Marcel's Book Club: Easter Edition!
If you look closely, you can kind of see what the Vietnamese children are looking at in the picture above. Looking at it myself, I see men in black soutanes standing around, or so it appears, which makes me think the children are looking at Marcel and some of his Redemptorist brothers!
Marcel himself, on the other hand, is looking over our shoulders at his sister's book, Story of a Soul. We're reading Chapter Four in this fourth-month-of-the-year, and he, for one, is anxious to start! Is it really the last day of April? It's been so much Easter around here, that it seemed to me the month we're in must be Easter!
It's actually both April and Easter, but while Easter will long be with us (a good six more weeks), April is on its way out. May is sneaking up on us, and we've almost missed our Marcel Book Club meeting for this month! Thank Heaven, my guardian angel (or maybe it was Marcel's) shook me out of my sugar stupor, I mean my Easter reverie, and reminded me before it was too late. Just barely before it's too late, but hey, we're here and I'm grateful!
Having been reminded, it's now my turn to remind you: Chapter Four of Story of a Soul is our book club reading, and since time (April 2019 time) is running out, we'll dive in without so much as a day's lead time. No dipping our toes in and taking it step by step - it's into the deep end with one big splash! Ready? Grab a mug of your favorite beverage (coffee? tea? grog?), and let's see what our sister has for us today.
Unlike last month when I started with a complaint that our March chapter encompassed "The Distressing Years," this month there's so much joy and beauty that it's hard to know where to begin.
How about we start at the beginning, a very good place to start . . . where almost the first thing Therese tells us is the wonderful story of her name.
She was named at birth and baptism for the great St. Teresa of Jesus, that is Teresa of Avila, the reformer of the Carmelites in the 16th century, "La Madre," the one who will be Therese's holy mother in Carmel. Understandably, Therese tells us she doesn't want to change her name when she enters, I think because you can't get more Carmelite than being named Teresa. Did you know that the Carmelites boast about a ton of St. Teresas? (This is not a reflection on the size and weight of individual Carmelites, but rather a comment on their number!)
In our century alone - oops, I mean in the one we just (19 years or so ago) left behind us - we had St. Teresa of the Andes, St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and St. Therese, the Little Flower. Before them, we can count St. Teresa Margaret Redi as well as the "Big Teresa," and something tells me I'm missing a few more. Anyhow, you get the idea, and you can see why little Therese Martin didn't want to have a brand new name in Carmel, but she did have her druthers about the religious title that would be added to her "Sister So-and-So" name. She writes:
"All of a sudden, I thought of Little Jesus whom I loved so much, and I said: 'Oh! how happy I would be if they called me Therese of the Child Jesus!'"
This sudden thought came when Therese was preparing for the family's first visit to her sister Pauline, the second oldest of the Martin girls (just under Marie) but the first to enter Carmel. The Carmelite sisters there already knew that Pauline's littlest sister Therese wanted to become a Carmelite too someday, and so it must have been fun for them to talk with her (the little Therese) on that first family visit to Pauline.
Still, during the visit, Therese mentioned nothing of her idea regarding her hoped for religious name. And then, to her delight, "To good Mother Marie de Gonzague [the prioress], who was asking the Sisters what name I should be given, came the idea of calling me by the name I had dreamed about. My joy was great and this happy meeting of minds seemed to be a singular favor from my beloved Child Jesus."
Well if that doesn't beat all!!
Yes, it's marvelous that Mother Marie had the same inspiration as Therese, but what really thrills me is Therese's "thought of Little Jesus whom I loved so much."
Names are funny things. Or perhaps brains are funny things! Speaking for myself, I so typically think of a name as merely what something (or someone) is called, that very often the deeper significance of the name escapes me.
With Therese's name, I often forget that "of the Child Jesus" is referring to Little Jesus. And then suddenly, reading the opening of Chapter Four and Therese's love for "Little Jesus," I thought of Marcel. She's talking about little Jesus whom she loved so much - but He's the very one Marcel loves so much too! No wonder he said after reading her autobiography, "Never in my life have I met a book which was so well adapted to my thinking and feelings," and "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." (Marcel's Autobiography, 579.)
