Each morning when we say our morning offering (or in the late afternoon, if it's that kind of day), my son and I add a couple invocations to Our Lady and the Saints. Yes, it used to be a more numerous litany, but there's something unnerving about wondering if your prayer partner will ever finish. No, I wasn't worried that Dom would never finish - I was the problem! Until one day (or two) when he turned the tables and started dealing up "Our Lady of ____" (to which I would respond "Pray for us!") and added "Saint ____" (to which I'd respond "Pray for us!"), and continued with Our Ladies and Saints until I had a taste of the seemingly unending prayer I'd been inflicting on him. We quickly reached a more suitable arrangement in which we each get to invoke one Our Lady and one Saint.
Which leads straight to Our Lady of Joyful Surprises.
We made her acquaintance through the same lovely friend who told us that if you start a 54 day Rosary Novena on Our Lady's Assumption (August 15), you'll end on Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7). This friend is clearly a treasure trove of useful and heartening information, but seeing as we've passed that particular Rosary Novena window (and yes, I can hear your sigh of relief, but here we call them all sighs of love!), we'll have to make do for now with Our Lady of Joyful Surprises.
Did I just say we'd "make do" with this new Our Lady? I must be losing my marbles! The truth is that Our Lady of Joyful Surprises is full of not only surprises, but joyful ones, and if any of us need convincing that such unexpected delights are anything less than What We at Miss Marcel's Musings absolutely Live For....Well, I don't even know how to finish that sentence!
The long and short of it (or rather the Alpha and Omega of it) is that Jesus LOVES to make all things new. And we love having all things made new for us! It's a marriage made in Heaven, and Our Lady of Joyful Surprises is always happy to be part of our espousals.
Take yesterday and today, for instance. When Dom's turn came to invoke Our Blessed Mother, sure enough, he called on Our Lady of Joyful Surprises. This thrilled me. What might happen next? It was anyone's guess just what joyful surprises Our Lady would bring, but there was no question she'd answer our call.
Well what do you know? I heard unexpectedly from a few dear friends on email (even got a prized note in my inbox from Jack K, our British correspondent), spoke to another darling friend on the phone, managed to catch up on bill paying AND send out the various Carmelite emails that were on my docket for the day. All of which might sound quite mundane, but it was lots of unexpected delight (and relief) for this little Miss Marcel! (Not to mention the happiness that is hearing from friends, and if they're writing about Marcel and Therese - utter bliss!)
Today, though, when Dom invoked Our Lady of Joyful Surprises again, I knew we were in for it. Sure enough, besides assorted and sundry other happy "you're kidding!"s that I will refrain from cataloging here, the Big Surprise came when I popped over to amazon.com and discovered that my favorite book was back in stock. Not that I have the money just now to order copies, but one likes to know they're available at a moment's notice.
You see, about 2 or 3 weeks ago I went on a binge and ordered 3 copies of Marcel's Conversations. Two were gifts (and another joyful surprise for both me and the recipient: I managed to finally get one of those in the mail today to a Redemptorist priest - I hope he will be joyfully surprised!), and the third was because I just couldn't resist getting myself a spare copy in case anything happened to my original. (Pathetic, I know. Soon I'll be building a barn like that guy in the Gospel!)
To my utter chagrin, however, my shopping spree had unintended consequences. I seemed to have bought out all the "in stock" copies of Convos! And then right about this time Catholic Exchange published my article, "Marcel Van: The Littlest Redemptorist," which was a joyful surprise except for the less than joyful surprise in store for any readers who clicked the link that led to a copy of Conversations for sale, because it didn't seem there were any (copies for sale, that is).
Imagine then, and in fact please enter into with me, the joyful surprise I got today when I found that not merely one but two editions of Marcel's Conversations are back in stock at amazon.com! Woohoo! The world can now go on turning. Our little brother is ready and waiting to fly to mailboxes throughout our fair land, and with 2 day free prime shipping (or free and fast shipping even without prime membership) for all who need his words in more profusion than I can offer them here.
Both editions are under $30, which is also a coup. The Les Amis de Van edition, pictured above, is only $25 with the free fast shipping (may God bless Marcel's faithful French friends), and the original Gracewing edition is only a couple of dollars more. (This latter is quite a bargain since the list price is $40.)
