First things first - this is not a photo of Mary and baby Jesus, but merely a painting by Sandro Botticelli. He was a good painter, I'll give him that, but he got Our Lady and Jesus wrong - notice they're too thin, and Jesus isn't nearly beautiful enough, and yet we have to give him credit (or the Holy Spirit, really) for placing a large book - obviously Conversations! - under Jesus' and Mary's hands. Nice job, Sandro!
I've begun with a picture of Our Lady and little Jesus because I'm afraid I've almost forgotten, and forgotten to remind you, that this is a novena of gratitude and petitions to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. At my house our purpose is made plain because today, in honor of the privilege of being Carmelites, my husband and I get to fast and abstain. Now don't laugh! It's our version of fast and abstinence, and we're trying even if neither of us will get a gold medal (you might think I've got repressed Olympic dreams or something, the way these gold medals keep cropping up, but I think I'm good as is, just love the imagery) - the idea is that the day before a Solemnity or huge feast, we fast. I don't mean it's our idea. My idea is to live like those happy people in the second half of Wall-E, the ones in the traveling recliners - not too much personal effort, all creature comforts within arms' reach, good movies playing for our entertainment. (And if you notice I bring these up more often than gold medals, you're starting to get me.)
Our Lady, though, while not a whit concerned about calories (take it from me; I'm confident I've got this one right), is nonetheless smiling over my description of my Best Life because she does want to preserve for us the power of locomotion. (Kind of awkward to fall off one's recliner and not be able to rise onto it again without help!) So she's given us a little fast before our feast - when a Sunday precedes the feast, as it does this year, we anticipate the fast because we can't fast on Easter, and every Sunday is a little Easter. How lovely the Church's ideas are!
My thought, then, is that we have just time for another mini-novena within our full size novena. (We could call my previous triple novena super-sized!) We began, this time, with a tiny novena in honor of Marcel's birthday-into-heaven, and we can end with another little novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Humor me, please, because it allows me to trot out this incredibly beautiful prayer/poem called Flos Carmeli, "Flower of Carmel," in honor of Our Lady The only reason you haven't seen it here yet is that it hadn't occurred to me until this morning to use it in our novena. I get tired with long prayers, so I bet Our Lady threw her veil between my eyes and this prayer, but now that I've thought of it, I can't keep it from you, so let's say it together now:
O beautiful flower of Carmel,
most fruitful vine,
Splendor of Heaven, holy and singular,
who brought forth the Son of God,
Still ever remaining a Pure Virgin,
assist me in this necessity,
O Star of the Sea, help and protect us.
Show us that your are our Mother.
O Mary conceived without sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to thee!
(And then here is an add-on that's delightful too:)
Mother and Ornament of Carmel, pray for us!
Virgin, flower of Carmel, pray for us!
Patroness of all who wear the scapular, pray for us!
Hope of all who die wearing the scapular, pray for us!
St. Joseph, friend and foster father of the Sacred Heart, pray for us!
St. Joseph, chaste spouse of Mary, pray for us!
St. Joseph, our patron, pray for us!
Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation,
Make us worth of the promises of Christ!
O God, You have blessed the Order of Carmel
with the special title of the Most Blessed Mary, ever Virgin and Mother.
Grant, in Your mercy, that under her guidance we may attain to everlasting love and joy.
This we ask through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
* * *
There, now. Don't you feel like we've said enough prayers to cover 9 days?
Laugh at me if you will (I'd much rather that than your shaking your head over me), but I'm a Carmelite, and one thing that means for me is that I prefer mental prayer to vocal prayer.
No, not because I'm a mental case, but because mental prayer means, in the colloquial translation of St. Teresa of Avila's definition, that prayer which is nothing other than a good long chit-chat with Him whom we know loves us.
In other words, since having discovered (or been given, like winning the lottery) Conversations, I like to pray by spending time with Marcel and Jesus (and Mary and Therese), by listening in on their gab fests, land chiming in occasionally as I read.
