Before anything else today, I must introduce you to the Purple Tree, by name to her friends, Jacaranda. I've just looked up the meaning of "Jacaranda" - it's believed to come from the Tupi-Guarani language and means "Fragrant." You could knock me over with a feather! If I were to name this tree, I'd definitely name it an exotic word that means PURPLE, but it turns out (little did I know, but always so happy to learn) that the Jacaranda tree is not only purple, but also has fragrant bark.
Do you, dear reader, know how much I love you? So much that instead of doing what any normal girl would do - namely running off to go smell a Jacaranda tree - I refuse to abandon my post. Ha! Pun intended, I guess! (After you accidentally commit a pun, when you realize its double meaning and relish it, then would you say the pun is intended? I guess it will have been when you said it, and now is, after the fact. A conundrum for another day, however.) The reason I refuse to abandon my post is that, far from my heart's desires, the ole "time pressure problem," as the wondrous Fr. Dubay used to call it, has reared its familiar and menacing head. So little time! So much to write! What to do? Come Holy Spirit - we must depend on You more than ever today. May I type fast with few mistakes, and may You fill this post with the many miracles I'm longing to share . . .
So, miracle number one: Purple trees. Yes, they exist, all around my little SoCal town! If when you think of Southern California you think Hollywood and the Beach Boys, you're not totally wrong . . . but you're missing out on so much more . . . Avocados and citrus groves, bird song (though alas, not my lovely cardinals which seem to be everywhere but in California - Jesus, I offer you this immense sacrifice - empty purgatory, please, though I know it continues to re-fill on a daily basis), and then the most surprising plants and trees and flowers you could ever hope to come across. Don't get me started on the succulents. That sounds like something delicious, but is really the name of desert plants that can be surprisingly pretty, but for me, they remain desert plants. (No, Jesus, You don't have to amuse Yourself but teaching me to love them more than roses - I'm so happy with roses!) They, and cacti and other dry-and-dusty plants will flower in the most incredible ways - one of my favorites being a cactus that ends up looking like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. But then, setting the succulents and cacti aside (watch out for those needles on the cacti!) there are the flowering trees, and what astonishing flowering trees they are! I do miss the glorious dogwoods of Virginia, and the cherry blossoms of D.C. (not that I ever went to D.C., but it was nice to know there were cherry blossoms aplenty there in Spring), and perhaps most of all the redbud, although Jesus has given me a huge something-like-a-redbud just a few blocks from my house. And more than that, give me a tree sprouting red tulip things among its otherwise bare branches, another bush-tree that blooms bright yellow (so bright! so lovely!), a magnolia (which, in flower, looks like its sporting huge white roses!) and best of all, give me purple trees, and I'm not going to complain.
To be perfectly clear, the trunks of Jacarandas are not purple (which the trunk looks to be in the photo above) - but in the early to mid summer, these tall graceful trees bloom purple like it's going out of style (which I think means it's their last chance to show off). And to increase the magic and the miracle, when the flowers are ready to end their short lives, instead of turning brown (nothing sadder than a border of white azalea bushes past their prime), they stay purple and fall down to carpet (really, like a purple carpet!) the ground beneath the tree. Oh. So. Exquisite!
And do let me assure you that I chose the particular photo above to illustrate that (although not the trunk and bark and branches which are an understated but appropriate tree-brown color) these trees are seriously purple! Isn't that a miracle?
As if that weren't enough, I was hearing today about ptarmigans and picas in Alaska. That is, I heard about them in my kitchen - no, that's not quite right - I mean that in my kitchen, a young man recently returned from Alaska told me of seeing ptarmigans and picas there (in Alaska), and in addition to the silent "P" (I can never quite get over the delight of a silent P, and if you haven't yet read Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse - the P is silent, though not in P.G. but in Psmith - please do, right after you've finished watching Harvey) - that is, in addition to the silent "P" in ptarmigan, for I understand it is articulated in pica - the description of these northern animals was delightful. Miracles everywhere!
