Talk about a Wise Guy...
Well, no, not Mother Teresa. And no, not JPII . . . I mean yeah, those two are both extremely wise, but neither of them's the wise guy I'm talkin' 'bout . . Still I couldn't resist posting the pic because it's St. Mother Teresa's Feast Day today! I think it should be National Smile-at-Someone Day, don't you? Mother Teresa was a big proponent of smiling; it's amazing how you can brighten someone's day (or someone can brighten yours) with random acts of smiling. So live dangerously - smile! - and see what kind of joy happens around you . . .
Meanwhile (while you're figuring out who to unnerve, I mean cheer up, by your unexpected smile), do you mind if we hearken back a few days?
It used to be Monday, September 3rd, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, and that was the day the wise guys walked into my musings, almost like they were walking into a bar. (Can't you hear it? "These two wise guys walk into a bar . . ."). I've been trying to ignore them ever since, but you know how wise guys are. They just can't resist one more crack, even when you ask them to keep it down over there.
You see, I'm supposed to be working on a big project with St. Therese's letters, and in fact I am working on it, I promise, just not right this second. I need to finish the project before Saturday - before Friday night, even - and God willing (and the Holy Spirit assisting), I will, but oh my goodness how other things do distract one. You know, eating, sleeping, watching old episodes of Maverick (with James Garner). Not to mention occasional conversations with the husband and the son and various other important people in my life.
Well, I thought the best way to carve out a little extra time for the LTP (Letters of Therese Project) would be to stop musing, but that was like an open invitation to Marcel to jump on the bed (I like to work in my bedroom where there's also a comfy couch and lots of lights). Truth be told, he's always more of a comfort (like the couch) than a distraction . . . and when I've been wondering (frequently) how I could manage to finish by my deadline, our little brother is there to remind me that of course I can't. But God can!
Here's my plan, then.
I'd like you to say a little prayer for me (for the LTP), and I'll say a little prayer for you (for whatever's on your plate - even if it's only the little prayer for me!) . . . Ready? Set . . . Go!
+ + +
I said an "Angel of God" prayer for you. That way my angel and yours can confab, give each other angelic hugs and greetings, and both assist you with whatever you need (each angel is so powerful; I'm sure two will definitely take care of everything!)....and now, let's talk about the wise guys, and then, I'll get back to work. (If you ever wonder if writing a blog is work, I couldn't tell you. This is not a blog so much as a party, and I do enjoy parties, especially if there are cupcakes and really comfortable chairs . . . comfort seems to be a theme around here lately, and as to the cupcakes - it is a big feast, and man can't live on smiles alone. Or at least woman can't!)
Monday I got to go to Mass, and that meant I read my Magnificat about St. Gregory the Great. The priest said in his sermon that Gregory was a Benedictine, and my missal quoted good Greg as saying, "Study, I beg you, and each day meditate on the words of your Creator." That went beautifully because there I was, a captive audience so to speak, and the Psalm (119) at Mass really gave me pause.
"How I love Your law, O Lord!
It is my mediation all the day."
My husband and I are third order Carmelites, and the Carmelite Rule, called The Rule of St. Albert (shared by both Discalced and O.Carms, and by friars, nuns, and laity) instructs us to do just that: to meditate on God's law day and night. Next the Psalm said:
"Your command has made me wiser than my enemies,
for it is forever with me."
Isn't that cool? But here's the part that really got my goat:
"I have more understanding than all my teachers
when your decrees are my meditation."
Straight off I thought of little Therese. She's a Doctor of the Church, just like St. Gregory the Great! Isn't that wild? She had little formal education, lived a rather restricted life-in-exile (she makes up for it now, crisscrossing the globe constantly with her roses), and died at 24. But she's just as much a Doctor of the Church as any of the others . . .
