First things first:
O Blessed Padre Pio,
holy bearer of the wounds of Christ,
accept us this day as your spiritual sons and daughters
and keep us always on the Little Way by your intercession.
And do thou, O our Spiritual Father,
relieve our suffering and the suffering of those we love, and then
stay there at the Gates of Heaven, as you promised,
until all of your spiritual children have entered through,
even and including us and all those we love.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Blessed Mother of those whose names you can read in my heart, watch over them with every care. Make their way easy and their labors fruitful. Dry their tears if they weep; sanctify their joys; raise their courage if they weaken; restore their hope if they lose heart, their health if they be ill, truth if they err, and repentance if they fall. Amen.
If you’re just now joining us in the midst of our triple novena, Welcome!
The good news is that this novena is designed to allow anyone to pick up where we left off, namely, right where we are! The better news is that we’ve been praying for you all along. And the best of all news is that Jesus’ Love is so very limitless and so absolutely stunning in its effects, that you’ll feel and see the fruits of our prayers any moment now, if you haven’t already. So cast your cares upon Him who cares for us all, and feel free to read some of the posts below this one to get a sense of the awesome adventure you’re now part and parcel of!
Meanwhile, we’ve got some housecleaning to do here at Miss Marcel’s Musings. Somewhat like the time Marcel was complaining to Mother Mary that he didn’t have time to clean his room and she explained that (a) she would clean the room of his soul of the pesky cobwebs of worry, plentiful though these were; and (b) she’d help him get his room clean on an upcoming Thursday in just 15 minutes flat, so no need to worry over that either . . . similarly we’ve been worrying over here (with the help of a little Rose we know) just how we’d fit in the August edition of Marcel’s Book Club on Chapter 8 of our sister Therese’s Story of a Soul . . .
Yes, you read that right. August edition. As in last month’s, like we’ve become some sort of online journal that (like many a small print journal) somehow fell behind and will soon be publishing the Spring 2012 issue! Well no, it’s not quite that bad, but we are a month behind because somehow or other August slipped away from us and we find ourselves here in mid-September with Chapter 9 looming and Chapter 8 still undiscussed. I don’t know about you, but I have 15 minutes free this very hour, so let’s have at it and clear the way for our upcoming (and as is our more typical fashion, 11th hour or 30th day) September book club.
Think of it as a bonus! This month we get two Marcel Book Club meetings, and by missing last month’s, no harm is done but rather we prove our Paradise Project (of reading Therese’s autobiography a chapter a month in 2019) to be a truly little way!
Onward and upward then, and into Chapter 8 . . .
Just as if God knew we’d be reading this chapter in the midst of a triple novena (think: prayer), He inspired Therese to begin these pages with a comment about her own experience of prayer. She writes:
“I should have spoken to you about the retreat preceding my Profession . . . it was far from bringing me any consolations since the most absolute aridity and almost total abandonment were my lot. Jesus was sleeping as usual in my little boat; ah! I see very well how rarely souls allow Him to sleep peacefully within them. Jesus is so fatigued with always having to take the initiative and to attend to others that He hastens to take advantage of the repose I offer to Him . . . but instead of being troubled about it, this only gives me extreme pleasure.”
So far, so good. Our little sister is teaching us that when we are seemingly getting nothing out of our prayers or prayer time, then it is that we’re giving Jesus a rest. Gotta love that silver lining! But Therese is aware of the humor in this. After all, here we are pathetic at prayer and blaming Jesus. I love it! She continues:
“Really, I am far from being a saint, and what I have just said is proof of this; instead of rejoicing, for example, at my aridity, I should attribute it to my little fervor and lack of fidelity; I should be desolate for having slept (for seven years) during my hours of prayer and my thanksgivings after Holy Communion; well, I am not desolate.”
What cheek! How can one do anything but love the Little Flower, tiny yet bold as she is! And will she share her secret with us? Always! Her secret is no secret; St. Paul revealed it to us when God revealed it to him – that His power reaches perfection in our weakness. But let’s hear Therese’s take:
“I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake.”