And in God's mercy, I'm not about to run out of material (to help my mental prayer) any time soon. Those four did spend a lot of time together talking, and then our Marcel was such a trooper, writing down endless pages. Once I caught on that these pages were out there, I was desperate to get my hands on Marcel's Complete Works, but then when I did eventually acquire all four volumes, Conversations mesmerized me (and continues to charm me) daily, so the others mostly sit on my bedside table, waiting patiently for their turn.
Last night, when I was overtired and wondering what I could possibly write about today, Our Lady gently whispered, "Don't worry, tomorrow you'll feel differently. Just rest now."
Isn't that just like a mom? My own earthly mom used to tell me that kind of thing when I was a girl, and my goodness, she was always right! I've tried to tell that to my own children, and any others I have the chance to mother, and I dare say I'm always right too - it's a law of nature! Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the cycle of nights and days. What a gift to sleep between days, and even sometimes in them.
Which would lead us to Charles Peguy and his poem on sleep, except that I owe it to Our Lady to first use the material she so generously supplied after my good night's sleep - especially because she got me to open Marcel's Other Writings, and there I found a terrific conversation between her and Marcel, one that I'd not seen before.
Simplicity, then, which means Marcel, though so many other things I want to share with you tug at my attention and beg me to go first. Nope, sorry, you'll have to wait in line, you thousand glories of God's amazing world - Marcel is our man, and he goes first.
Which is just and right, as this is Miss Marcel's Musings, and too, he never disappoints, even if giving him our full attention demands a kind of limit on every other wonderful person, place, and thing we'd like to explore. We'll get to those later, if God wills, so don't worry (anymore, ever), but for now - Marcel and Mary.
This dialogue between them comes from September 3, 1952. Marcel was 24 years old and in the middle of a retreat - this is from his 6th day, just a day shy of our 7th today (in our novena). Marcel has written out a poem about how he wants to die so he can see Jesus, and Mary responds:
Mary: O my child, you will finally meet the object of your dreams. Your Divine Friend is coming. Yes, He is on His way. However, His faltering steps are compatible with His little feet, which advance rather slowly. So, remain at peace, since your Jesus is walking towards You. Do not hurry Him too much for fear that Your Beloved may have an unfortunate stumble.
Marcel: Mother, would it not be quicker if you carried Him in your arms?
Mary: That's true, but little Jesus does not wish to spare Himself the fatigue of one or two steps, through love for you.
Marcel: So! This being the case, dear Mother, I must run towards Him to help Him to walk more quickly. But no, I do not know where He is coming from. So, I will send a jet aeroplane which flies at a speed of 2000 kilometers an hour, so that He comes to me without delay and it is you, dear Mother, who will pilot the plane. I will straight away collect the necessary materials for its construction, and I am counting on your sound advice, dear Mother, to bring this project to a successful conclusion. This jet aeroplane will bear the marque "2-M-J", it will fly at the speed of Love and it will have a female pilot, Mary.
[I must interject here that I am not making this up. I certainly do make up lots of things on and for this blog, and there have been accusations - I mean compliments - to the effect that perhaps I'm a few cards shy of a full deck, though the jokers aren't missing! Me? Silly? You betcha! But like a girl dreaming of flying unicorns, I do try to take elements from reality before I skate off onto thin ice with them. I did, for instance, see the man walking with the bike and the wheelchair, really and truly. I didn't have the opportunity to ask him for his side of the story, so I admit I had to put 2 and 2 together myself . . . though how you can doubt it was a miracle is beyond me. BUT . . . let it be known I am only taking my cue from Marcel the adorable. He is the original silly here, and I'm only decorating a pretty, glittery, feathery, brightly hued frame into which I then put his pictures and his writings . . . He started it! And aren't we delighted? But this interjection has gone on long enough. Let's continue the dialogue, because you'll find out that Mary does not hesitate to respond in kind to her darling boy Marcel. I've never heard her called silly - that's not what we say about a loving mom happy to enter her children's games - but she sure is wonderful, so let's get back to business.]
Mary: I will give to you now, my child, the means of constructing this aeroplane: refuse Jesus nothing, not even for the smallest sacrifice. Abandon yourself completely and put all your confidence in God alone. Thanks to this means, your aeroplane of Love will be very effective and will bring Jesus quickly close to you.