Not to change the subject, but have I ever told you about my family's library? Not a room in the house, as in, "The Library, the Billiard room, the Lounge, the Observatory," and so on, but more like a collection of books that requires space in every room.
My mom recently visited and her reaction to our books was awfully cute. She started in the Living Room (the room you enter from the front door) with, "Oh, and here are your books," as she regarded our four quite large bookshelves and one smaller one front and center. As we went from room to room, she began to muse (I must get it from her), or maybe it was bemuse. For she concluded, entering yet another room with yet more bookshelves (all full of books, thus fulfilling their God-given purpose), "You have too many books!"
You might think I would've been hurt, or angry, or otherwise unhappy with her comment. But what could I feel but complete agreement when she was so absolutely right! For out of all those books, only one copy (at that time, and it wasn't even on a shelf, holding, as it did, pride of place at my bedside or whatever other side is next to me from one hour to the next) was Marcel's Conversations. What a lot of extra and seemingly unnecessary books there are around here, is all I can say! (Okay, full disclosure: there are, amongst the endless tomes, also Marcel's 3 other volumes. Though not quite Conversations, these 3 are equally necessary to my happiness.)
Anyhow, I mention these many superfluous books, nearly our entire library, because as I gaze upon their friendly spines (gaze from my place on the couch, for I'm writing in the living room, opposite those four grand bookshelves that first arrested my mom's attention), I remember the fun I had collecting said superfluous books, and the fun I had in the circulation that used to be a more regular part of our collection. I would get books, and then sometimes I would get rid of books. How else to get more books?
For there is, you must know, eventually a limit to everything, whether it's reached sooner or later.
I am blessed to be married. This means (at least in my case, for my caro sposo is a very sensible man) that there is a limit to the books allowed in. And I have not yet received spousal permission or a city permit to build a barn, so that definitely puts the kibosh on endless in-flow without any out-flow.
And so, in the golden days of yore (mostly in Virginia, as it happened), I would regularly bring books home from the second-hand sellers (and what glorious bookstores I frequented!), but then I would just as regularly bring books to the second-hand sellers from home.
Until one day I realized there was a certain binge-purge cycle going on that needed to stop, so with God's grace, it did.
And now, here I am, surrounded by books as usual, only too happy to have given up the selling of them (it was always such a sorry, unworthily low price one could get for such riches), but smiling quietly over the thought that I am the merchant in the Gospel (phew! I didn't feel quite safe as the barn builder) who has found the Pearl of Great Price. Because I'd gladly exchange all I have for the beauty contained in that one perfect pearl of Conversations - but thankfully, it's not necessary to exchange anything. My husband would be rather surprised (and I'm guessing not too joyfully) were he to come home late tonight (he has an evening class) to find all our books gone and replaced by a few more random copies of Conversations. (He is a man of simple material needs - merely a handful of typewriters and he's happy - but then he does end up reading many of these other books . . .)
(Which reminds me, come to think of it, that we already have 3 copies of Conversations, truth be told. First there's my original, and then there's the one I gave my good husband for his very own, and third is my recent spare. Which just goes to show that only God satisfies, because here I'm thinking that 3 copies is hardly enough for one household, my older son and his copy being in Denver these days.)
And yet I read something the other day that made me feel rather content with my absurd enthusiasm over this wondrous book. It was something Our Lord said to Marcel on the Feast of Christ the King and which I left out of our Feast day post, but it makes sense to transcribe it now in order to console myself for what might otherwise seem an excessive love. (Don't worry, we are not going to have any criticism here of too much love or too much happiness. In these cases, too much is just barely enough.)
From Conversations (30):
Jesus: My little apostle, never allow yourself to be afraid by the effort that you must impose on yourself to write. Even if the words I am saying to you were useful only to a single soul, that would already be sufficient.
* * *
When I first read this, I was thinking of you, dear reader, and hoping my words here (and more importantly, my quotations here of Jesus' words to Marcel) are useful to you. In which case, according to Truth Himself, that would already be sufficient!
But there's another reading that consoles me even more.
