As I write, I am surrounded by holiness. Marcel is right here at my elbow, wanting to do the typing himself, but I love typing, so I'm keeping him at arm's length! Therese is also near, and she's rolling her eyes, wondering how I'm going to fit the thousand and one things I want to say into one short Book Club meeting. But we're not alone - well, of course there YOU are too, dear reader, but even then we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. . .
I have on the table next to my little computer:
a. Story of a Soul, ICS edition translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D., so he's right here
b. The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, translated by John Beevers (the 1957 Image paperback, almost pocket sized, in fact not much larger than a fancy smart phone, but so much smarter, with grey crosses adorning the fun turquoise cover), so that brings John Beevers into our family circle
c. Saint Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower, "Definitive Edition, Authorized American Reproduction," published by P.J. Kenedy & Sons of New York sometime back in the day, imprimatur 1927. This is Fr. Thomas Taylor's fabulous volume which I like to call "the big green book" (though this edition is grey) because so many I've seen over the years have been big with a pine green cover. These books, no matter the color, were published starting in 1912 with the title Soeur Therese of Lisieux (after her canonization, they were titled Saint Therese of Lisieux) and contain so much good stuff! Besides our sister's memoir, they contain a selection of her prayers, poems, letters, and counsels to the novices, and my ultimate favorite section: her shower of roses.
So Father Taylor is here too, and with him Mother Agnes (Pauline, to whom these chapters we've been reading are addressed) because Fr. Taylor dedicates the book to "in the first place Saint Therese, the little white flower of Jesus, in heartfelt thanksgiving for many favours, especially her loving solicitude for the grotto at Carfin (Scotland); and secondly to her 'petite mere,' Mother Agnes of Jesus, in grateful memory of innumerable kindnesses extending over a period of twenty-five years." Wow!
Last but not least, there's one more person attending MBC tonight, and though she's trying to keep a low profile, I'm not letting her off the hook. It's Celine (Sister Genevieve in the convent), Therese's just older sister (just 3 years older, to be precise) who celebrated 60 years in Heaven a few days ago. Yep, that's right, on February 25th of this year it was 60 years since Celine entered eternal life - that was in 1959, two months shy of her 90th birthday and only 5 months before Marcel went to Heaven too!
I was hoping to write about Celine on her big day, but wouldn't you know she has much more power in Heaven than I do. She pulled some strings and kept me busy, so there was no post on her that day, not even a word. This amused me because I'd read that very morning about how she didn't like big celebrations in her honor. She had asked them not to make a fuss over her jubilee of religious profession in 1946 (50 years the spouse of Christ), but with me she didn't bother asking - she just prevented me!
Well that doesn't mean she wasn't dropping roses in my lap. On the vigil of her big day (the day of Jesus' first real kiss to her - the kiss that brought her to Heaven) she handed me a book on our Therese that hails originally from 1923 (though the edition she gave me is a reprint from 1971), a book I'd been thinking of transcribing from a digital file I have, and which I had a feeling would disappear any minute (digital files being oh so virtual and not very real in my book)!
Celine's gift to me was written by a certain Fr. Gabriel Martin, a contemporary of Therese's family (the Martins too, but no relation), who preached at the Carmel in Lisieux on the occasion of St. Therese's canonization. He founded a couple of religious orders in her honor, he was a friend of her sisters in the Carmel, and they asked him in the mid-1920's to PLEASE publish the book he'd written on Therese. He did publish it just as soon as she was beatified, and that book was the one I held in my hands Monday night! The beauty of it is that this edition (in English), was translated by the wonderful Sister Therese of the Child Jesus of the Kilmacud (County Dublin) Carmel, just like the book by Mother Agnes that I've been lucky enough to read lately.
I figure Celine knew I needed to know she loved me, even if she was keeping me from writing about her on her day! Thanks, Celine! I love you too!
Okay, then. Surrounded by the Saints, how about we get to Chapter Two of Story of a Soul?
