Pictured, from left to right: top row: Our Lady and little Jesus from the Tokyo Carmel, St. Therese with her signature roses, Murillo's St. Joseph and baby Jesus; bottom row: Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos (who now speaks Vietnamese, thanks to Marcel!), Padre Pio (who spoke many languages occasionally, thanks to his guardian angel), Marcel (who speaks all languages now that he is in heaven) and novena prayer to St. Therese.
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"I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of . . . "
-St. Therese's Act of Oblation to the Merciful Love of the Good God
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Heavens to Murgatroyd, it's been a coon's age since I've mused here, but Thanksgiving is fast approaching as well as the end of November and beginning of December, and before we know it, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a whole new year, will be upon us! I thought I'd better make an appearance then, because what use is Thanksgiving without thanking God together for the many signal graces He has given us? And what would November 2019 be without our continuing paradise project, which leads us this month to Chapter 11 of Story of a Soul in MBC, also known as Marcel's Book Club? And finally, what better time than now (as the liturgical year ends and begins anew) to gather to remember the enormous - limitless, really! - Love of the Good God?
I thought I'd start our musings, then, with a gratitude list. If you're not in the habit of making gratitude lists, I highly encourage the practice, a tried and true method of getting oneself out of the drizzly (or worse!) cold of a late November day and into the warmth of the Heavenly Father's embrace. It's very simple too - all you have to do for my version is pick up a Rosary (or use your fingers if no Rosary is at hand), and begin counting. For each bead, or each finger, you name a blessing. Sometimes this is easy and the blessings and beads (or fingers) slip along like nobody's business. Other times it takes a little help from our guardian angels because we may have fallen into a rut and forgotten all the many good things that surround us. But either way, it's bound to bring us closer to God, the giver of all good gifts, because He has truly surrounded and filled every one of us with So Many Good Things!
Were you able to go to Mass last Sunday? And even (I hope and pray) receive Jesus in Holy Communion? Right there you have a double infinite blessing that comprises the best the Father has to offer!
How about this morning? Did you get some breakfast or a cup of coffee or tea? Possibly even a smile from someone you saw or ran into as the day began or got going? Or here's one you can try - is your own smile still working? Lift the corners of those lips and make your cheekbones rise into your eyes! Try to look like Marcel and me, whose eyes always disappear in photos when we give our best grins and say cheese - or pho mai (which sounds like foe-my) if we're speaking Vietnamese! What a gift, to be able to smile so big your eyes scrunch up! And if you're able to share it with someone else, another double blessing! (No pressure though. Maybe share it with yourself first, when you're near a mirror. You'll find yourself looking so much better - and so much better looking! - than if you just gaze critically at the reflection gazing back!)
The quote I began with under the picture I'm grateful for (of the holy cards I'm grateful for, of the Saints I'm grateful for, and whew! that's a handful of fingers or almost a decade of beads right there!), is from one of my favorite prayers, Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love. You can find the whole prayer HERE, along with other beautiful prayers and lovely photos, and if you do check it out, you might discover what comes after the ellipses with which I ended my partial quote above, but I'm happy to save you the trouble by repeating the quote:
"I thank You, O my God, for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of . . ."
You can see I've left the ending blank again so you can fill it in yourself. In fact, I'm not a big fan of how Therese ends the sentence in her prayer, so I usually skip that part and substitute my own - she thanks God especially for the grace of passing through the crucible of suffering! As I've mentioned more than once at this blog, I'm not a big fan of suffering, and so it wouldn't be a very authentic prayer if I repeated it word for word. I like to insert instead here after "I thank You, O my God, for all the graces You have granted me" the more true-for-me phrase, "especially for the grace of knowing the Saints." I can never get over how blessed we are here at MMM to have met Marcel, so little known and yet so very lovable! What joy he and his Conversations with Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese have brought to my life!
If you're Catholic, let me congratulate you on already having won the lottery, by the grace of having at your fingertips (to receive and thank God for) the 7 Sacraments so full of Jesus our Love, and so guaranteed to bring you close to the only One (the Three-in-One) who will make you truly and completely happy - forever!