Closer to home (the Jacarandas are close, but the ptarmigans and picas are not, as far as I know), three more miracles occurred that I want to tell you about. We're in the middle of a novena, and that means miracles. I find it so encouraging to reflect on miracles because it reminds us that they are plentiful, and we should expect them! God is, after all, omnipotent (I loved learning that word in 2nd grade or so) and then omniscient too, and finally we should add that He's omnivorous. Not only that He, when He became man, ate vegetables, fish, and meat, though He did that, but more importantly that He loves us SO much He wants to eat us up! A new meaning of omnivorous, perhaps, but I just couldn't think of the word for All-loving that starts with omni!
However you say it, He is all-powerful and all-knowing, so He knows all we desire and He can provide it easily (if He was, say, 93% powerful, He could probably provide what we wanted and needed, but maybe with a little effort, but nope, that's not the reality. He is, in fact, 100% powerful, so it's all easy-peasy for Him!) . . . but the clincher is that He's All-Loving too (I don't like that "too." Let's say ESPECIALLY), and that means not only does He know what we want and need, not only does He have the power to give it to us, but most importantly: He wants to give us everything!
Take the man with the bike and the wheelchair.
Yesterday I was driving up to 5:20 Mass at Thomas Aquinas College. From my house to the chapel there is a long stretch of winding road up into the mountains. On this road I passed, walking toward me (but well away from me on the road, so don't picture the miracle as my having barely missed hitting him, although then again, let's be grateful I missed him by a long shot) a man walking while carrying a bike slung over his shoulder. And wheeling something beside him which appeared to be. . . yes, it certainly was -- a wheelchair! IT WAS A MIRACLE!
I thought, "We need more wayside shrines in America. Here is this poor man having to wheel his wheelchair instead of leaving it as a what-do-you-call-it at the wayside shrine." (Do you know what I mean? People leave their crutches and canes, wheelchairs and slings and so on at Lourdes and other places they've been healed, and similarly, why not at a wayside shrine? There's a name given for these suddenly out-moded crutches, but we won't worry about that now.)
An alternate interpretation, given by my sister-in-law when I told her of this man's miracle, was that he wasn't yet strong enough to ride the bike. Yes, that is possible. He'd just been healed, no doubt, of lifelong shriveled legs, and now he was able to carry his bike over his shoulder because he already had upper body strength (though come to think of it, was the bike a miracle too? Where did THAT come from?), but he was a little hesitant about using his legs for riding until he gets them limbered up after the years of no use.
This interpretation was supported by what I saw on my way home from Mass a while later. There was the man (now we were traveling the same direction, to town) walking still, but now wheeling both the bike and the wheelchair, one on each side of him. He was still on a stretch of lonely road, but much closer to town where, I imagine, he would be able to leave the wheelchair in thanksgiving (as a what-do-you-call-it) at either of our parishes, Our Lady of Guadalupe or St. Sebastian's. But no matter the real story of the miracle and what he intended to do with two seemingly incompatible vehicles, that was a very happy thing to behold - a man walking with a bike and a wheelchair - and with my fertile imagination, the possibilities of exactly what the miracle was behind this strange sight, well they are practically endless! God bless that man!
Which brings us up to date, namely to July 12th, today, when the miracles continued.
I feel bad not telling about the miracle of the gardenias, but this can be done briefly (and must be, because it is not precisely a miracle of today, though it's a miracle that keeps on giving like the miracle of my husband letting us get a poodle).
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I must mention, in case you are tempted to finish this post and immediately find and buy plane tickets for SoCal, anxious as you are to experience the great Jacaranda miracle, that (1) the Jacarandas in my neighborhood are about finished with their gorgeous flowers for this year and (2) the bark is, it turns out, quite disappointing, at least to this fairly sensitive nose. You see, by one of those other kinds of frequent modern day miracles, namely the miracles of technology, I had to take a break after writing about the Jacarandas and before writing about the man-with-the-bike-and-the-wheelchair, and in that break I stole the opportunity to park near a Jacaranda that lives near me and step onto someone's (who shall remain nameless because I have no idea what their name is nor who they are - I only know they have 3 Jacaranda trees in their front yard and they were home so I hope they didn't see the nutty lady who quickly hopped onto their pristine) lawn and smell a Jac and even break off a teensy piece of bark, lest I was missing something.
