The roses pictured above are called "Fragrant Cloud," and they are - I wish I could give you a scent, as well as a photo! - fragrant indeed! I know this because I have many of them blooming in my little Therese garden of 4 rose bushes behind the house, and they never cease to delight me, Marcel, and Therese who sends them (not to mention the many recipients of her largess to whom I pass them along, although I confess that lately they're all clustering in our living room around our Russian icon of Mary and a statue of St. Therese that sits beside her).
Enough about the history of these roses in my life, though. What do they mean for us at Miss Marcel's Musings? By picturing them above in a beautiful couplet, I'm thinking of today's great feast:
Happy St. Alphonsus Day!
The smaller rose to the left is our own Marcel, and the bigger more blooming rose represents St. Alphonsus. He is Marcel's holy father in the Redemptorist Order he - St. Alphonsus, that is, founded, and since Marcel is our brother, St. Alphonsus is our holy father too! Furthermore, as well as being our dad, he's a Doctor of the Church, author of a gazillion marvelous books, and the merciful theologian who made moral theology a thing of beauty: or in other words, the one whose teaching has the power to knock out the bullies of Srupples in this fallen world. (If you still find those bullies knocking on your door instead of lying down knocked out, call on St. Alphonsus and maybe even google "Scruples Anonymous" - you'll find there his Redemptorist sons at your service.)
But if we take one more glance at our roses, there's something more they represent, something more personal to you! Just as Marcel was like a little flower under the overarching bloom of his father St. Alphonsus, so we are now the little flower under the overarching bloom of Marcel himself! So ultimately that flower on the left is YOU, dear reader, not merely in bud, but thanks to Jesus and Marcel, blossoming nicely, while the more full blown bloom kissing you from the right of the photo is our brother Marcel himself, who's mighty happy now that he's received the Real Kiss of Jesus that whisked him straight to Heaven!
A year or two ago on this very day, St. Alphonsus Day, I found the most wonderful quote from one of his books, The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection - which "means," incidentally, is prayer (she revealed, in order to save countless readers the trouble of procuring the book for themselves). Well, this particular book, I mean the actual copy I have, belonged to my dear cousin Charlie, who LOVED St. Alphonsus as perhaps no other has done in the history of post-Alphonsus-time. You can bet, then, that what Charlie underlined in this book is REALLY BIG - and fortunately for us, Charlie didn't underline everything (as I tend to do in my favorite book), so we can see that what he underlined wasn't just really big, but even The Most Important Thing. Or, at the very least, what I found that Charlie had underlined was, and still is, exactly what the Holy Spirit wants us to take away from this great book in our super-short-perusal-of-it-because-we-have-to-get-back-to-Conversations, our favorite book.
As you might guess, this morning I returned to Charlie's St. Alphonsus book and re-found the wonderful quote to share with you. St. Therese said that for simple souls there must be no complicated ways. Given my penchant for complicating things, I've decided this quote is SUPER important for saving my soul, or saving some remnant of simplicity, anyhow. You'll see what I mean when I tell you what the quote is, and so, if you're sitting down, here it is:
"One single holy maxim, well ruminated, is sufficient to make a saint."
It suddenly strikes me that St. Alphonsus' maxim above, you know about one single holy maxim, could be mine. But I think today's guest, our holy father, is rolling his eyes and shaking his head, and Marcel whispers, "No, no, choose another one, silly!" so I have no recourse but to give you my own favorite and most necessary maxim, while at the same time I encourage you to choose one of your own, with the help of the Holy Spirit who breathes where He wills, and your guardian angel who knows exactly what you need to become a saint. And don't worry if you want to borrow mine until you find your own - though I'm biased, I think it's the best ever and you can keep it as long as you like, especially since Jesus meant it for all of us.
Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me or this blog (and to know this blog is to know me!), my maxim comes from Marcel's Conversations with Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese, and in particular, from a conversation our little brother had with Jesus. And the way my maxim (you know, the one that well ruminated will make me a saint) appears in Conversations is both delightful and quite appropriate for today: Delightful because it comes straight from Jesus our adorable Savior and Spouse, and appropriate because Jesus even explains to Marcel (and us) that St. Alphonsus himself endorses it!
We find our maxim in a conversation Jesus had with Marcel on April 13, 1946 at around (438) in Marcel's pages, and happily this holy maxim comes straight from Jesus' sweet mouth when He says:
"Do not worry any more, ever."
That's it! Isn't it terrific?
Besides being a single holy maxim, I think "Do not worry any more, ever" has to its advantage (and ours) that it's quite short, and therefore possibly memorable even for those of us blessed with Marcellian memories. And then, as I mentioned, it's got St. Alphonsus' endorsement, but even better, not only his, as Jesus explains:
"Besides, everybody repeats the same thing to you: your Mother Mary, your sister Therese and, if Saint Alphonsus spoke to you, he would only tell you not to worry . . ."
Isn't that fabulous? But there is, as you may suspect, even more.