Marcel: Mother, is it a good thing to ask Jesus to take me to heaven? Is it allowed?
Mary: Certainly, my child; moreover, Jesus Himself wishes for you to repeat unceasingly this request to Him. Since, in the final analysis, for whom is your ardent wish for heaven, and what is your reason for having this wish? In making this request, you are not acting against the spirit of abandonment, provided that you are not too impatient and that you do not undertake any personal initiative to gain this end. Ask, and at the same time leave to Jesus to care of attending to everything, as you ordinarily do for a thousand other things. You must not, therefore, worry yourself; each day when impelled by an ardent desire to go quickly to heaven is a day of happiness for heaven and an opportunity for the saints to sing the Love of Jesus for His greater glory, and that pleases me a lot.
Yes, you may very well ask to go to heaven. Continue to ask, since heaven belongs to you; God has created it for you, it is quite natural to hope for it, to wish for it ardently. "There, where your treasure is, your heart is there also."
Long ago, I, your Mother, I also wished for heaven, like you. I suffered like you, at having to lead a pitiful life on earth. However, I remained strong in faith and I waited in joy for the coming of the Lord.
Marcel: But you, dear Mother, did you ask the Lord to come and take you quickly with Him?
Mary: Of course, my child! Ardent desire is a permanent supplication of the soul; although very intimate, this desire feels the need to express itself also in words, since we have not only to live with our soul, but also to bear our body with its joys and sorrows.
Marcel: Mother, until now I was a little troubled regarding this question, asking myself if my wish to go to heaven was not contrary to the spirit of abandonment and opposed to God's will. It is now clear, and from now I will continue to express this desire, whilst accepting willingly to live as long as God will wish. In this way I will practice perfect abandonment!
(Today, when I was sad and tears were flowing, there you have given me, Mother, words of comfort.)
+ + +
Oh Marcel! You are such a love! Just when we think you're sillier than silly, you turn around and ask Mary the best questions ever. How helpful to know about our Mystery Mom in the everyday life she lived, and to hear her, the Seat of Wisdom, explain better than the best Doctors of the Church:
"Ardent desire is a permanent supplication of the soul; although very intimate, this desire feels the need to express itself also in words, since we have not only to live with our soul, but also to bear our body with its joys and sorrows."
Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!
Ah, but even if You don't delay, You drag Your darling little feet. We'll try not to complain, Love. And don't worry, little Jesus, because remember, You've given us Marcel to play with, Marcel to amuse us and he keeps us busy and distracted.
I think I must write an essay soon "In Praise of Distractions." It certainly would be a dull world without them, and we'd be far too stern and earnest, I'm sure.
There was, though, another page in Other Writings, another conversation of Marcel with Mary, from which I wanted to steal a quote. Marcel is praying to Mary (talking with her; same thing) and asks:
"Dear Mother, Help me to correct my character, alright? Help me to be a little serious."
If we all pray together now, perhaps we can forestall Our Lady's answer to our little brother's prayer. Because I, for one, want to cry out, "Heaven forbid!" Marcel a little serious? Well, maybe just a little, but not too much! Where would we be then? There are plenty of serious saints, and I'm not alone in preferring the light and bright ones. As my holy mother, St. Teresa of Avila said, (I like to think it was a prayer), "God save us from sour-faced saints!"
Amen! Not that I want to tell anyone else how to live - perhaps God is calling sour-faced saints to live on lemons (instead of lemonade), and their penance may save us all yet - but I'm grateful that there have been others before me who concentrated on cheerfulness. I know silliness and cheerfulness are different - cheerfulness is the attribute of the well adjusted personality that's over 4 years old, while silliness is that quality in the 4 and under crowd. Count me into that latter group! With St. Therese and Marcel, I want to get littler and littler, lest the grown-ups notice I'm a hearty lass and set me to work!
So. Here I am praying against Marcel's prayer - forgive me, Marcel, but we love you just as you are - and I'm thinking this could be a lesson for us: if our prayers aren't answered as swiftly as we'd like, perhaps someone out there is praying the opposite! But let's not start worrying about that - in fact, I decree today as the day we stop worrying altogether.
