The Apostle of Children
Jesus has many names for his darling Marcel, just as we would expect from one who is in love and constantly addressing His beloved.
In the very first entry of Conversations, Jesus begins: "Marcel! Humble child of my love . . . " He later calls Marcel "My child," "My spouse," "My little flower." And again, "My little friend," "Little apostle of my love," and "Little friend of my love."
It seems there is no end to Jesus' endearments: "Little brother," "My dear little one," and even "My wren," and "mother of souls."
I'm not absolutely positive about which title is Marcel's favorite, but I have an idea. While my favorite of Marcel's names is "the second Therese," I think his own most cherished name is "apostle of children." He took this commission very seriously, as we'll see in the conversation that is the centerpiece of today's post. But first, a word on how I came upon this conversation. . .
When my husband and I were in graduate school, we had to study for a comprehensive exam in philosophy. Our classmates turned to us when the subject of St. Thomas came up. "You went to Thomas Aquinas College," they said. True enough. "So you can lead the review on him. After all, you've read everything he's written."
That anecdote serves to remind me that not everything in grad school was painful. Some of it was super funny! No, we had to tell them, we haven't actually read everything he wrote. Just a smidgen in fact . . . They never really accepted our ignorance, which was fine with me: it's lovely to be considered an expert in something, especially something as wonderful as St. Thomas' writings.
I can see how a similar mistake could be made now about my acquaintance with Marcel. Setting myself up as Miss Marcel is like announcing to the world that I'm a Marcel expert. But no, actually, the reality is I'm simply a Marcel lover, and possibly not even the greatest of these. Not that I don't love Marcel a lot, as he would say, but I'm delighted to know some others who love him so much as to perhaps love him even more than I do. I don't mind a bit - what a marvelous competition to lose, as long as one's in the running.
And so, it's thanks to another Miss Marcel that I found myself reading the following pages (those I'm going to transcribe below) in Conversations at my Friday holy hour. The other Miss Marcel had flipped to the pages in Conversations at her Wednesday holy hour - the same day, unbeknownst to her at the time, that I was beginning to think about babies who die without baptism. I was, as I mention in the next post down, thinking of these little ones because of a remarkable blog post called "Remembering Miscarried Children" that appeared over at Bacon from Acorns that day.
Next thing the East Coast-Wednesday-holy-hour-Miss Marcel knew, her West Coast counterpart (that would be me) sent her a blog post all about Jesus' plan for the little ones, according to Marcel. The Holy Spirit was afoot! This was just what she'd been reading about already . . . so she emailed back and mentioned the passage from her holy hour. "Is this where you got it?" she asked.
Well no, amazingly! But how wondrous that she'd stumbled upon the very passage that had inspired my passage. Mine (you can find it in the next post down) was from Appendix 2 of Conversations, from a letter Marcel wrote to Fr. Antonio Boucher, his spiritual director, in 1950; hers was from (699) in Conversations proper, and was Marcel's original recounting of the event for Fr. Boucher, written in 1946.
As you'll see, Jesus' revelation here is inspired by His tender compassion and loving desire to help Marcel, His dear little friend who is very sad. Jesus has told him that he is to be the apostle of children, but how can Marcel be an effective apostle for them when so many die without baptism and he has no power to save them?
Our reading is from 24 July 1946, and Fr. Boucher, editing Conversations, has added under the date: On the subject of children who die without baptism of water.
Marcel: Some days ago, looking at the little Alphonsian calendar fixed on the letter board, I read a quotation from Saint Alphonsus affirming that children who die without baptism do not have to endure any torments. . . On this subject, I remember that one time - probably during community prayer - while thinking about children who die without having been baptized, I asked myself if, later, they would be able to go to heaven. I spoke to myself thus: if they cannot go to heaven, will they then be deprived of the vision of their true Father for all eternity? In my mind I kept asking myself these questions, and I was very sad.
I thought: to be the special apostle of children and not to be able to do anything to save these souls is something that is very painful for me, all the more so because at this very moment a great number of children are dying without having received baptism. Where can one find priests in sufficient numbers to go and baptize, in time, these children who are on the point of death . . . ? I then raised my eyes towards Jesus in the tabernacle and this glance led Him to reply to me clearly, which has been a very great comfort for me.