The words Jesus says to Marcel have been, quite truly, more than useful to me, and it is a joyful surprise to see that I can be (as you can, too) that single soul that makes our little brother's efforts and exertion, his writing amidst degout and fatigue, well worth the trouble. We are that special to Jesus - we are each that one soul for which He'd leave the 99, but not having to find us far afield today (since He finds us, instead, sitting at His feet with Marcel, drinking in His words), He can use us to comfort our little brother.
You see, dear Marcel, it was worth it! We are so grateful and we thank you from the bottom of our little hearts! Thank you for writing down what Jesus said, and thank you Fr. Boucher for preserving these precious relics. Thank you, too, dear bearded Jesus, for translating them into French, so that Jack Keogan could translate them into English for us! (And thank you, dear Jack! We promise the labour was worth it, and we will cherish every word!)
And now, one more joyful surprise, which in other words might be called a mind-boggling mystery.
Two days ago I pulled out the French mini-book on Marcel by Fr. Pierre Descouvemont (a previous joyful surprise hailing originally from France, sent by way of England courtesy of the endless kindness of Jack K., and arriving as a rose in my mailbox precisely on Therese's feast this past October 1st).
This day I looked into the mini-book was the Feast of Christ the King, and our own wise Fr. Buckley had told us that morning at church that we should be very honest with Jesus. I felt like his 93 years (Fr. B's, not Jesus'!) were almost as good as a thorough acquaintance with Marcel, for what could be more childlike and right and just than perfect honesty and familiarity with Jesus? You can trust Fr. B!
Suffice it to say, then, that later that day I didn't pretend to Jesus that I knew French, but when I came upon a passage I wanted to read in a more familiar language, in all honesty I breathed a sigh of love/relief that Fr. Descouvemont happened to be quoting from Marcel's writings. I pulled out Volume 4 of our little brother's works, his "Other Writings," and turned to the reference.
Need I tell you that I got the reference wrong? No problem, it was the page written for me to find and read at the moment, and that's what mattered. What I found was in Marcel's Notebook 2 (in Other Writings), in which he wrote these words on August 31, 1952:
"During the retreat, I heard a sermon on death and judgment and I wish ardently for them."
This isn't at all the part of Marcel's retreat notes that I wish to highlight, but oh, little souls, hear our little brother and heave out another sigh of love and relief! Death and judgment?? Nothing to worry about - only to wish ardently for!
As our sister Therese has taught us, "For those who love, there is no purgatory," and better yet, "What a sweet joy it is to think that God is Just, i.e. that He takes into account our weakness, that He is perfectly aware of our fragile nature. What should I fear then? Ah! must not the infinitely just God, who deigns to pardon the faults of the prodigal son with so much kindness, be just also toward me who 'am with Him always'?" (From Story of a Soul)
But on to my joyful surprise (they seem to keep coming but they are from Our Lady and, as I told you, her gifts are abundant). Marcel continues:
"Oh! If it were given to me to die, how happy I would be! I thirst for death, not so much because I have kept my innocence, as to have the happiness of loving my divine Friend with a more ardent and more pure love, to teach the world to know God better and to love Him more. I am a petal fallen from the flower, the little Therese. I am going to fly to the outer limits of the world, so that the earth, intoxicated by the perfume of love, may go looking for the divine Friend.
"Jesus! I am the humble petal of the flower, my sister Saint Therese, having to accomplish the same mission as she, to make You known and loved throughout the world.
"This mission, at the same time stupendous and mysterious, most would assume it gladly, but they are not very numerous who sincerely wish for it, since, in this world, it is necessary to live within the confines of a hidden life, it is necessary to forgo pomp and fine appearance. Now, I ask myself, how many are there who wish for the world to consider them as nothing?!" (Other Writings, 51)
And here is the mystery before which I should be silent, but I'm a girl, and I like to talk. Or maybe it's enough to say that I don't want you to hurt yourself trying to read my mind, so let me tell you what I think.
I think that Marcel is absolutely right. It would be a great honor to have Therese's mission (and his) to make God more loved, to help His love be known so that everyone will love Him in return. I hope God has given me this mission, but I'm bold enough (following our little sister Therese) to take it as my mission even if I'm not sure, at least until such time as God makes it clear I'm supposed to be doing something else. It is a stupendous mission, and as Marcel says, I assume it gladly.