Because the fragrance, if it was there, was positively underwhelming. No particular fragrance at all that I could smell, so don't buy your tickets, but gaze freely with love and admiration at the fully flowering Jacaranda in the photo atop this post if you need to be fortified again by its miracle. I promise: You're missing nothing in the smell department.
But I mention all this not only to obey our truth-in-advertising laws in California (I feel like Elmer Fudd in this parentheses - I keep wanting to mention here that CA is a very litig - litig - litig- Awwwww lots of laws kind-of-state). My other purpose in being up close and personal, at least with the Jac so I could tell you the sad fact that mine, at least, ("mine" used here in a loosey goosey manner) do not provide the fragrance that supposedly gave them their name, is to get to the miracle of the gardenias.
The first question is, then: Have you ever smelled a gardenia? If not, don't waste a moment. Either smell one pronto, or if you're not in the room with one as we speak, please put it atop your bucket list (not the gardenia itself, but to smell one, silly).
Along these lines, in Persuasion, Jane Austen has Catherine M say that from HT she "learned to love a hyacinth." A noble sentiment bound to awaken appreciation in all hyacinth lovers, but appreciation fades if you've ever had a hyacinth in the house for any length of time.
When we lived in our small town in Virginia, there was a sweet custom among friends, a custom of bringing Easter flowers to one another on Holy Saturday. Hence on a few different occasions (all around the Easter season), I hosted some truly delightful hyacinths in my northern Virginia home. But similar to what I've heard lately about guests staying only 3 days so that like fish-starting-to-smell they don't overstay their welcome (so bizarre - never heard this in my life and suddenly I'm hearing it everywhere) - well if we must have a saying like that, I think we should revise it to something like, "Guests, like hyacinths, should not overstay their welcome, for both, after several days, become cloyingly sweet."
Or at least hyacinths do!
But now that we've ruled out Jacarandas (no smell that I could discern) and hyacinths (way too much smell), that leaves us with gardenias.
My mom had gardenias in her wedding bouquet.
My Nana had Calla lilies in hers, and it's one of the joys of my life that I know this, and that my husband, when he was just a guy who was dating me for some odd reason neither of us yet knew but turned out to be so we could eventually marry and live happily ever after, well, he gave me Calla lilies once in a very Ralph-like-fashion (and if you don't get the literary allusion, put "read The Paradise Project" onto your bucket list right after "smell a gardenia").
So, then, having had the joy of Calla lilies already, and gardenias being a flower I loved because my mom had some in our yard as I was growing up (in honor and memory of her wedding bouquet), I too had gardenias in my wedding bouquet. Wow, the flowers at my wedding were just the best.
Fast forward 25 years and here we are in California, living in a house with two gardenia bushes planted in front. Perfect! Except . . . they never bloomed. . . Until - our 25th anniversary summer, when they started blooming like crazy! Like there was no tomorrow and this was it, now or never, bloom it or lose the unique gift.
There were so many blooms that summer: So many white gardenias, day after day, week after week, just waiting for me to admire them, adore them, break them off and bring them inside where they could put out just the exact right amount of their spectacular smell into the air around them. (They're super easy to break off of the bush, as if they're happy to come with you wherever you choose to take them.)
I suppose you could say the difference between a hyacinth in the house and a gardenia is that the hyacinth is imitating (or being imitated by) the woman who's drenched herself in Giorgio, whereas the gardenia has found her signature scent and perfectly applied it so that when you pass by where she stands, elegant and timeless in her beauty, you get just the right amount of her heavenly fragrance lightly accompanying you, like a benediction.