+ + +
Chapter Two is very special to me because it contains the passage that Marcel was reading when he realized he could - and should, and would - ask St. Therese to be his big sister.
But here's the crazy thing I discovered in this reading.
The reason that inspired him to claim Therese as his sister is not in the ICS edition! Oops!
So back to the drawing board, or rather the history of St. Therese's writings. I've numbered things to try and keep them straight:
1. During the year 1895, Therese wrote her childhood memories, which form the largest section of her autobiography, at the request of her oldest sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and at the insistence of (therefore under obedience to) Mother Agnes (her second oldest sister, Pauline). Then in September of 1896, she wrote a letter to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart in response to Marie's request that she tell the secrets of her relationship with Jesus. Therese's response was a kind of cover letter to Marie, and then a longer letter addressed to Jesus. This double letter forms the shortest (but to me the most beautiful) section of what became her autobiography. Finally in 1897, the summer before she died, Therese was asked to write (again under obedience) the story of her life as a nun. She wrote these pages for Mother Marie de Gonzague who formally made the request, but it was Mother Agnes (not then "Mother" in the official sense, but the sisters who became Mother Superior always retained the title), who'd talked Mother Marie into asking Therese for these final recollections. Thus the whole Story of a Soul was the product of the inspirations given to Pauline (Mother Agnes) and Marie of the Sacred Heart. Praise God for His loving inspirations!
2. Although while she was writing these three different "documents," Therese had no intention that they would be seen by any one other than those who'd requested them (her two sisters and Mother Marie de G, and she didn't even think that all 3 would read all 3, if that makes sense), still as her "entrance into eternal life" approached, Therese was given a gift of prophecy, a kind of pulling back of the veil, that allowed her to anticipate the great good her writings, in the form of a single book, would do for souls after her death - because, as she said, they would show everyone the kindness of God. Then she told Mother Agnes, who was often at her side in the infirmary during her illness, "I give you carte blanche over my little writings. After I am gone, do the work quickly and quietly. The devil will want to stop this book because of the good it will do for souls, but you must not let him. You must publish this book, and in preparing the manuscript, feel free to change or add anything, just as if you were me!"
3. Mother Agnes changed, and rightly, many things, for one reason, because a huge number of the people about whom Therese wrote were still alive! There were things too personal, and possibly hurtful to some, to leave in, and there were other things Mother Agnes knew Therese would have written if she'd known the writings were meant for others, and then too there were things Therese asked, from her sickbed, Mother Agnes to add. Sure enough, Mother Agnes did her work well, quickly and quietly, and the edition the Carmel printed one year after Therese died - 2000 copies, paid for by Uncle Isidore Guerin, Therese's mother's (St. Zelie's) brother, changed the course of history! It made the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood an easy way to sanctity for millions, and is still doing so!
4. In the 1940's, Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus (he took that "of the Child Jesus" in honor of St. Therese), an important man in the Carmelite Order, asked the Carmel of Lisieux to restore, for the reading public and for the Church, the original text of Therese's manuscripts as they'd come from her pen. Exactamente! Mother Agnes, who'd been made "prioress for life" by Pius XI many decades before, asked pretty please could they wait a few more years. She was on her way out of this exile, God willing, so very tired now, having spent herself happily for Therese, but in her 80's by this time and not up to such a project. The permission to wait was granted, and before she died, Mother Agnes passed on their sainted sister's "carte blanche" to Celine/Sister Genevieve, who was to live 10 more years working for Therese (though she too was now in her 80's and suffered from the infirmities of old age). In this case the carte blanche was for restoration, and Celine's job was merely to oversee the work of a wonderful and determined Fr. Francoise, Carmelite friar assigned to the task . . . but her job, too, was to be the last living "sweet echo of Therese's soul" and keep the truth about Therese safe and sound. Over the years there had frequently been mis-interpretations of Therese's gentle doctrine, and her sisters always fought these distortions with authoritative and untiring Truth. Now it was left to Celine to keep the record straight to the end.