So having won the lottery, what else is there? I think the discovery of Marcel and all he teaches about Jesus (which is everything Therese and Jesus and Mary taught him) - and I'm happy to share this rich gift with you - is like knowing what to spend the lottery on, now that we've won it. The Church is so big, so very catholic and replete with all the treasures of Christ. And yet we each need to find our place in this Ark, this barque of Peter, and that can take time. I'm so happy that after 51 years of happy membership, I found Marcel's mansion in our Father's house! Come on in, there's so much room and lots of comfy chairs!!!
You can finish the unfinished sentence/prayer with whatever grace you're especially grateful for, but as I can't say often enough, I'm definitely especially grateful for getting to know the Saints, and in particular, Marcel. Which brings us, because if I don't get there we never will - my being the little typist who's providing the words of our post which today includes our Book Club for November - to Chapter 11 of Story of a Soul.
Now that I've admitted to using a "Take what you like and leave the rest" approach to one of my favorite prayers (Therese's Act of Oblation and in particular the sentence we began with), let me say two things about Chapter 11.
First, I used this same approach of taking and leaving in my reading of Chapter 11 itself! I was surprised to find that I didn't love every line or paragraph at the outset of this chapter, but then it hit me: how can Therese appeal to such a wide audience if not by having parts God intends specifically for each reader? Marcel loved the memories of her childhood. Those are not my favorite of her recollections! I love the chapter we read last month, which had originally been her letter to Marie of the Sacred Heart, her eldest sister and godmother. Someone else no doubt loves the opening half of Chapter 11! God is so good, so benevolent, so solicitous to each of us, that I'm confident He highly approves of our taking what we particularly like, and leaving the rejected rest for those who will find most nourishment precisely where we don't.
I mentioned that our opening quote today comes from Therese's offering of herself to Merciful Love. That very offering resulted from her familiarity with the practice some had of offering themselves to Divine Justice. Therese said straight out (in this exact book we're reading!) that she found that offering to Justice very generous - but it didn't appeal to her at all!
And then today I read in Chapter 11 a passage in which she explains her own approach to prayer, which she contrasts to reciting the prayers of others. After praising the power of prayer over God's Heart, she writes:
"To be heard it is not necessary to read from a book some beautiful formula composed for the occasion. If this were the case, alas, I would have to be pitied! Outside the Divine Office which I am very unworthy to recite, I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. There are so many of them it really gives me a headache! and each prayer is more beautiful than the others. I cannot recite them all and not knowing which to choose, I do like children who do not know how to read. I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus."
Well, no wonder Marcel and I love this passage! It reminds us exactly of what Jesus Himself told Marcel! In Conversations, our little brother recorded the following dialogue from April 3, 1946:
Jesus: Little Marcel, do you love me?
Marcel: Yes, I love you.
Jesus: But how do you love me?
Marcel: I love you so much that it is impossible for me to express it.
Jesus: In that case, you must never worry.
We could stop right there and call it a day. Is there anything else we need to know or do? Just to love Him, that's all Jesus asks for from us, and then He doesn't want us to worry. Ever! But as always, because His Love is infinite, there is more. And perhaps I should add: because Marcel is Marcel, there is always more. For here is what Marcel says next:
"But, little Jesus, why does Brother Mark behave so harshly towards me? Do not forget that I can place the fault at Your feet since it is You who lives in Brother Mark; it is You who allows him to make me suffer. Little Jesus, before accusing me of lacking in charity, see what virtue You Yourself are lacking in acting as You do. Enough, this month is the month of brotherly charity. I beg You in my turn to devote Yourself again to the practice of this virtue. And we, in practicing it thus, both of us together, we will certainly make rapid progress and Mary will be happy ...
"Little Jesus, here we are now well into Lent and, lo and behold, You are sending me delights. It seems to me that acting so You are behaving against the spirit of the Church. Is that not the case little Jesus?"
I could quote Marcel forever - he is so wonderfully bold, brash, honest, and direct with Jesus! First he accuses little Jesus of being unkind to him in Brother Mark, then he blames little Jesus for being too kind to him in Lent! Doesn't this sound like us? A few days ago where I live we were complaining about the unseasonable heat. Now it has become a more proper frigid temperature for the season - and I'm totally ready to complain about that! And how does Jesus respond, in His limitless Love, to our limitless accusations? What we might call our heartfelt and hilarious prayers? They are surely not from books, any more than Marcel's rant was (sure, now it's in a book, but he wrote it down after expressing it or as a way of expressing it - our little brother wasn't reading this "prayer" from a book anymore than Therese read her prayers, aside from the Divine Office!)