What I love about this holy maxim is that although Jesus waited until relatively recently (about 3 years ago) to bowl me over and draw me closer to Him with this saying in Marcel's Conversations (and after all, He had to give good Jack Keogan a chance to translate Convos into English from bearded Jesus' - Father Boucher's - French from Marcel's Vietnamese), our loving Savior could not restrain Himself for those long centuries from giving us all the kiss contained in "Do not worry any more, ever," and so, we find, He actually said it long ago on the night before He died!
You can find it more than once in St. John's record of the Last Supper in chapter 14 of his gospel. There Jesus tells us straight off in verse one, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." And again, a bit later, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."
Wow! God is so good! And to think the night before He died wasn't by far the first time that He told us these words. They're scattered over the New and Old Testaments, as if He really, really, really wants us to get this message!
I love, too, that our Heavenly Father sent Pope Saint John Paul II in more recent years to remind us frequently of this holy maxim. "Be not afraid!" the Vicar of Christ would say in his lovely Polish accent. And he meant it!
We have, then, a well chosen single holy maxim. We are ready to be saints! Except - not to make you worry, but isn't there always a catch?
It struck me this morning that I was forgetting something important about St. Alphonsus' holy maxim that got us started on holy maxims. He says, and again I quote, "ONE SINGLE HOLY MAXIM, well ruminated, IS SUFFICIENT TO MAKE A SAINT."
Did you read the small print? We've got to ruminate? And "well"? Ack! We're sunk!
Except don't forget that Jesus told us not to worry any more, ever, and that includes now, which means there must be a way around "well ruminated," and thankfully, I have that little way handy. (You see, then, that Miss Marcel sometimes muses before she starts writing. Not often, but it happened today, thanks to St. Alphonsus who, believe it or not, himself tended to be a worrier, which is why he was and is so concerned that we learn from his mistakes.)
Recently I came across a book by the famous English Dominican of a hundred years or so ago, Fr. Vincent McNabb. He was a friend of G.K. Chesterton, and I'd heard of him, this Fr. McNabb (that's why I call him famous) but I'd never read anything by him that I recall. Thankfully, this book called God's Way of Mercy jumped off a library shelf into my arms and rectified the situation. (Now don't go popping over to amazon to order the book - you can trust Jesus and me; we're about to give you the best part right here.)
So there I was in the stacks, attacked by a great book, and when I gathered my wits (and the book), what words did Fr. McNabb speak to us? For surely they were not meant solely for Miss Marcel. Why would God have set up a blog especially for my musings, if not because just as every word He gave to Marcel was meant for us, so every word He gives me is for you too?
The touching solicitude of our loving Little Jesus guarantees that He will give us everything we need. He was well aware that it would dawn on me this morning that while I love to muse, I'm rather terrible at ruminating. And so, He had previously sent me Fr. McNabb, a Dominican, and thus a practically professional ruminator! (What with the vow of poverty, I'm not sure he's technically a professional, but you know what I mean.) This is a son of St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas, a lover of wisdom, a contemplative sharing the fruits of his contemplation with the rest of us, and none too soon! Here is what pages opened before me, and here is what Fr. McNabb tells us in his gentle rumination prepared for us 85 years ago, originally given as a retreat talk on "Solicitude" in Hampstead, England, but obviously meant for you and me today. I will border his thoughts with flowers here at the beginning and later at the end, so you might recognize where his ruminations start and finish, and my musings start up again.
* * *
From a retreat conference of Fr. Vincent McNabb
"Be not solicitous." (Luke 12:22)
"Fear not, little flock." (Luke 12:32)
It seems almost sacrilege to add any words to the great sermon of Our Lord to the poor human heart so constantly solicitous for the tomorrow it may never see. And Our Dear Lord says so simply: "After all these things the nations seek" - those nations now seem out upon the dark, all seeking; but not seeking what is first and realizing that all the other things will come, and come in due order. One of the paradoxes is that we seem to preen ourselves on being so much superior to other centuries in intellectual culture. Yet never was there such a century when men were thinking so much of what they should eat and put on. No wonder things are getting worse . . .
So often human life seems in rags because something is denied it. I will give up all that has ever been written for this passage! "Fear not, little flock." God says to me: "Don't be afraid, Father Vincent." I'd tear up all the works of St. Thomas for that! I'd put them all on the fire!
"You're frightened. Don't be frightened. Poor little soul, you're frightened." I wonder how many of you remember, as I remember, waking up from the sleep of sickness in childish terror, to find a mother's arms round me. "Don't be frightened, my child. What are you frightened of? Dear child, don't be frightened. It's your Mother."
You know, we must be in a terrible state when Our Dear Lord tells us to be of good heart by thinking of the ravens. Catholics will always love natural science. We shall always be interested in animals; even in the grass. Perhaps that is why there were dovecots in the old steeples, and grass about the feet of the church. When you and I are almost laying violent hands on ourselves, let us accept Our Lord's invitation to go out to the birds and the grass. Let us just sit and look at the sparrows . . . Our Dear Lord tells us of the sparrows, just to teach the world not to be solicitous. There are times, you know, when we are overwhelmed with sorrow and disappointment. We just look at something, almost unable to think - the swirl of the dry autumn leaves; or a fly crawling up the window-pane, or the sparrows.
