We're in day 2 of our latest novena, this one in honor of Our Lady and Marcel. You'll notice by the title above that I'm pretty stoked about it being the day before July 10th . . . and if you're fashionably late to the party, let me tell you what's so thrilling about the day before July 10th. It just happens to be the day before Marcel's birthday-into-Heaven!
There's something else about the day before July 10th, though, that's got me smiling and accounts for the beautiful image of Our Lady of Beijing now gracing our humble abode here at Miss Marcel's Musings. Wouldn't you know it's July 9th (I bet you were way ahead of me on that one), and I discovered at Mass this morning that July 9th is the feast of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and Companions. I'm getting a huge kick out of that "and Companions" designation. What would you guess? Maybe St. Augustine Z.R. was a Chinese convert (his name sounds foreign) and this is the day the Church celebrates how he and five or eight of his compadres - perhaps Jesuits, all converts and some priests with a few brothers and a catechist or two - were martyred when things got tough?
Try again, mustard seed! The group is not so small, nor so contained as to be from one religious order, nor even all contemporaries of Augie. This is the glorious feast of none other than the 120 martyrs of China who gave their lives for Christ from 1648 to 1930. Some gave short lives - the youngest martyr was 9; some longer lives - the oldest martyr was 76; and all were canonized by St. John Paul II in the great Jubilee Year of 2000 on October 1st, the feast of St. Therese, patroness of missionaries and the missions. Wowie zowie! St. Augustine was himself Chinese, as were 86 others of the bunch, while 33 were European missionaries, so although I keep wanting to call them the 120 Chinese Martyrs (reminiscent of the 5 Chinese Brothers of storybook fame who, cleverly and contrarily, did not give up their lives), they are "of China" in the sense of being martyred there, but not entirely from China.
How do I know so darned much? Well it's not really me. I'd like to thank the editors of Magnificat, Google, and Wikipedia, but most of all the credit goes to a certain Italian missionary I've mentioned here before and whose feast is following fast on the heels of Marcel's. I met Fr. Nicholas Maestrini, P.I.M.E., first through the book Beyond East and West by the Chinese convert (and non-martyr, though during the dark days of World War II, with the Japanese in China it was a close shave for both Fr. Nicola and his spiritual son) John C.H. Wu. That book inspired me to track down Father NM's Forever Love, which in turn led me to write a fan letter to Fr. Maestrini. The date on the letter? February 18 (2001), which I later discovered to be the anniversary of the date on which Pius XII beatified Alberic Crescitelli, another Italian P.I.M.E. priest who'd been sent as a missionary to China, just like Fr. Maestrini had been - only Alberic's time there ended in martyrdom in 1900, while Fr. Maestrini's time ended in expulsion (technically it was the order from his Order to head to another mission territory, but this was on account of the coming expulsion) from China in 1950. You might think that for a missionary to be forced to leave his mission land would be worse than martyrdom - and you're right, and you're wrong. This I didn't pick up from Magnificat or Google or Wikipedia, but from Fr. NM himself, as I'll tell you in a moment. Marcel loves this story, and I think you will too. But we'll get there through Alberic's story. (And might I just add that I can't believe God's kindness in letting me tell you these stories? There's nothing more fun for me, and I hope you're enjoying it too!)
I can't wait a moment longer to tell you that Alberic is one of the 120 martyrs of China, which is why I'm compelled to tell you about him today. But before we get into his story, here's a picture (from a photo) of Alberic in Chinese dress, taken shortly after his arrival to his mission in China in 1888. He was 25 years old. People didn't waste time in those days! Interesting to me is that he set out from Italy for China on April 8, 1888, just one day before little 15 year old Therese entered the Carmel of Lisieux where she would pray for priests and missionaries; he arrived in China on May 19th, the birthday of my older son, who has always prayed for the conversion of China, and who chose that image of Our Lady of Beijing as his Christmas present many years ago. Here, then, is Alberic:
And what shall we say of him? He faithfully served his mission for 12 years. A Franciscan missionary who knew him said of Alberic:
"I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that Father Crescitelli was a true model of the fervent missionary. He was always humble in his conduct and very devout at the divine cult, especially in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries - so much so that, for purity, he seemed an angel when approaching the altar. He was endowed with that wisdom of the holy which teaches the performance of the sacred ministry with exactitude and devotion. Thirsting for the salvation of souls, full of love for everyone without distinction, compassionate to the utmost towards the poor, loving towards his brethren, respectful and blindly obedient to his superiors, he was always joyful and patient under any vexation, inconvenience, and hardship, ready at all times to sacrifice his entire self for the glory of God and for the splendor of our Holy Religion . . . All these virtues were hidden and accompanied by the greatest humility, for which reason anyone who saw him would have told of finding nothing in him that was outstanding and extraordinary. But the saints have always been, and always will be, that way.