I bet that along with your gratitude list, you have a few choice complaints to make about how someone has been treating you, which (taking Marcel's cue) you can really attribute to Jesus Himself! Why in the world does He treat us (or allow us to be treated) this way? And if we approach Him with our complaints as well as our gratitude and love, will He be angry with us? The wonderful thing about Marcel's Conversations is that Jesus had him write them down in two voices - namely Marcel's and his heavenly interlocutors' - precisely to teach us how to pray, and to teach us what He makes of our prayers.
At the outset of this marvelous transcription of conversations in Conversations (4), Jesus tells Marcel:
"In asking you to be the intermediary of my love with your companions, my intention was that you write not only the words that I dictate to you, but also those that you speak to me. Since there are many who only listen to what I say without daring to converse quite frankly with me as children, under the pretext that it is not proper . . . tell them that I gladly listen to ordinary conversations, even the simplest ones, and I take pleasure in hearing them. There, that is all I expect from souls who love me . . . Continue to write my words down and call them 'Love of Jesus.' As for the words you address to me, you will call them 'Love of Marcel.' I do not look for elegant words as do people of the world, only childlike words coming from a loving heart have the gift of charming my ear. And you, my child, always act in this way since I find much attraction in the words that you address to me here; I never tire of listening to them . . . "
Do you know what? I'm going to give you a special blessing, a special gift for Thanksgiving, and just like Marcel complained that Jesus was giving out of season by giving to him in Lent (rather than waiting for Easter), so too you may complain that I'm giving you this gift on the cusp of Advent rather than waiting for Christmas. No worries! I will give you this gift over and over as long as I'm able to type my musings and post them here - it's a gift that keeps on giving, not only to you, but to Jesus, the Spouse of your little soul!
The gift is this truth from Jesus: "And you, my child, always act in this way since I find much attraction in the words that you address to me here; I never tire of listening to them . . . "
Perhaps no one has told you before, but it is entirely true, for Jesus is God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. He is Truth, so He only speaks truth, and He tells you this: that He never tires of listening to your prattle, your words of love or complaint or thanks or - if we might import our little Therese's understanding of prayer - your every simple glance toward Him! He never tires of any of it! And to seal the deal, He tells us in the Song of Songs:
"You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace."
Don't you think a jewel of our necklace could be one of our Rosary beads of gratitude? But our glance - that comes first as most dear and ravishing to Him, and this glance can be even a glance of annoyance, as long as we look toward Him!
Do you want to excuse yourself on the grounds that perhaps these words are not meant for you? Haha! You find yourself at the wrong blog! Because here Jesus has answers for all our timid fears and hesitations, answers that Marcel wrote for us in Conversations, a book I have free access to (in 2 copies, no less!), and here is what Jesus says to your fear of being left out of His circle of Love. Directing His words to Marcel on November 4, 1945, He explained:
"All the words that I have spoken to you from the beginning until the last one I speak to you in the future - know that it is not to you alone that I am speaking, but to all souls. You see by this that I communicate with all of them. And if, like you, they are sincere in their relationship with me, then I am speaking also to them . . . Do not be afraid, therefore, if later somebody says that I spoke only to you . . . "
And now, knowing Jesus is speaking to all of us in His words to Marcel, let me complete the dialogue we were listening in on a few paragraphs back. Remember the chat Jesus and Marcel were having in Lent? Jesus told Marcel that, seeing as Marcel loved Jesus, "he must never worry." And then Jesus added, "When I say something to you, you must listen straight away."
And what is Jesus saying to us? To what does He want us to "listen straight away?" He tells us that He loves to hear us! He loves to speak to us - not only has He given us every word in the Bible for our own, but every word of the book of Conversations in more recent times, just to make sure we don't miss out on the sentiments of His Sacred Heart and the totality of His message of Love. But more than that, more than the words Jesus gives us, He wants us to give to Him our words, our sighs, our glances, our kisses!