Oh, my Beloved Master, how Thou didst know the human heart! Thou didst make the sparrows and the grass for Thyself and for the poor fear-overwhelmed heart of man.
Our Dear Lord speaks here of solicitude about what we shall eat and what we shall put on. That is a great solicitude in modern times. But there is also a kind of spiritual solicitude He is trying to allay, and He meets it with terms of endearment. "Little flock. Little lamb; My lamb, be not afraid. Little flock." Now as the hour of separation comes and He has made these reeds almost into rocks, endearment is on His lips. "Be not afraid." This is to great stalwart fishermen, who hardly knew what fear was. We can have a kind of spiritual solicitude; the soul is almost terrified about tomorrow. St. Peter, the expert in all these sudden fears, says: "Be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled" (1 Peter 3:14). Even in spiritual things we must not be solicitous for the morrow. We must not think our strength will give out.
"Your Father knoweth you have need of these things." How often I have heard that from my Mother's lips! "Your Father is looking after all that, child. Your Father is seeing to that." Sometimes even in spiritual things we are over-solicitous, even about our sin.
Ah! A Son of St. Dominic can never forget the prayer of his own spiritual Father. He used to pray to be a stone in the mouth of hell to keep souls from falling in. Perhaps that was the most daring of prayers. But there was no solicitude about it, only a solicitude to help others. There is no over-care about tomorrow; just a love of God, a love of souls, and trust that God would keep him against any final loss.
So, dear children in Jesus Christ, may our thoughts tonight be just the memory, I almost said the murmuring, of these words of Our Lord.
Oh, dear children, think how privileged you and I are to close our ears after the music of these words of Our Lord.
Each night, as darkness draws on, I seem to remember the awful terror the darkness was to my boyish mind. Now God is so good He has penned all those terrors; and from time to time, before one dares to give oneself to sleep, the music of these words is sung into our ears.
Whatever, then, the cause of our solicitude today or tonight, we must not yield to it. We must yield to Our Lord. No one loves us as He does, nor so unselfishly. No one has bought us at such great price. We are of great value to Him even if of little value to ourselves. Who of us could value ourselves highly? To Him, even heaven seemed well lost for love of us; and with desire He desired to prove His Love by death.
So let us be lulled and at peace with the sweetness of these exquisite words of Divine Love.
"Your Father knoweth that you have need of these things." Yes, dear Lord, Thou sayest that as if Thou Thyself didst know. But Thou, too, knowest, My Brother, Thou knowest the depth of my sorrow and of my over-solicitude. And with sweet words from Thy most Sacred Heart, Thou dost bid me, "Fear not, little lamb of My Love."
* * *
To borrow Fr. McNabb's opening, it seems almost sacrilege to add any words to the great sermon he preached on the great sermon of Our Lord to the poor human heart . . . and so I will only repeat Jesus' more recent words - twelve years after Fr. McNabb's, and almost two thousand words after His own original, "Fear not, little flock" -
Do not worry any more, ever!
Ah, He is so gentle, so kind, so merciful, so tenderly solicitous in reminding us not to be solicitous! He even gives us a remedy for our inability to not worry, when He sends us Mother Mary's words to us through Marcel in a later conversation (596):
"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."
Lots of good advice, but it all comes down to one holy maxim, however many different words we end up using, in imitation of Our Dear Lord (as Fr. McNabb so sweetly calls our True Love!), who never tired of trying to convince us in every possible way: Don't worry! Don't be afraid! Don't be solicitous! Fear not!
What love, what love!
I, for one, am now starting to worry about what I have to do next after finishing this post. Bad me! But let's not be discouraged. Our good father St. Alphonsus told us that one holy maxim, well ruminated, would do the job and make us saints, that is, make us one with Jesus.
If ruminating hasn't worked it's magic on us very little flowers, let's try something else. How about marinating?! Maybe it was a bad translation and that's what St. Alphonsus really said!?
One holy maxim, well marinated, is sufficient to make a saint.
If you're like me, whenever a recipe calls for marinating, you have about ten minutes tops before everyone expects dinner on the table. Oops! But this time it's different. This time our time is - who knows? - well, actually, exactly like when we're making supper: this time our time is just however much time our Heavenly Father deems perfect, so no worries! Let's marinate in Jesus' words; let's not give up, but let's follow our holy maxim till the sweet end when Jesus gives us that Kiss of kisses and takes us to Himself.
Fear not, little flock.
Be not solicitous . . .
Be not afraid.
Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.
Do not worry any more, ever!
And finally, "Little Jesus, I offer You this worry as a sacrifice!"
St. Alphonsus, pray for us!
Fr. McNabb, pray for us!
Blessed Mother, pray for us!
St. Therese, pray for us!
And Marcel, come play with us, and make us laugh, as you always do! It's hard to be afraid when we're laughing, and so we thank you for all your help!
Little Jesus, kind Jesus, our dear Lord, our True Love:
Draw me, we will run!
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