Heavenly Father in my own hands, I can do no less than share it with you. I'm so excited about what I've read (yes, I gobbled it up straightaway, and yet I know there will be baskets-full left over after I distribute it) that I must write some passages for you here, especially because not only is it out of print (the book, not the manna it contains), but hard to find even for something out of print.
Where shall we begin? At the beginning, since that would be simplest. And simplicity is our story today! Mother Agnes (Pauline) begins by telling us:
"In the life of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, simplicity was the rule. To think otherwise would be to change the very encouraging character which God had willed to give to His little Servant expressly to win to His Divine Love the little souls who would follow her."
Oh my goodness! Heavens above!
Immediately when I read that bit, I thought of our little brother Marcel. But let me try and restrain myself for a moment and quote a smidgen more:
"Her life should be simple to serve as a model for little souls." (Depositions of the Carmelites of Lisieux at the Process of Canonization)
And now I must tell you the subtitle of this wondrous volume: "Her True Spirit explained by Herself and supported by the writings of Doctors and Theologians of Holy Church."
So here, then, where I left off quoting, we get our first Doctor adding his own two cents, namely St. Francis de Sales (one of my favorites!):
"Simplicity banishes from the soul that solicitous care which so needlessly urges many to seek out various exercises and means to enable them, as they say, to love God, and which makes it impossible for them to be at peace if they are not doing all that the saints did. Poor souls! They torment themselves about finding out the art of loving God, not knowing that there is none except to love Him. They think that there is a certain art needed to acquire this love, which is really only to be found in simplicity."
Well shiver me timbers and knock me over with a feather! This is Marcel to the core, and what's so delightful is that Our Lady of Joyful Surprises had already surprised me (before the call about the book's arrival) with a passage in Conversations that had taught me (or re-taught me, since I'm always forgetting) the kind of simplicity that I was soon to read about in Pauline's pages.
This morning I'd flipped open to 5 Mother 1946. There Marcel tells Mother Mary how he and Therese and little Jesus were having fun and renamed May, "Mother." Our brother also tells us about how he planned his prayer time in the chapel so he could stay awake, how Therese and Jesus helped him, and so on, until suddenly, he writes (599),
"But once again I was distracted, thinking of the Vietminh and Vietnam. I wanted to have many rifles and aeroplanes to fight the communists and prevent them from reigning over Vietnam, my country. Mother, I even asked little Jesus to grant me what I wanted, but He was content to answer me: 'The best weapon for safe-guarding the interests of your country and to snatch it from the hands of the communists, is prayer. Do not stop looking towards Me, little brother, and that will be enough. Each of your glances with this intention is enough to make me understand the situation of Vietnam, your country.' My sister told me the same thing."
And then, Mary agrees: "And I, my child, I tell you the same thing also. The only means to save your country from communism is prayer. This is very easy; it requires neither cunning, nor rifles, nor ammunition. A glance, a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus is enough; it is like a game within reach of everyone."
This was exactly what I needed to hear! May I beg you to join me in prayer? That is, in a glance, a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus (or Mary)? My intention is like Marcel's, for my own dear country. Or, rather, for my own dear small town! There are forces of darkness threatening us, and without going into details, I can say briefly (for there are so many more important things to write to you about!!) that I've been realizing the power of prayer. If you ever hear anyone say that prayer can't or doesn't change anything, just smile or laugh (and definitely don't slap the speaker, tempting though it may be), because clearly the one holding this view is confused. But I've realized that in every situation (like with my town or with such an attitude toward prayer), the only recourse I have, finally, the most powerful recourse for all of us to change anything, is . . . yes, prayer!
There was our brother Marcel, worrying about a very reasonable and big worry: Vietnam being taken over by the communists! But was he supposed to worry? Nope. Was he supposed to get guns and fight? Nope. Was he supposed to print underground newspapers or arrange for radio broadcasts or go to political rallies? Nope! Some people were perhaps called to do those things, but Marcel is one of Jesus' favorites, as he is one of ours, and so Jesus gave him the straight dope: Prayer. That's it. And not big, long, complicated, exhausting prayer. A sigh, a glance, a smile. Wow! This is great news!
Just like St. Therese!
And here is Mother Agnes, one of those handful of lucky souls who were closest to Therese and knew her from the inside out and the outside in. And what does Mother Agnes want us to know first? The beauty of it is she's not going to want us to know so much that she needs to write a long book. The whole longed for tome that fell into my hands (finally!) today is only 80 pages long. If you lop off the prayers at the back, just 78 pages! Small pages! With long footnotes from the Doctors and Theologians (which are, mainly: Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary and St. Gertrude, St. Francis de Sales, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Ephrem, St Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Alphonsus, St Peter Julian Eymard, St. Claude de la Colombiere, Jean Pierre Caussade, Father Grou, and a few others).
And the first of the few things about Therese that Mother Agnes wants us to know is: her simplicity. Just like Marcel's!
And now, speaking of simpicity, I'm going to publish this post before it disappears (my computer is threatening to reboot), and then, in all simplicity, we can continue another day soon!
Before I go, as always, let's offer our little very powerful prayer together:
Draw me, we will run!
And remember - no more worrying, about anything, anymore, ever!
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