One of my favorite lines from Therese (like with Marcel, there are something like 3, 742 quotes from her that rank among my favorites) came when she was with her sister Celine. They were both also religious sisters (nuns) in the Lisieux Carmel, and standing in front of the convent library one day, St. Therese said:
"Oh, I would have been sorry to have read all those books!"
Celine asked, "Why? This would have been quite an acquisition. I would understand your regretting to read them, but not to have already read them."
To which Therese responded, "If I had read them, I would have broken my head, and I would have wasted precious time that I could have employed very simply in loving God."
Now given that my greatest love after my husband and Marcel is books, you may be surprised that I think this quotation is wonderful. But keep in mind that Therese also said the way we become Saints is by doing God's will and being whatever He's made us to be. He's made me to be a book lover, and I love this vocation! But I also delight in Therese being so simple that she had her small library of favorites (unlike my huge library of favorites): the Gospels before all the rest, then St. John of the Cross, The Imitation of Christ (which does nothing for me), and a very few others. She had no desire for other books - to read or to have read. As for me, I love new books - I mean "new to me" books (preferably old ones, but I'm not a snob).
Yet Therese is making progress in simplifying my tastes. I can now list my favorites, thusly:
1. The Bible
3. The Divine Office
But you know if I was honest I'd stand before many libraries and praise God for keeping me from all kinds of vices (or even just sad introspection) with the joy of having read (or merely read the spines of) many, and have many more left to read . . . Ah! lovely self-forgetfulness, and even more than that the wondrous awareness of His love, that comes with good reading (fiction and non-fiction alike).
But perhaps I digress . . . so let's get back to Therese and our Psalm because here's where it gets interesting. (Frankly I've been interested so far and hope you have too, but here's where it gets SUPER interesting!)
That Psalm said, "I have more understanding than all my teachers when Your decrees are my meditation."
Surely however many books Therese did or didn't read, she was pretty occupied from early childhood with meditating on God's decrees. And so I was musing during Mass on Monday about how truly she did receive more understanding than all her teachers - I mean more understanding even than many of the greatest teachers in the Church, like Thomas a Kempis!
I have a quote on my fridge (lots of them - quotes, not fridges - but this one pertains) from Wisdom 3:9. There the Holy Spirit tells us:
"They that trust in Him shall understand the truth."
St. Therese sure trusted in Him! That's one of her hallmarks: her enormous trust, her bold daring, her unassailable confidence. And she's the living proof of the truth of that verse because having trusted, she understood so much truth, or to put it more simply, she so understood Jesus who is the Truth.
Naturally (and impishly, not being Miss Marcel for nothing), I started wondering during Monday's Mass if little Therese had more understanding than St. Gregory the Great. I thought that would be funny, and I guessed she just might . . .
And then, as He's so wont to do, dear Jesus answered my wonder with a resounding YES! For here is what Magnificat shared with me for the meditation after Mass, from St. Greg himself:
"Listen to what Solomon in his wisdom says: 'Do vigorously everything your hand can do, because there will be no work or plan or wisdom or knowledge in the lower world, to which you are hurrying.' Since we do not know the time of our coming death and we cannot work after death, it remains for us to seize the time granted us before death."
I don't know if you're thinking what I'm thinking, but don't worry, I'll tell you what I'm thinking!
First off, I think I'd better restrain myself from arguing with Solomon or arguing that Therese is wiser than Solomon. (Of course she is, but we're not about arguing here - we're all for peace, love, and sweet understanding!)
Solomon is making a point about "the lower world." He might be referring to the place where everyone went after death before Jesus came on Holy Saturday to lead His flock to a better (and higher) place. He might be referring to what we'd still call "the lower world," the place we call H, E, double toothpicks. (This is a family party, so we'll avoid anything approaching bad words :). But whichever way we interpret "the lower world," it's safe to say he's not talking about Heaven.
Good St. Greg, though (or Great St. Greg, to give him the fullness of his proper title), does seem to be talking about Heaven when he says:
"Since we do not know the time of our coming death and we cannot work after death, it remains for us to seize the time granted us before death."