Marcel speaks, too, of his relief in reading the opening pages of Story of a Soul, where his dilemma about wanting to be a great saint was so handily and speedily dissolved by St. Therese. But in this month's pages, I thought of the increased joy Marcel must have felt when in Chapter Four he encountered the following words of Therese:
"When reading the accounts of the patriotic deeds of French heroines, especially the Venerable Joan of Arc, I had a great desire to imitate them, and it seemed I felt within me the same burning zeal with which they were animated, the same heavenly inspiration. Then I received a grace which I have always looked upon as one of the greatest in my life . . . I considered that I was born for glory and when I searched out the means of attaining it, God inspired in me the sentiments I have just described. He made me understand my own glory would not be evident to the eyes of mortals, that it would consist in becoming a great saint! This desire could certainly appear daring if one were to consider how weak and imperfect I was, and how, after seven years in the religious life, I still am weak and imperfect. I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don't count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in Him who is Virtue and Holiness. God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to Himself and make me a saint, clothing me in His infinite merits."
Ah, yes, Marcel, well might you look over our shoulder as we read these pages you have loved so much. I begin to suspect it was you, little brother, rather than an angel of yours or ours, who woke me to remind me of your Book Club this month . . .
For here we find, too, among other treasures and graces, Therese's memories of her First Holy Communion. And how her words remind me of yours, Marcel!
Therese writes: "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 looked at and understood each other. That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; there were no longer two. Therese had vanished as a drop of water in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained. He was the Master, the King."
Marcel writes: "Finally, Jesus arrives. I gently put out my tongue to receive the bread of Love. My heart feels an extraordinary joy. I do not know what to say . . . from that moment it was as if my soul was swallowed up in Love's delights. If I did not speak it was simply because I could not find the word to express myself. More than that, my souls was still enraptured in the presence of God's immensity, before whom I am only an unworthy nothingness, and if I realize that I still exist, my being is nothing other than Jesus residing in me. In an instant I have become a drop of water lost in the immense ocean. Now only Jesus remains: and me - I am only the little nothing of Jesus and Jesus makes Himself only one with me."
There is a difference in their experiences, though, and I enjoy it because it illustrates that our emotions are unpredictable but beautiful, and always our own. Marcel said (where I put in the ellipses above, that is, the " . . . "), "I can no longer shed a single tear to express all the happiness with which my soul was swallowed up in Love's delights." (Autobiography, 88)
Whereas Therese, in so many things his mirror and twin, experienced just the opposite that day with regard to tears. Referring to herself in the third person, she writes, "Her joy was too great, too deep for her to contain, and tears of consolation soon flowed, to the consternation of her companions . . . They did not understand that all the joy of Heaven having entered her heart, this exiled heart was unable to bear it without shedding tears."
When I think of Therese and Marcel, I think of laughter, kisses, and tears. All are plentiful! And how lovely that on this day of their first Communions, they could agree, whether accompanied by tears of happiness or dry eyes:
"Ah! my joy was without any bitterness . . . my joy was tranquil and nothing came to disturb my interior peace." (Therese)
"The morning of my first communion passed without any shadow of sadness." (Marcel)
I remember when my older son was making his First Holy Communion, and I thought that if I prepared him well, his experience would be just like Therese's (I didn't know Marcel yet). It was a beautiful day, but from what I could tell, nothing like Therese's! It was only much later that I realized these beautiful felt graces (such as Therese and Marcel experienced at their First Communions) were just that - lovely gifts of God, and up to Him to dispense.
Interestingly, I have read Padre Pio saying, "Ask Him that He may be sensibly felt!" in Holy Communion. This fascinates me! It surprises me! And yet, why not?
Most wonderfully, while Therese talks about how she longed for Him, and yet could not receive Him often, we are so lucky to, as a matter of course, receive Him every Sunday! What strength for the week - and what a relatively short wait for Him to come to us again, especially because, if circumstances allow, we can actually receive Him every day. This is thanks to Pope St. Pius X (the one who called Therese "the greatest Saint of modern times" before she was even beatified), who instituted the custom of frequent and daily Communion not long after Therese died. She didn't waste time when she got to Heaven; she wanted to procure for the rest of us this grace of graces (frequent union with our Beloved) which she had suffered from not receiving.
When describing his First Communion, Marcel adds that he and the other children were given prescribed prayers to say. He explains that because of the teaching he received, he had lost the habit he had as a smaller child, the habit of spontaneous conversation with Jesus. And this loss was so great that, as he puts it, God had to later send a saint, namely Therese, to re-teach it to him.
At the Easter Vigil there is a wondrous hymn called the Exsultet, and in it is a line I wait for whenever I'm brave enough to go to the Vigil! It goes like this:
"Oh happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!"
Similarly I must sing now: "Oh happy mistake (Marcel being taught to say only prescribed prayers), which gained for us so great an instructor in prayer! (Therese!)"
And not only St. Therese, but Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother!