Things went well, the the authorized critical (exact) edition of Therese's manuscript came out, and these days you'd be hard pressed to find someone championing Mother Agnes' "original" edition. Hard pressed, but if you're looking for that someone to champion Mother Agnes' work, you've found that someone in me! I love that we have the "real" writings of Therese, but I also love that we have the writings as Therese might have wanted them (that is, as Mother Agnes transmitted them).
So last night before bed, and then again in the middle of the night when I woke (what fun could life be without those middle of the night trysts with Jesus and our brothers and sisters the saints, who apparently, though they are at rest, never sleep?!), I finally had a chance to compare some of my different volumes, some of my different translations and editions of Story of a Soul, and having just read Chapter Two, I was ready to find out wherein the old and new versions differed.
First surprise (for me) - that turquoise pocket-sized edition translated by good John Beevers for Image (Doubleday Catholic imprint) back in the 50's - turns out, as far as I can tell, to be the "original" written by St. Therese! All this time I'd been thinking it was Mother Agnes' edition, but looking at it more carefully, I think it's Therese's alone!
Second surprise, which wasn't too surprising since I'd been suspecting it all week - it was Mother Agnes' version (which I found in my Thomas Taylor/"green book" translation from the 1920's) which held the key to Marcel's request to Therese, "You will be my sister now. Please?"
You see, Marcel, when he read Story of a Soul for the first time in October of 1942, was necessarily reading Mother Agnes' version. That was the only edition then available - no matter the translation, and I'm guessing Marcel read it in Vietnamese. (And this parentheses is entirely incidental but oh so charming: did you know that the first English translation was made by a Polish priest in 1901, just 3 years after Story of a Soul came out, and just 4 years after Therese left exile for Heaven? How wonderful! God bless that dear priest!)
Well when he started reading Story of a Soul (Marcel, that is, not the good Polish priest), our brother immediately felt its influence. God began immediately to reveal to him the union He had planned from all eternity for their two souls - Therese and Marcel's. I've quoted the pages from Marcel's Autobiography in previous posts, and they are simply beautiful!
Marcel raced through the book; he must have, because a few weeks later or less, he was re-reading it. Maybe even re-re-reading it! He tells us that he especially loved these early chapters wherein Therese recounts her childhood memories. And I'll tell you frankly, they are not my favorite chapters (though I do love them, I don't love them anywhere near as much as I love the later chapters), but I think I know why they were so precious to Marcel. Well yes, he tells us, so that helps me with my insight! But the deal is, he's just a boy when he's reading this book, and what stuns him is to find a soul so much like his own, with a childhood so much like his own. God painted the same picture in both their lives: first an idyllic childhood surrounded by love. Then an abrupt change when love was to some extent withdrawn and traumatic events wounded these two children's little, loving hearts.
For Therese, it was the death of her mother at age 4 that changed everything.
For Marcel, it was his going off to become a priest (at age 6 or 7, the little rascal!) that changed all.
But both had remarkably strong memories of early cloudless days, and then both endured suffering - grievous suffering - while still knowing the love of God in this second phase of their lives.
Marcel was himself still a child when he read Story of a Soul, so he loved Therese's stories of her childhood. Especially, though, he mentions reading one fine day about how Therese - though she usually followed Celine in everything - did not follow Celine in choosing a second mother.
After their mother Zelie's death, and hearing the poignant remark of Louise, the maid ("poor girls, now they have no mother!"), Celine chose for her second mother Marie (their eldest sister, who was also Therese's godmother and therefore a natural choice for Therese too - first, because Celine chose her, second, because Marie was eldest so most like a mama, and third, because she was already Therese's godmother). Therese, surprisingly, struck out on her own and chose Pauline for her second mother. But what does her original text say? What did Therese write for Pauline (Mother Agnes) about this choice? We read in Fr. Clarke's translation (ICS edition) of Story of a Soul:
"Accustomed to following Celine's example, I turned instead to you, Mother, and as though the future had torn aside its veil, I threw myself into your arms, crying: 'Well, as for me, it's Pauline who will be my Mama!'"