But enough of the poetic imagery. Go smell a gardenia when you have the chance, and meanwhile, rejoice with me and praise God because again, this summer, the summer of our 30th anniversary, the gardenias here are blooming with all their little might!
Gardenia blossoms galore - which brings me to our next miracle:
Suzannes and Susannas in almost equally absurd numbers!
You see, the man who married the lovely bride with the gardenia bouquet (the first gardenia bouquet, and though this lovely bride's wedding dress was worn by the second gardenia bouquet bride, again, this lovely bride of the first gardenia bouquet wore it first), he had a little boy's crush on a cute little girl who sat near him in school when he was young. No, not his later bride - she was from Detroit, and he went to school in his native Lebanon, then in Venezuela, then finally in Canada, so it couldn't have been his bride - but a little girl named Suzanne. Naturally, then, many years later when God gave him a bride, and then two sons, and then the first of his two daughters, the former little boy suggested they name the first daughter "Suzanne," and his lovely bride agreeing, that is what they named me, because I was lucky enough to be that girl!
My middle name was (and still is, to my constant delight) Antoinette, after my paternal grandmother (that would be Situ in Arabic) who was called Budwea, for Padua, for St. Anthony of Padua. Believe you me that was not a lucky thing to have known as a girl with two older brother who loved to tease. Or to avoid redundancy, let me say simply "with two older brothers." Leaving that aside, however, the passing of the years having shown me the many, many blessings that go along with St. Anthony as a name-saint, and I've ended up depending much more on Anthony than on Suzanne for inspiration.
Then, too, my confirmation name is Aquinas (I seem to have a gift for acquiring Saints-with-cities), so I happily consider St. Thomas a primary name-saint. And finally, when I became a secular (third order) Discalced Carmelite, again I could choose a name and took "Therese Elizabeth of Jesus." Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, then, have been additional name-saints, and latest of all there's Marcel (of Miss Marcel, my newest name) . . .
Where does this lead me? Add on my last name "Andres" and we get St. Andrew, whom we don't honor nearly enough, but I trust he's watching over us in addition to the others. The only problem then is that with this gallery of stars to emulate and feast days to celebrate, I've spent my whole life ignoring St. Suzanne, and/or St. Susanna as I've heard her called.
When, some years ago, I discovered that one of the Japanese martyrs is a Blessed Susanna, a laywoman married to a Blessed Peter, I began to quietly consider February 6 and the feast of Paul Miki and Companions as my name-saint day. Except later I found out that, unlike the 120 martyrs of China we so recently honored here, Paul Miki and Companions were actually companions and all martyred on the same day. Blessed Susanna and Blessed Peter were martyred on the same day too, but a different same day than Paul Miki and Co, namely on July 12th.
But it gets better, because one Susanna does not a plethora make.
I knew, vaguely, there was a St. Susanna, martyr of early Roman times, too. Or even two, too.
But last week on July 5, my dear priest-who-knows-everything emailed to wish me a happy Blessed Suzanne day for July 6th. Turns out there is a lovely and wonderful martyr of the French Revolution, Blessed Suzanne-Agatha Deloye (whose name as a Benedictine nun was Marie Rose, which happens to be the name of another very good friend of mine in heaven, little Marie Rose Guadalupe Cain, whose feast we celebrate privately on June 28). Wow!
But it gets better still, because when I went to look up Blessed Suzanne-Agatha Deloye and the feast of July 6th, I got mightily confused (granted, a frequent event, but this was with good reason) because Google gave me a Saint Susanna U Surim - a laywoman and widow martyred in Soeul, South Korea in 1846, who was canonized by St. John Paul II in 1984 after having been beatified in 1925 by Pope Pius XI - just a month and a half after this dear Pius canonized St. Therese, whom he called "his guiding star," and, if you must know the date (of this Blessed Susanna's beatification) - it was July 5th, the day I first made her acquaintance last week!
Do you mind if it gets better again?