I imagine I must have told you in one or another of the previous posts here that when I looked forward to reading Conversations (before I had it in hand), I couldn't wait for the conversations between Therese and Marcel. I wanted to know what she told him, how she led him along her Little Way. But when I began reading, I found myself most of all entranced by Our Lord's conversations with Marcel, His instructions, and next to His, Our Lady's. I do love when Therese makes an appearance, but the order of my favorites delights me - though I didn't make any rules for myself and didn't expect this order!
While Marcel couldn't relax in his young-Van conversations with Jesus, Therese was having a different problem. As she tells us in this chapter, she was plagued with scrupples, and if you think I've misspelled the word, you've definitely missed a previous post. There I explained that there's a hair salon near me with the unfortunate name of "Scrupples." I can't decide if it's a type of teasing name, like our local salon "Vanity," or if the proprietor is a Mrs. Scrupples!
One of my favorite passages in Story of a Soul comes at the end of this month's Chapter Four. Therese has told about how she depended entirely on her oldest sister and godmother, Marie, for help with her scrupples, but Marie enters the Carmel where Pauline is, and Therese is left alone with her problem. Except that we are never alone! She turns to her four blessed brothers and sisters - those born before her who died in infancy or childhood and who are awaiting her in Heaven.
She writes, "Their departure for Heaven did not appear to me as a reason for forgetting me; on the contrary, finding themselves in a position to draw from the divine treasures, they had to take peace for me from these treasures and thus show me that in Heaven they still knew how to love!"
Whereas Marie helped her, day by long and painful day, worry by excruciating worry, scrupple by doggone scrupple for a year and a half, with her "four angels" it was a different story. "The answer was not long in coming, for soon peace came to inundate my soul with its delightful waves, and I knew then that if I was loved on earth, I was also loved in heaven. Since that moment, my devotion for my little brothers and sisters has grown and I love to hold dialogues with them frequently, to speak with them about the sadness of our exile, about my desire to join them soon in the Fatherland!"
Do you know someone in Heaven? Someone that maybe you never met on earth, but with whom you share a special bond? Or perhaps you were blessed to know this person on earth, but he or she left too soon (with those we love, it's always too soon if they go first!). Maybe you too have a sibling already there, or a child, or a parent (or an uncle, aunt, or cousin, godparent, grandparent, friend, confessor?).
While we need our loved ones on earth, and nothing can replace a listening ear, an understanding heart, a loving gaze - still it's wonderful to know that those we love in Heaven (and who love us so much more than we can imagine) are in an even better position to help us. Therese has shown us this, and she is such a twin soul with Marcel because (as we see so often in his words) she doesn't stand on ceremony. She's quite plain spoken and persuasive with a childish candor. She tells us about her petition to her saintly siblings:
"I spoke to them with the simplicity of a child, pointing out that being the youngest of the family, I was always the most loved, the most covered with my sisters' tender cares, that if they had remained on earth, they, too, would have given me proofs of their affection."
Then she explains, as we have seen, that in heaven they must remember her even more!
So too with those we love and who have loved us!
So too really with everyone in heaven!
No wonder Jesus was unapologetic about sticking Marcel with St. John Eudes for his New Year's Saint, though Marcel wanted Therese again. She would always be closest to him, but Jesus wanted him to know (and wants us to know) that there is a whole world of people up there who love us and are ready to shower favors upon us. Jesus wants us, too, to say by experience, "I knew then that if I was loved on earth, I was also loved in heaven."
I can hardly list all the things I've skipped between Therese's first Holy Communion and her victory over scrupples: her confirmation, her experience as a boarder at school, her lessons with Madame Papinau, what she went through to become a Child of Mary, her story of the physician and his sons, her application of this to herself to show that she hopes to love even more than Mary Magdalene! I hope you won't let the end of April keep you from reading the whole of Chapter Four if you haven't had a chance yet!
What shall we say of May? Because it's Mary's month, Marcel enjoyed calling it "Mother" as in "tomorrow is Mother 1st" rather than calling tomorrow May 1st! Either way, tomorrow is St. Joseph's day again (hooray!), and what a perfect way to begin the days of Our Lady. He is one of those in heaven who loves you very much! Ask him for a favor - and tell him you love him too!
We began with Little Jesus, and despite it being Easter, I'd love to pray to Him now, with Therese and Marcel and you!
Little Jesus, O Petit Jesus, draw me, we will run!!
Oh! but before I go, here is the holy card that St. Therese mentions twice in Chapter Four, the image that did her so much good: The little flower of the Divine Prisoner. May you be His little flower too!
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