And how does He respond to Marcel's childlike diatribe about Brother Mark, His supposed faults, and His "behaving against the spirit of the Church"? Jesus replies:
"Come, come, Marcel, you are speaking as if you do not know how to reflect. If you were to speak that way to someone who was about to do you a favour, the person would not be able to stop himself from scolding you. But I, far from scolding you, I still love to hear you speak in this way, since you do not intend to reproach me and furthermore, it gives me an opportunity to make you understand something about grace. Marcel, listen carefully. In order to give grace to men, I do not need to wait for a particular season or to pay attention to the temperature because, in that case, there would be times when men would be deprived of the grace necessary for the life of their souls. Remind yourself that my Love never acts in that way. It knows the moment when it must show itself and when it must be hidden. " (352)
I could quote these two forever, and even here in this passage there is so much more to bolster our courage and make us laugh, but we must return to Chapter 11 lest the paradise project police find us out! I started by saying there was plenty I would leave aside when meeting with you about this chapter, and now I find that there is far too much of interest to have time to finish with it in one (even one very long) post - and yet one is all we have. At least our sister Therese is laughing at my dilemma, and I have to laugh with her as I find her writing some pages along, "I am once again far from my subject, with all my dissertations; I beg you to excuse me . . . " Yes, I do excuse you, sis! And I know the feeling!
Ah, but dear sister - then you write to your Mother Marie de Gonzague these words which tell me the Holy Spirit knew long ago of this day when we would meet and laugh, for you write:
"You act like God Himself who does not weary of hearing me even when I tell Him simply my pains and joys as if He did not know them."
I am reading as I write, and what a gift our sister gave us in advance, to confirm the truths of Conversations we have been attending to while wandering away from her Story of a Soul!
"No matter," it's as if she says. "My lessons are the same whether in my Story or Marcel's. Isn't he the second little flower of Jesus?"
Yes, he is! And how both of you remind us that God loves to hear our every familiar story too!
And so, even while I encourage you, dear reader, to revisit, at your leisure, these pages from our sister's pen in Chapter 11, I will fly to the end, soaring over many words that may be precisely the ones you need, but ending with the exact words we always end with here . . .These are perhaps my favorite words from Story of a Soul, because they ease my own soul, helping me to live my own story with peace and joy and confidence, and finally, they put God's words in my mouth, sweeter than honey!
However new you may be to this blog, you will know by now that I love to comment - to muse, as it were - on the beautiful passages that fall from my sister's and brother's pens. But in a gesture of thanksgiving, as well as in honor and deference to your own Thanksgivings, I am going to simply transcribe the last pages of Story of a Soul. These are the pages that bring me greatest joy from Chapter 11, and perhaps most joy from the whole book. Next month we will have the Epilogue (written by her sisters) to occupy us for one last month of paradise, but for now, let's finish with the last words Therese wrote in her memoir. These words are on prayer, and so they complement what we've found in Marcel and earlier in this chapter and finish our lesson on "How to Pray." She tells us:
"Since I have two brothers [her adopted spiritual brothers, missionary priests for her to pray for specifically] and my little Sisters, the novices [assigned to her spiritual direction], if I wanted to ask for each soul what each one needed and go into detail about it, the days would not be long enough and I fear I would forget something important. For simple souls there must be no complicated ways; as I am of their number, one morning during my thanksgiving, Jesus gave me a simple means of accomplishing my mission.
"He made me understand these words of the Canticle of Canticles: 'DRAW ME, WE SHALL RUN after you in the odor of your ointments.' O Jesus, it is not even necessary to say: 'When drawing me, draw the souls whom I love!' This simple statement: 'Draw me' suffices; I understand, Lord, that when a soul allows herself to be captivated by the odor of your ointments, she cannot run alone, all the souls whom she loves follow in her train; this is done without constraint, without effort, it is a natural consequence of her attraction for You. Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, O Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of Your Love, draws with her all the treasures she possess. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine . . . "
[And now I am - forgive me! - skipping 3 glorious pages which I pray you will have the grace to read without me, though certainly Marcel will be near you! We pick up, then with Therese's continued commentary.]