If you're like me and Marcel and cringe at the word "work" just slightly less (okay lots less, but a cringe is a cringe nonetheless) than when you hear the word "suffering" (sorry! I shouldn't have said it!) - well I have good news for you!!!
I am pleased to announce a great reason to smile on National-Smile-whether-they've-earned-it-or-not Day: St. Therese has something very liberating to teach us about work, here and hereafter.
I'm going to number her teachings, since they come to us through more favorite quotes. All of them, like the previous quote from her, are taken from her Last Conversations.
And no, do't go buy a copy of LC. If you feel that buying compulsion overtake you, by all means buy another copy of Conversations. That will make you smile, and Marcel, and Therese, and me too! If you don't have a copy yet, it's about time. If you already have one, well unless it or you can bilocate, it will be helpful to have another copy for the upstairs/downstairs/bathroom/bedroom/dining room/car . . .fill in the place where your first copy usually isn't.
I'll give you everything you need from LC (the book you're not worrying about buying because I'll give you the best right here :), and we'll start now with Therese's little doctrine of work:
1. Our first quote was spoken by Therese to Mother Agnes (her sister Pauline). Therese is in her last months and Mother Agnes is wisely writing down every word that Therese says, so on August 11, 1897, Mother Agnes writes down the following (and I must interject here that Mother Agnes/Pauline is awesome!! where would we be without her? largely without Therese, and that would be like "the lower world" so let's not even think about it). Therese says:
"I've always found, Mother, that you put too much ardour into your work."
I will only stop to comment that this is a holy maxim that could lead us to heaven (a la St. Alphonsus' advice on his feast a month ago or so). Therese is often quoted (misquoted? mis-empasized, might be a better way to put it) to the effect that we'll become saints by doing small things perfectly.
Nope, I don't think so. Doing small things with great love - that's a motto St. Mother Teresa followed her namesake in living and promoting - and insofar as doing something with great love is to do it like God would, then sure, that's a happy save and we can say that then we'd be doing small things perfectly (i.e. with love). But if we're thinking that putting our whole heart, mind, and soul into earthly labor (or spiritual labors while on earth) to get it JUST RIGHT (i.e. our usual definition of perfect) - like perfectionism with a holy twist - I say nope, that's not the point!
Love is our point!
Childlike trust that while we do our job (nursing? not the sick, but drinking the spiritual milk of Holy Mother Church, like when we read Marcel's Conversations. Sleeping? yes, that is our job too, like a baby!), God will make sure everything else gets done (um, like the LTP.....yes, Jesus, I trust in You!)
2. Lest you think I'm making this up (if only! This could be a good get-rich-quick scheme. I could patent it or trademark it: "The Little Way" with a copyright sign after it!), here is what our little Doctor said when Mother Agnes asked her to explain what she meant by "remaining a little child before God." (This is from August 6, 1897, Feast of the Transfiguration.)
"It is to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father; it is to be disquieted about nothing, and not to be set on gaining our living. Even among the poor, they give the child what is necessary, but as soon as he grows up, his father no longer wants to feed him and says: 'Work now, you can take care of yourself.'
"It was so as not to hear this that I never wanted to grow up, feeling that I was incapable of making my living, the eternal life of heaven. I've always remained little, therefore, having no other occupation but to gather flowers, the flowers of love and sacrifice, and of offering them to God in order to please Him.
"To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of His little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God's treasure. Finally, it is not to become discouraged over one's faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves very much."
3. Pauline (Mother Agnes) isn't the only one of Therese's sisters to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude and love. Here is something Celine (Sr. Genevieve) copied for us during Therese's last July in exile:
"Another time, I said to her: Since you want to go to Saigon, perhaps when you are in heaven, I shall go in your place to complete your work, and the two of us will do a perfect work."