Looking up this Saint Susanna so I could tell you about her, and also wanting to make sure I hadn't made up Blessed Susanna of Japan (both were Asian martyrs and I couldn't find my Japanese Susanna and was starting to panic that I had made her up, but no, thankfully I hadn't) --well what did I find but ANOTHER Blessed Susanna martyred in Korea! And her martyrdom occurred on July 2, 1801, so her feast was just ten days ago and only a few days before this long line of Suzannes began stalking me!
Oh holy stalkers - I don't mind! Thank you for finding me, since I was so long in finding you! And since we're counting you off by name, let me add to your roster those early Susannas I was so cavalier about for so long, but who have just today asked if they might count themselves my patronesses too. Oh yes, please and thank you to:
St. Susanna of Rome, whose basilica was built over the home where she was martyred in 295 after refusing to marrying Diocletian's son-in-law Max but managing to convert the messengers he'd sent. If I'm remembering rightly, I visited Santa Susanna's in Rome in 1983 and 1984: it was (until 2017) assigned as the American church in Rome, and is across the street from Santa Maria della Vittoria where not only is Saint Victoria incorrupt, but she gets to host in her church Bernini's sculpture (which defies description and I consider a miracle in its own right) of Saint Teresa in Ecstasy!
And please and thank you to St. Susanna of Eleutheropolis, martyred in Palestine in 362.
And just to complete the line up, please and thank you too to St. Susanna of the 2nd century, one of a group of wives of 2nd century martyred soldiers under the command of Saint Meletius. Following the death of the soldiers, the wives and children were martyred as well.
I can only say that I am overwhelmed with the love of these many patronesses who refused to be ignored any longer. I think they got wind of the blog and started chatting among themselves about how happy they'd be to intercede for us and our intentions, if only they could figure out how to get our attention. Marcel, always eager to make introductions, offered to plead their causes. Thank you, Marcel! Please give each of the Suzannes and Susannas kisses for us!
Let's see. That's the miracle of the Jacaranda, the miracle of the man with the bike and wheelchair, the miracle of the gardenias, and the miracle of the Susannas. I think I've given you even more than I had hoped, except there are two miracles remaining. At least two, but there's always tomorrow to start on more after that . . .
The first of these last two is a miracle to top all the others, a miracle sent from Heaven to show God loves us and loves our little prayers and loves, most of all, to answer them.
One of my intentions in this novena (as well as in the triple novena I said a while back, and in our novena of novenas here recently) has been for a lovely Rose in my life who has cancer.
I mean who used to have cancer! Just before this post goes to press I got an email that said her cancer is in remission! We'll keep this special Rose in our prayers still, for continued health, but please join me in thanking and praising God for this miracle and joy. I called this a novena of gratitude, and sure enough, God wants to keep us true and faithful as He is! Thank You, Jesus!
And last but not least (well always least and yet never least in our hearts) a final miracle: a word from Conversations. I find it a continuing miracle that God has given us Marcel - more on that tomorrow, I hope - so let's be grateful for him even as we let him instruct us and show us the Little Way.
From 6 April 1946. Jesus says to our brother and to us:
"Marcel, comfort me; say to me, 'Jesus, my brother, I love You a lot.' Marcel I am very pleased with you; and heaven grant that there may be a great number of souls which, like yours, allow me to come and go freely to them. Then, how happy I shall be . . . I love you; I press you against my heart and cover you with kisses . . . Marcel, time has passed, love me well. I, Jesus and you, Marcel, we make only one whole in God the Father, in Love (the Holy Spirit) and in the arms of Mary. Marcel, I kiss you unceasingly, and the more I give you, the more I wish to give you. Marcel, time is up."
Ah, we knew it was so, but Jesus Himself has confirmed it: the more He gives us, the more He wishes to give us. Let's compete, then, in piling up petitions to see which of us can most delight Jesus who so longs to give us everything! It's a competition of Love which we all shall win! And now, together let's pray with confidence:
Draw me, we shall run!
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