To his director: My Father, kindly allow me to tell you that, for some time, although little Jesus does not speak to me often, now and then, when there are important things that I do not understand, He will speak to me still to help me understand. It is precisely for this reason that I said to you one day that little Jesus was no longer sleeping. Allow me to continue my account.
Then little Jesus asked me this question: 'Little brother, so, you are sad again? But why this sadness? If our true Father in heaven, in His goodness, wishes that the voices of these children unite with the voices of the angels to praise Him in heaven, where is the problem?'
Jesus: Remember this well. Naturally, little children, not yet having intelligence, do not have will either. Intelligence serves to understand if something is good or bad, and the will, to act in conformity with what the intelligence understands. These two faculties are the most necessary. Now children do not yet possess these faculties. Therefore, another will must take its place in the heart of these little children; and if this will acts in a manner in conformity with what is good, it is just as if these little children were acting themselves.
However, in order that this will may produce its effect, it is necessary that it acts in a way conforming to what is good, conforming to the truth itself. If, on the contrary, it acts in a manner opposed to what is good, opposed to the truth, this will does not produce its effect.
Now, all you have to do is to place your will in the hearts of little children and, then, they also will belong immediately to the Church. And if they die before the use of reason, they will go to heaven with Me, because they have your will, which acts in them. And since you have the will to believe all the Church teaches, and also the will to love Me . . . It follows that these children also have the same will as you, so that their souls belong to Me completely and they belong to the Church. Although these children know nothing, there is in them, however, the will of another who does know, so that, while knowing nothing, it so happens that they do know.
Little brother, do you understand that? Offer your will to Me, and I, I will place it in the souls of little children who are living on this earth . . . From now, you can be sure that all the little children belong to Me already.
Little brother, this manner of willing that I have just revealed to you is something new. Until now, little children were saved, thanks to this process, without men realizing it. So, little brother, chase away sadness and be joyful. As you are the apostle of children, it was necessary that you know these things.
Children saved in this way are baptized in love itself. It is given to them to confess the faith in love, and they make this act of love by means of will.
Marcel: So there actually are no children in limbo?
Jesus: That is not what I intended to say. After my death, I went down to this prison of ancestors, so the true light has already entered in.
Marcel: If it were as you say, people could stay at home and put their will in the heart of their children without the need to have them baptized. What's your answer to that, little Jesus?
Jesus: To act in such a way would not be to truly will. For there to be true efficacious will, it is necessary, when baptism by water is possible, that it is actually conferred on the children. If one were content to wish it, while remaining at home, how could one call that will?
Marcel: That is all I remember and, since I learned these things, I do not stop putting my will in the hearts of little children. I consider this teaching of little Jesus very true. . . My Father, there are still many other arguments that I understand but I cannot write down. As for the argument given earlier, I do not know if you understand it. As for me, on re-reading it after having written it, it is as if I was not able to understand it. . . What comforts me the most, is that from now on, I truly know that each day I will have totally pure flowers to offer to my Father in heaven.
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Father Boucher adds: When this revelation was made to him, Brother Marcel used a formula containing the acts to make in place of children. But he then forgot the exact wording of this formula, only retaining the principal idea . . . On 11 August 1946, after communion, he remembered the formula and he copied it as follows:
The formula I recited the first time was:
"Little Jesus, I offer You the children who have not yet been baptized. I wish to believe and to love You in their place according to the intention of the Church, my Mother. Graciously recognize them as true children of the Church. And should they die before the use of reason, lead them to heaven with You, so that in union with the saints they may love You eternally, according to the promise You made to me." (703)
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As for me, at first I felt like Marcel when he re-read what he'd written: I'm not sure I understand it! But lately I've been learning this lesson from my little brother: It is not necessary to understand Love, nor to feel Love, nor to remember Love. Naturally I'd prefer all those things - and sometimes I'm overjoyed to experience them. But ultimately, what we can try to do is to believe in Love - to trust in Love - to hope in Love. And best of all, we can do our little best to love Love!
And when we realize we've again failed to understand, failed to remember, and our hard hearts have failed to feel Love, we needn't worry even a titch. Jesus takes care of everything - and we're in good company with our dullness, our weakness, our forgetfulness. Marcel our brother has trod this road before us, and surely he, along with Jesus, will not forget us, the baptized, even as they remember the unbaptized little ones.
And my own favorite name? Why Miss Marcel, of course!
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