"Besides, he nourished a tender devotion to the Most Holy Mary whom he called his sweet Mother. And when he came to me for advice on mission matters or for confession (which was often) . . . he would take the beads in his hands before going to rest and invite me to say the Rosary with him."
Oh beautiful Alberic! Sweet son of our sweet Mother! What an example you are for us, what a motivation for us to pray for priests and missionaries that they may even now, 130 years after your death, imitate this holy purity and devotion, obedience and zeal that seemed to clothe you like your Chinese dress! Yes, let's add all priests and missionaries to our novena!
And what shall we say of his martyrdom? In 1900 Alberic was sent to a new district to bring the faith to the pagan Chinese. The combination of a famine and unrest in the region, an evil and vindictive Empress, the Boxer Rebellion, and treachery from one of his own, brought about Father's passion and death. Pope Pius XII said in his beatification homily, "Humanly speaking, his martyrdom was horrible, perhaps one of the most atrocious recorded by history. Nothing was missing, neither the cruelty of the torments, nor their duration, nor the most barbarous humiliations, nor the sufferings which touch the heart, nor the hypocrisy of false friends, nor the hostile and threatening clamor of cutthroats, nor the darkness of abandonment!"
Oh Alberic! Pray for us! We are Marcel's little sisters and brothers. We don't feel strong enough to endure a fraction of what you did! Won't you send us one to encourage us lest we become discouraged by your heroic witness?
Happily Fr. Alberic long ago sent me his confrere, Fr. Maestrini, whose story includes moments we are more likely to laugh about than cry over, moments that we can see ourselves imitating because Fr. Maestrini had the great good fortune to enter the missions NOT simultaneously with our sister St. Therese, but after he'd served, as an altar boy, at her beatification and canonization Masses. These inspired in him a desire to read Story of a Soul (he was a young teen in the Lateran Seminary; later, desirous of being a missionary rather than a Church diplomat, he transferred to the P.I.M.E. seminary).
When his seminary rector told him no, he was too young for St. Therese's book, little Nicola wrote and asked his father to procure him a copy. Silly Nicola! The mail all came to the boys at the Lateran through the rector of the seminary! Father laughed as he told me how he was called in from study hall, into the rector's office where he got a tongue lashing and a warning and a verse of Scripture on obedience written into his new copy of Story of a Soul - but it was his copy now, and that was all that mattered! At 93, he grinned mischievously as he retold the story, asking me to guess whether he'd taken the lesson to heart! (The implication being that he remained true to Therese's example throughout his long life - obedient to the Church and his Order and superiors, but always ready to sneak a little if it served God better!)
And then there was the conversation between young Nick and his buddies in the P.I.M.E. seminary - they remind me of the Apostles, whispering and wondering in a cluster, and here comes Jesus - or in their case, the rector of this P.I.M.E. seminary, none other than the future Blessed Paolo Manna. "What are you boys discussing?"
"Well, Father Manna, we were talking about what will happen if we are faced with martyrdom in the missions. We don't think we could handle that!"
"Silly boys! This is a grace God gives you when the occasion arises. It's nothing you could be capable of by your own powers! Now off to play!"
And possibly my favorite of Fr. Maestrini's stories, the one about his first mission assignment. He was seated beside his best friend Orlando in a huge auditorium on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The place was packed with would-be-missionaries awaiting their orders. The moment came and (Blessed) Paulo Manna's voice rang out, "Maestrini and Orlando, Hong Kong!"
Poor Nicholas! He'd joined the missionaries hoping to be sent to the jungles of Burma, like his heroes. Instead he was being sent to a cosmopolitan city! The moment of his disappointment passed quickly, however. Orlando, reading his mind and sensing his reaction, elbowed Nicola. "Stupid! This is God's will for us!" That was all he needed to hear - God's will! Deo Gratias!
I love St. Alberic, and I love that soon after he was canonized - just four months later! - he introduced me to Father Maestrini so I would have a missionary after my own sensitive and timid heart. Not that Fr. NM was timid, ultimately, but he was definitely sensitive and had such human sensibilities. Praise God for saints we can identify with!
Speaking of which, it's high time we turned our attention to the almost-birthday-boy, Marcel. He is very pleased with this talk of Asia, missionaries, martyrdoms, and his friends Alberic and Nicola, but we don't want our musings to end in the foreign missions, but rather in Marcel's own Conversations. Don't worry, Marcel, Fr. Maestrini will return later in our novena - he died on the Vigil of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so we'll talk about him again (and ask his intercession) on July 15. For now, let's see what treasures Our Lady has for us on the day before July 10th.