But wait! Just listen to what Marcel (then named simply Van) says in his Autobiography (586). His two friends, Tam and Hien, were teasing him because Sister Tin had agreed to be their big sister, but she'd rejected Van, even though this whole project of getting a big sister had been his idea! Marcel writes:
"But the squirrel [this is Van] absorbed in his book The Story of a Soul, did not pay any attention, and was in no way saddened. He suddenly let out a cry of satisfaction since the disappointment he had just experienced had brought to him an incredible opportunity. I had just reached in my reading the passage in which Therese wrote: 'Always accustomed to follow Celine, I should have done well to imitate her in such a good action, but I thought that Pauline might, perhaps, be unhappy and feel neglected at not having a little girl; and then, looking at you tenderly and leaning my little head on your breast I said in my turn, "For me, my mother's going to be Pauline."' At that moment I clearly understood Therese's words, and I did as she did, saying to myself: 'Right now Therese is expecting a little brother, but no one has chosen her to be their sister so it is not right to make her suffer in this way.' So I got up, and went to the church and kneeling down at Saint Therese's statue, I said to her with a sincere heart, 'For me it is Therese who will be my sister.' As soon as I had said those words, my soul was invaded with such a current of happiness that I remained stunned by it and was incapable of thinking for myself. I was dominated entirely by a supernatural force which flooded my soul with unspeakable happiness."
Wait. What? This is magnificent! This, too, has changed the course of history! But where is this passage of which Marcel speaks? It wasn't like that in Fr. Clarke's very faithful translation of the original manuscripts............
Out comes Fr. Taylor's earlier edition, faithful in its own right - to the book originally sanctioned by Therese, edited by Mother Agnes, published by the Lisieux Carmel, and the source of Therese's Little Way for every reader up to the 1950's. Let's read Fr. Taylor's translation for a moment. Same passage, beginning of Chapter Two:
"Accustomed to imitate Celine, I should undoubtedly have followed her example but that I feared you might be pained, and feel yourself forsaken if you too had not a little daughter. So I looked at you affectionately, and hiding my head on your breast exclaimed in my turn: 'And Pauline will be my mother!'"
Therese once said that if she could have lived longer (and had the opportunity for more study), she'd have liked to learn the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) in order to read the Scriptures in their original versions.
I could never relate to this remark and sentiment, much as I admire it. Myself, I'm so thrilled to have a dozen Bibles around me and read the various translations the Holy Spirit has (the way I see it) inspired! This holds true too for my pathetic efforts at learning French (which consist of buying or collecting various "Learn French" materials but end there) because how much more fun to surround myself with every possible edition and English translation of our sister's writings and go from there!
In this case I am happier than a clam (I hope clams are very, very happy) to have discovered that, just as I suspected, Mother Agnes' work on Therese's book was invaluable. Those changes and additions that some later scholars detest (they're scholars, so they can't help it; we don't need to mind them, only we will cherish what they despise so that no fragment is lost!) are the very morsels that so delighted earlier readers and followers of Therese's Little Way. I'm sure in their many conversations, Therese had told Mother Agnes, perhaps again and again, how that scene played out after their mother's death, what inspired her, what exactly motivated Therese in choosing Pauline for her second mother.
Mother Agnes then, when in the year following Therese's departure she had to prepare Story of a Soul in its very first edition (having no inkling, I would imagine, how many more editions in every known language would follow!) was not making things up. Rather, in her grief mingled with joy, in her astonishment at the shower of roses Therese was already beginning to send from heaven, Mother Agnes simply added, under the inspiration of her sister and the Holy Spirit, what she intimately knew to be the fullness of what Therese had experienced. And these words that Mother Agnes added were the very ones that inspired Marcel to take Therese as his sister, which in turn prompted her to speak to him and acknowledge him as her little brother!
Tomorrow begins March, and by the time this is posted, it will be March for many readers already. Will we meet sooner than the last day of the month for Chapter Three? I sure hope we'll meet long before then, but as to discussing Chapter Three, well I wouldn't be surprised if that was about a month off!