[Yes, Therese was already interested in Vietnam long before Marcel was born there in 1928. She had hoped to go (had her health permitted) to a Carmel in Saigon or Hanoi! And note how Celine is talking about doing a "perfect work." Let's see what Therese has to say to that!]
Therese replied: "Ah! if you ever go over there, don't think it's to complete something. There is no need of this. Everything is good, everything is perfect, accomplished, it is love alone that counts. If you go there, this will be a whim of Jesus, nothing else. Don't think this would be a useful work, it would be a whim of Jesus."
Do you know what I'm thinking now? I'm thinking it's time to eat lots of ice cream and chocolate lava cakes (as well as those elusive cupcakes I'm craving today) because I want to get really huge, with enormous arms so that I can tattoo that whole entire last paragraph on my forearm! Doesn't that sound like a great idea? Except shoot, tattoos are so permanent. How about magic marker? I think so. Just need to add a little bulk to that forearm! Enough said. This last paragraph is so utterly adorable and WISE that it leaves me as close to speechless as anything could in this land of exile!
4. Getting closer to our final and most wonderful demonstration that St. Therese, the littlest Doctor, learned more than her teachers (St. Greg most likely being one of them, since she learned much from her father, St. Louis Martin, reading Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year to the family, and my guess is that St. Gregory was in Dom Gueranger's great work with the other big Doctors), here is another word from Therese to Celine (written down by Mother Agnes on September 2, 1897 - three days ago, as it were, though 121 years ago, and a month before Therese died) -
Sister Genevieve said to her: "When I think they are still awaiting you at the Carmel of Saigon!"
Knowing she was dying, Therese replied simply:
"I shall go; I shall go very soon; if you only knew how quickly I will make my journey!"
5. Ah, yes, Therese had plans for her "rest" when she attained the shore of everlasting Life. And here is where we see that, without the least shadow of a doubt, His decrees having been her meditation during her short life on earth, she learned far more than all her teachers . . . While St. Gregory reasonably exhorts us to seize this day to work because certainly we cannot work after death, Therese was enlightened to see it differently. On July 17, 1897, at 2:00 in the morning, she coughed up blood and then told her Mother Agnes:
"I feel that I'm about to enter into my rest. But I feel especially that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love Him, of giving my little way to souls. If God answers my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. This isn't impossible, since from the bosom of the beatific vision, the angels watch over us."
You see that it must have been my angel who inspired me to suggest I send him to you to greet your angel and help you say a prayer for my Letters of Therese Project. Surely I've spent more time musing here than I intended, and yet, and yet . . . How marvelous are God's works! How sorry a state we'd be in if we spent our time working on Saints' Projects without spending our time with the Saints, admiring God's work in them!
I hope you know that I think St. Gregory the Great is awesome.
I just happen to think St. Therese is awesomer.
And when we come to the question of our brother Marcel, well, you know what I think, I think.
I think with great joy and even more admiration at the mysterious ways of the good God that Marcel is the awesomest!
And now, lest I never return to my work on those letters (which I'll have to remember to approach with less ardour and more confidence!), I'll cease and desist musing here with you. For the moment! As you can tell, I find your company irresistible, dear reader. Thank you for sitting with me at the feet of our novice mistress and sister Therese. Don't forget to say a little prayer for me and the work to which I'm returning, and if you want, you can roll it into our signature prayer:
Draw me (sweep me off my feet, Jesus!); we shall run!
Or in the language of Therese, though without much idea of quite how to say it; any French speakers out there, feel free to Contact Me and I'll share your pronunciation at our next party. Meanwhile, happily saying this badly and with great love, all together now:
Entraine-moi! nous courrons a ta suite!
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I've written books and articles and even a novel. Now it's time to try a blog! For more about me personally, go to the home page and you'll get the whole scoop! If you want to send me an email, feel free to click "Contact Me" below. To receive new posts, enter your email and click "Subscribe" below.