This morning I opened my favorite book and found Jesus reassuring us that yes, He absolutely wants us to pile on the intentions. "Bring 'em on!" would be my colloquial translation, which is why we can be grateful that Jack Keogan had the official task of rendering Jesus' words into English, but the upshot is the same. We are not to be shy, not to hold back, not to think that God is parsimonious with His gifts. Quite the contrary, as Jesus explains:
"Come, come, little brother, the goodness of your true Father is without measure, as I have told you many times already. Even if, in His Love, He indulged you in everything, filling all your desires, He would never find it enough for His Love; He would only be afraid that you might not have the strength to receive all His treats. Whatever I do to spoil you, I consider it all as being nothing. Little brother, do you understand?" (492)
Isn't Jesus so good? Not only is He much better than we'd imagined, but He is determined to let us know so that we will stop fearing Him, stop worrying that we are burdening Him with our many requests.
Let's see: I started out with four intentions for this novena (leftovers, we might call them) plus one new entree. That was late last night. As of late this morning, I'd added on one large group of people and their families, two dear ones suffering from cancer (and their families), an aspirant to the religious life, her sister's family, and . . . I think I've lost count already, and I haven't mentioned all the priests and missionaries we've just tossed in. We are only in day 2. I can't wait to see how long my list gets - or rather, thank you guardian angel, for keeping track of that for me! Oh, and of course I'm including all YOUR intentions too!
Our Lady was not far behind Jesus in her offerings for today - her passages of loving kindness that appeared before my eager heart and begged to be transcribed. Ah, but what with one thing and another, it's time to get dinner over here, so I need to ask her again to choose - this time her very favorite passage, just for today. There will be time, God willing, for the others as the days progress. Yes, Jesus, You are right! We may not have the strength to receive all our true Father offers us! Just one more treat, then, for the day before our brother's Big Day.
I think this is the one - it complements Jesus' words of love by telling us, in His Mother's affectionate and teasing way, of Mary's tender and abounding love for us too. Marcel has just told her of a conversation he had with Jesus. Marcel had praised Jesus' beauty, and Jesus replied, "Yes, I am truly beautiful and if I did not possess all the beauties, Marcel, you would not love Me. But of all My beauties, the most beautiful and the most distinguished is that of My Love for you." Marcel's says they laughed together after this confession, especially since, as he tells us and Mary, "I had a strong desire to laugh."
Don't you love how accommodating Jesus is? He is the one St. Paul was imitating in trying to be all things to all men, weeping with those who weep, laughing with those who laugh, and Jesus does it perfectly!
But here is Mary's sweet reply, showing she is a worthy Mother of such a wonderful Son, capable herself of loving us beyond measure - and no wonder, since she was the one who showed Jesus, by her ever present maternal example, how to empathize, sympathize, console, cajole, and all the rest. She tells Marcel (and us):
"My little Marcel, you are very beautiful, the most beautiful of all, more beautiful even than little Jesus, since all that belongs to little Jesus belongs to you alone and to that add all the beauties which come to you from me, from your sister Therese and from the host of other saints in paradise. If, after that, you are not more beautiful than little Jesus, who else could be? My child, you are very beautiful. If, at this moment, our true Father in heaven asked me to part with one of my children, I would prefer to part with little Jesus than with you, my little Marcel. My child, your beauty is greater than that of little Jesus, but from a different perspective. your beauty moves me to have compassion for you more than for little Jesus. As for the beauty of little Jesus, it is inferior to yours, in such a way that little Jesus only deserves to receive my love. Now, as compassion takes preference always over love, it is in this sense that I would rather part with little Jesus than with you. [Here Mary adopts a joyful tone and continues while laughing.] So, since you enjoy such happiness, what more can you wish for?" (516)
I would say I don't know what more we could wish for - certainly we ought not to wish for more, but we are the little siblings of Therese, full of desires like she is, ready to say (as she did), "I choose all!" So with gratitude as our keynote, we must say first, "Thank you, dear Mother Mary, for loving us more than you love Jesus! Thank you for so much love and for your laughter too!" and then please join me in saying, "Oh, but since you ask, I will make you laugh even more, dear Mother, by telling you exactly what more I am wishing for!" and then proceed to pour out your heart or tick down your list, whichever is easier!
Or, for the easiest little way of all, join me in our signature prayer, written by God, given us by Therese, and sure to obtain every good thing for everyone! (And then get a good night's sleep - tomorrow is bound to be full of copious amounts of love, laughter, and the Father's treats, seeing as it's Marcel's birthday in Heaven!)
Draw me, we will run!
Oops! I just realized I promised to tell you more about Celine's painting of Therese, the picture just below these words. Let's make that one of our treats for tomorrow, and meanwhile, sweet dreams!
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