"Mother, I think it is necessary to give a few more explanations on the passage in the Canticle of Canticles: 'Draw me, we shall run,' for what I wanted to say appears to me little understood. 'No man can come after me, unless the FATHER who sent me draw him,' Jesus has said. Again, through beautiful parables, and often even without using this means so well known to the people, He teaches us that it is enough to knock and it will be opened, to seek in order to find, and to hold out one's hand humbly to receive what is asked for. He also says that everything we ask the Father in His name, He will grant it. No doubt, it is because of this teaching that the Holy Spirit, before Jesus' birth, dictated this prophetic prayer: 'Draw me, we shall run.'
"What is it then to ask to be 'Drawn' if not to be united in an intimate way to the object which captivates our heart? If fire and iron had the use of reason, and if the latter said to the other: 'Draw me,' would it not prove that it desires to be identified with the fire in such a way that the fire penetrate and drink it up with its burning substance and seem to become one with it? Dear Mother, this is my prayer. I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of His love, to unite me so closely to Him that He live and act in me. I feel that the more the fire of love burns within my heart, the more I shall say, 'Draw me,' the more also the souls who will approach me (poor little piece of iron, useless if I withdraw from the divine furnace), the more these souls will run swiftly in the odor of the ointments of their Beloved, for a soul that is burning with love cannot remain inactive. No doubt she will remain at Jesus' feet as did Mary Magdalene, and she will listen to His sweet and burning words. Appearing to do nothing, she will give much more than Martha who torments herself with many things and wants her sister to imitate her. It is not Martha's works that Jesus finds fault with; His divine Mother submitted humbly to these works all through her life since she had to prepare the meals of the Holy Family. It is only the restlessness of His ardent hostess that He willed to correct.
"All the Saints have understood this, and more especially those who filled the world with the light of the Gospel teachings. Was it not in prayer that St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and so many other famous Friends of God have drawn out this divine science which delights the greatest geniuses? A scholar has said: 'Give me a lever and a fulcrum and I will lift the world.' What Archimedes was not able to obtain, for his request was not directed by God and was only made from a material viewpoint, the Saints have obtained in all its fullness. The Almighty has given them as fulcrum: HIMSELF ALONE; as lever: PRAYER which burns with a fire of love. And it is in this way that they have lifted the world; it is in this way that the Saints militant still lift it, and that, until the end of time, the Saints to come [that's us!] will lift it.
"Dear Mother, now I would like to tell you what I understand by the odor of the ointments of the Beloved. Since Jesus has reascended into Heaven, I can follow Him only in the traces He has left; but how luminous these traces are! how perfumed! I have only to cast a glance in the Gospels and immediately I breathe in the perfumes of Jesus' life, and I know on which side to run. I don't hasten to the first place but to the last; rather than advance like the Pharisee, I repeat, filled with confidence, the publican's humble prayer. Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own. Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him.
"No, there is no one who could frighten me, for I know too well what to believe concerning His Mercy and His Love. I know that this whole multitude of sins would be lost in the twinkling of an eye like a drop of water cast into a burning furnace. In the lives of the desert fathers, it is told how one of them converted a public sinner whose evil deeds were the scandal of the whole country. Touched by grace, the sinful woman followed the Saint into the desert to perform a rigorous penance. On the first night of the journey, before even reaching the place of her retreat, the vehemence of her love and sorrow broke the ties binding her to earth, and at the same moment the holy man saw her soul carried by angels to God's bosom. This is a striking illustration of what I want to say, but the reality itself is beyond the power of words to express.
"It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love . . . "
And here is the end of Therese's writing - the last pages being written in pencil, for she no longer had the strength to hold a pen!
What shall we take away? His Mercy, His Love, her determination to tell us the Truth of both!
Little Therese, little Marcel, we thank darling Little Jesus for giving you to us as our flowers too! Help us to thank Him for the untold blessings He has given us, which only we can discover and thank Him for. Help us to turn to Jesus always with confidence and love, to tell Him our simplest (and most complex) hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, and even what we're looking forward to or dreading tomorrow!
Thank you, Therese, for teaching us the words with which we close today and always:
Draw me, we will run!!!
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