But first, might I mention one more thing? Or maybe just two more things that I love about Chapter Two?
First, I love when Therese tells about her first confession and that Pauline instructed her "it was not to a man but to God I was about to tell my sins; I was very much convinced of this truth. I made my confession in a great spirit of faith, even asking you if I had to tell Father Ducellier I loved him with all my heart as it was to God in person I was speaking."
How adorable! But it brings up a good and important point that has helped me many times through the years. As little St. Jacinta said, we should always (with God's help!) approach the sacrament of confession with great joy and trust. We are going to meet Jesus' mercy! We are going to make Him so happy because we're entering that stream of mercy that is always flowing from His pierced side. This is wonderful! And it is also very true that we are confessing our sins to God. But I must add that I've found it often helpful to remember that just as the Church is human as well as Divine, so we are confessing to man as well as to God.
So if, perchance, you catch a priest having a crummy day and you hear him say to you something in the confessional that doesn't ring quite with the gentleness of Jesus - let's say you confess something small and the priest gets impatient with you, or some such - well, don't worry about it at all! Just remember that you're not confessing to God, you're confessing to man! Of course you are confessing to God too, and it is God who's embracing you and shedding mercy like roses all about you, but you're also confessing to a priest with human failings, so in case you hear a gruff response, don't worry a single bit!
And finally, I want to comment on a passage in Chapter Two that moved me very much as I read it the other night. Therese mentions at the beginning of the chapter how she felt when gazing upon her mother's seemingly huge coffin. Then she writes, "Fifteen years later, I was to stand before another coffin, Mother Genevieve's. It was similar in size. I imagined myself back once again in the days of my childhood and all those memories flooded into my mind. True, it was the same Therese who looked, but she'd grown up and the coffin appeared smaller. I had no need to raise my head to see and, in fact, no longer raised it but to contemplate heaven which to me was filled with joy. All my trials had come to an end and the winter of my soul had passed on forever."
Later in the book Therese will tell us about the circumstances surrounding Mother Genevieve's death (I think she will, that is! If I'm remembering correctly!). But what really filled me with tender joy and gratitude was the way in which Therese could write about the time of Mother Genevieve's death as a time when "All my trials had come to an end and the winter of my soul had passed on forever."
You see, after that time Therese would suffer her trial of faith and the physical pains of tuberculosis. And yet these were nothing compared to the sufferings she went through as a child! I have often quoted the words of Isaiah's Chapter 40 to those I love who are suffering and trying to climb out of the Pit: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her slavery is at an end, her guilt is expiated, she has paid double for all her sins."
I don't say this because I know they won't suffer again. In fact, being in the human condition, I know they will suffer again! But I also know that there is suffering, and there is suffering. And there can be (can have been) a time when our trials have come to an end and the winter of our souls has passed on forever - even in this life, even when some other trials still await us.
Which leads me to conclude that we don't need to be afraid! Now that we know Marcel and Therese, now that they have taught us more and more of God's limitless love and infinitely solicitous and tender compassion for us, now that they've taken our hands to lead us along the Little Way with them, we will never suffer again in the wintery way we once did! We aren't alone anymore! Therese said it of herself in this passage I've quoted, and she knew whereof she spoke. So feel free to tell God that you'll accept everything from His hand, but let's let bygones be bygones and old winters be old winters! (Yes, this winter may still be with you, but let's put the winters of our souls behind us for good!)
Those are my thoughts, my two (or twenty-two) cents, and I've had such fun telling them to you! I hope you enjoyed Chapter Two, and if you haven't had a chance to read it yet - well, good thing I didn't spoil it by commenting on it to the last word!
And to close with a last word here? Let's sign off with a prayer, using it to place all our trust in Jesus, our True Love.
Draw me, we will run!
Little Jesus, we love You so much! Stay with us until the day You bring us to Heaven!
And now . . . Happy March!
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