Ah, but what a mystery, what a paradox. Even as I wish for everyone in the whole world to read Miss Marcel's Musings so that, for fun and for free (even cheaper than their own copy of Conversations), they can know of Jesus' tremendous love for us, His Limitless Love, yet "in this world, it is necessary to live within the confines of a hidden life, it is necessary to forgo pomp and fine appearance." And with Marcel, "Now, I ask myself, how many are there who wish for the world to consider them as nothing?"
Have you noticed that the little St. Therese is, now that she's in Heaven and glorified, in some ways quite big? When I think of which Saints I want to call upon to help me in an urgent necessity, I think of St. Anthony, and I think of St. Therese. I also think of St. Joseph and St. Padre Pio, but they only serve to confirm my point: St. Therese is shoulder to shoulder with the Giants among the Saints! (No, not the football team, but the Really Holy Ones, the dazzling stars of His Firmament). How amazing!
She wrote in the beginning of Story of a Soul about how it takes all kinds of Saints to make a Heaven, or even an earth for that matter (this was the passage that solved our Marcel's painful perplexity about wanting to be a Saint, and his reading of which began their awesome friendship). And yet in the end, she is a towering Saint with the cedars, even after having been a tiny violet during her sojourn in exile.
Surely Marcel is right that in this life, one must be hidden, be considered as nothing, to truly imitate our sister Therese and carry on her mission. But what about in the next life?
I think part of Marcel's brilliance at carrying out his sister's mission is precisely in his staying hidden, in his being considered as nothing, even now that he is in Heaven. For when we read his Conversations, we who can never thank God enough for having discovered this priceless pearl, we can believe every word he says.
Does he appear to us as the weakest of souls? Yes!
Does he make the least of us feel at home? He certainly does!
And there is no universal fame, no ecclesial glorification, no millions of holy cards and statues, no dozens of Societies founded in his name and under his patronage, no long list of accolades attesting to his greatness even in his littleness. Nope. He's simply little. Which is perhaps the most beautiful part of our second St. Therese and what makes a second St. Therese so necessary.
It would be a lot easier to spread the word of Marcel's words (and Jesus' to him) if we could introduce our little brother as "Saint Marcel" or even "Blessed Marcel" or at least "Venerable Marcel."
And yet how joyful and surprising that we can only say, over and over, "No, he is not a Saint yet. No, he is not Blessed. So far, he is simply a Servant of God who has a cause in process. No, his heroic virtues have not been recognized. But the heroic virtues of the first postulator of his cause have been recognized! And Cardinals wrote his Introductions!"
Do you know what Celine said during Therese's process? That the only reason she wanted Therese proclaimed a Saint was so that her Little Way could be glorified with her. And this has happened beyond Celine's wildest dreams! And now, I will rejoice at every step forward in Marcel's cause. But I will not worry a single instant about what rank he achieves, for his Little Way (the Little Way of his sister Therese) has been vindicated. And the greatest gift Marcel gives me, the little way he proves the Little Way, is by his perduring littleness, even in Heaven.
I am smiling and even laughing, in love with good Jesus who never fails to keep His word. What did He promise this time? Again and again He promises that whatever we ask the Father in His name, He will give us. Marcel wanted to be just like his sister Therese, and Jesus has given him her mission. Including the part it is now so hard for her to fulfill - to convince us that it is really the least and weakest who are most delightful to God. And, too, Marcel wanted to play in Heaven. I think that must be what he's doing! How marvelous of him to invite us into his games!
Do you doubt it? Read Conversations (it can be had for practically a song HERE), or read my silly pages - for here, too, you will find Jesus' words to us through Marcel. And Jesus' words are always full of love and reassurance. No need to worry anymore about anything ever. We have Mary as our Mother, Jesus as our Spouse and Savior, and the most surprising joy of any I can imagine: Marcel as our little brother.
Let's help him carry out our sister Therese's mission: To show others how very much God loves us, everyone, and in doing so, to invite everyone to love Him in return, more than ever before. We are very little, very weak, very small, but it takes only a single prayer and a sigh of love:
Draw me, we will run!
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