It's clear God doesn't want us to worry, which should be enough reason to stop, and then He keeps repeating this refrain (about not worrying) to Marcel (and to us through him) - as well as pointing out (to Marcel and us) that everyone else is saying the same thing:
No more worrying!
There are so, so, so many places in the Bible where God tells us not to worry. It would be a great project (and I did this once with the Gospels) to copy out all the many places and many ways God repeats Himself on this favorite theme of His. But we don't have to start on that now - our true Father loves us so much that He anticipated this need of ours and put the best ever argument against worrying in the gospel of today's Mass! In a nutshell, Jesus tells His apostles and us: Don't worry about those who can harm the body, but only the one who can cast you into Gehenna. But don't worry about the one who can cast you into Gehenna, because He loves you infinitely more than the sparrows, and these birds can't even fall off a tree branch without Him noticing (and caring)!
Isn't that the coolest? Isn't Jesus just the best?
He doesn't trust us to actually believe and obey Him though (He knows our frailty too well!), so He gives us His Mother (who taught Him, in His boyhood, these lessons, even though He already knew them as God - He is such a sport!) to be our Mother and teach us, perpetually, these lessons too.
How delightful it is for me to write these blog posts . . . Just now (case in point), I realized that the Our Lady so dear to Marcel as a Redemptorist - Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or Perpetual Succour, as the English would say) - is so special because she is Our Lady who perpetually helps us! And don't we, perpetually and forever, need so much help?!
I've been thinking about the many ways she gives Marcel and us instructions on not worrying, a kind of ongoing tutorial on giving up our bad habit of worrying, but what is so quintessentially maternal about Our Blessed Mother is that when she knows we're not making progress, she doesn't scold, she just changes her pedagogy, or in simpler words, she changes her tune. I'll get to that (my favorite thing in Conversations - if I'm allowed 1000 favorites, and it's my blog, so I say I am!), but let's not rush too quickly past Mary's initial attempts to get us to stop worrying.
Instead of finding some of the places in Conversations where she tells Marcel not to worry (and then too here are the places where Marcel mentions to Jesus, and then Jesus mentions to Marcel, that Fr. So-and-So pointed out that Marcel had nothing to worry about because Mary is his mother), I'm going to take the easy way out and transcribe for you here my favorite words of Mary (okay, okay, I have a lot of favorites, but now I'm going to commit myself: these next words are among the favoritest of my favorites). She spoke them to us some centuries ago when she was dressed up as Our Lady of Guadalupe and assuring St. Juan Diego he had nothing to worry about.
You see, then, this has been a theme of Mary's for a long while. Like Jesus, she is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that same is expressed perfectly in this speech she gave to Juan. I need to add (backstory, context, whatever you call it) that Juan was worried because his dear uncle was gravely ill, and then he got worse, so that Juan was in a big rush to get a priest to administer last rites. If only that kind but talkative Lady wouldn't detain him! In order to avoid her, impolite though it felt, Juan was compelled to walk by a different route, around the mountain where Mary had previously appeared to him, so that she couldn't appear to him now and slow him down.
In fact our little ploys and stratagems are no match for heaven! Besides detaining Juan just as long as she pleased, Our Lady simultaneously appeared to his uncle and cured him. That should take care of his urgent need for a priest, one imagines her mischievously thinking! And that will show my children that they can simply trust in my maternal aid for all they need and (please God) stop panicking.
Well, we still panic, we still forget that Mary's got our back, but here are the words that talk me off the ledge in cases of extreme stress. From Our Lady to us through little Juanito:
Hear and let it penetrate your heart my dear little one:
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else you need?
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
* * *
That about covers all our worries, all our crisis situations, all our moments of panic,
And if I had any sense, I'd end today's blog post right here, but I don't (have any sense), or rather I do (have some sense) and so though I find that I've painted myself into the most marvelous corner, I'm going to do what any self-respecting child would do (and aren't they all fairly self-respecting, full of dignity, if you catch them young enough?) - I'm going to walk over the wet paint to get where I need to go! Which is to the passage in Conversations that I promised you - the one where Our Lady doesn't believe we'll really believe her (even after those great words she just gave us through Juan) and stop worrying, so she's giving us another option.
Could we make a deal, though? I'll tell you Mary's other words, the new song she sings about what to do when we can't seem to stop worrying, despite her gentle reassurance, and then I'll do my best to end the post soon after, and then YOU will please come back to Our Lady of Guadalupe's words to you. I can't bear to think that the Holy Spirit and Marcel and I somehow botched this post so that we didn't end with those words - they're such perfect words! Yes, that's it. I'll make your part of the bargain easy by repeating those words before we close. That eases my conscience, and now we can go on to Mary's Plan B.
At (595) in Conversations, she offers this plan to us and I don't want the first words to scare you - it's quite marvelous and consoling, actually, although Our Lady uses the words "sacrifice yourself." I know, yuck, ouch, ick, and Really??? (Or maybe that's just my reaction.) But what's so miraculous here is that because Mary is finally just one person, all the Our Ladies are really her, and everything they say goes together, even if we might be more or less attracted to one Our Lady over another.
If you, or anyone you know, has a problem with Our Lady of Fatima (sometimes misunderstood, and I understand it because I misunderstood her in just this way) as the demanding and (I hate to say it, but let's be honest) somewhat angry Our Lady - well Marcel and I have great news for you! Our Lady of Fatima was all about sacrifice, it would seem from the news coverage, and yet - since Mary is one and the dearest, gentlest, least angry, sweetest Mother ever, she's cleared up this confusion right here for us in Conversations! We already knew from Our Lady of Guadalupe's words that we have nothing to worry about, but then maybe Fatima comes to mind (haha, especially if I bring it up!). The last word, though, lies with Marcel's Mary or "Our Lady of the Conversations" if I may so name her, and here is how she gets herself out of that unfortunate corner (and somehow without tracking paint!) on May 4, 1946:
My child, did you just mention sacrifice? So, offer your cough as a sacrifice to Jesus. Listen, I am going to tell you a new method of sacrificing yourself. Each time that you are troubled, even if only for the span of a breath, say this: "Little Jesus, I offer You this worry as a sacrifice." Then, remain in peace. Thanks to this sacrifice, you will be consumed in the fire of Love, which will act freely in you. Thanks to this sacrifice, how many sinful souls will be able to avoid an occasion of sin that would expose them to falling into despair? . . .
Always remember this method, all right? Little Jesus loves this kind of sacrifice a lot; He even prefers it to the joy of being able to pull you from the hands of the devil, since it is the devil who gives birth in you to these anxieties with the intention of misleading you. Consequently, if you offer your anxieties to little Jesus, naturally, the devil will be ashamed to see that the net that he holds out to you to drag you along has fallen into little Jesus' hands. Then, little Jesus will make use of it to draw you to His heart, and then He will make use of it to draw many other souls . . . What a blessing for you! What a benefit for little Jesus. Oh, my child, it is impossible to express the extent of this great benefit. And yet, to obtain this result, you only have to say: "Little Jesus, I offer You this sacrifice."
+ + +
Dear reader, it is time. You are tired; I am going to let you rest!
And as to our bargain - I've decided to renege. I love that last passage so much it may even be dearer to my heart than Our Lady of Guadalupe's words. For me, I love best Our Lady of the Book, namely Conversations and our brother Marcel. I'm not going to conclude by repeating those previous words, then, and you don't need to go back and re-read them (unless you want to! May Our Lady grant you the grace to read only for fun and for free!). And if either of us tends to worry that we are not fulfilling our part of the bargain, let's say together, "Little Jesus, we offer You this worry as a sacrifice!"
There, peace obtained, souls saved, everyone's happy! We've finally found a piece of advice we can follow easily, about eight million times a day! But let's not get too worried about that either (whether we remember to keep saying this dear prayer and offering) - instead, let's end simple as simple, in peace and joy at Jesus and Mary's gentleness and the Father's overarching love:
Draw me, we will run!
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