For those of us who are parents, or even Aunts, Uncles, or babysitters, we can agree that often children are not only as pleasing, but even more pleasing when they are asleep!
“I remember too that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally I remember that The Lord knows our weakness, that He is mindful that we are but dust and ashes (Psalm 102).”
Finally Therese explains, “I have frequently noticed that Jesus doesn’t want me to lay up provisions; He nourishes me at each moment with a totally new food; I find it within me without my knowing how it is there. I believe it is Jesus Himself hidden in the depths of my poor little heart: He is giving me the grace of acting within me, making me think of all He desires me to do at the present moment.”
The first time I read Story of a Soul was, I think, in the summer of 1986. (I was going to tell you how many years ago, but I always lose a decade in there somewhere, so you can do the math if you like!) What struck me then is the same thing that strikes me now, or at least one of the many things that strike and move me: Therese is so very intimate with Jesus! And how that delights Him and delights me! I was just reading today in her little brother Marcel’s book of Conversations this beautiful passage that applies to Therese and Marcel and us all equally. It is the last day of December, 1945, and Marcel has just spoken to Jesus the following words:
“Little Jesus, I love You very much. Now I wish to ask You a question. How is it that I hear certain brothers say that they have a great fear of You? Little Jesus, how do You behave toward other souls that they are afraid of You? If You acted with them as You do with me, I ask myself who could be afraid of You, since You are so good, so sweet, only finding pleasure in love. That there can be souls who are afraid of You is something I find very strange. It has never happened that You scold me and yet there are souls who are afraid of You. Could it be because You treat each soul in a different manner? That being the case, what use will the words that I am writing here be for souls?”
My stars, how I love Marcel! He hits the nail on the head every time (except maybe for all the times he wildly misses, and then I love him, perhaps, even more!), and he has surely asked some important questions here. Take it as a kind of quiz for Jesus from us at our more than half-way-point of our sister’s book.
Therese certainly didn’t fear Jesus. Nor did Marcel. But we often do! What are we missing? Or is it that Jesus is dealing differently with some favored souls, more gently and meekly with them than He deals with us? Let’s see what He who is Truth has to say in His own defense. He replies:
“Yes, Marcel, it is very strange. I find it strange myself and I do not understand why a good number of souls have such a fear of me. They are so afraid that they dare not even open their mouths to say a word of friendship to me. However, I conduct myself towards these souls just as I do towards you . . . It is simply because they compare my love with that of earthly creatures that they fear in that way. If, on the contrary, they used the glance of love to probe the depths of my love, their fear would disappear . . . I do nothing that is of a nature to frighten anyone. And if my love ever wished to sow fear among men, it would no longer deserve the name ‘Love.’. . . My conduct towards all souls is the same as towards you, Marcel; I wish to give them my kisses and give them evidence of my love.” (225-226)
There we have it, then. God who is, as we read in Scripture, the same yesterday, today, and forever, is as all-loving to us as He has been to Therese and Marcel. This Jesus they know, the One who sleeps in the little boat of their souls, He is the same Jesus who sleeps in our boats! Don’t be afraid, then, that He is angry with you. No, He is just so tired! He does have the whole world to run, remember, and so He is pleased to be able to relax with us, as with His own dear friends, and fall asleep!
Incidentally, Marcel has a wonderful response to Jesus’ explanation as just recounted. Marcel says simply: “Little Jesus, I understand absolutely nothing.” Ah, our dear brother! How wonderfully imitable you are!
And Jesus? He has, as always, the most wonderful reply to Marcel’s reply. He says, “Marcel, who is obliging you to understand? . . . I have not said these words for you, but really for souls who are afraid of me.” Which would be us! So let’s do our little best to stop comparing Jesus with those who have failed us in the past, or those whom we fear will fail us in the present and future. That’s the great thing about Jesus – He never fails!
Therese began Chapter 8 by talking about the retreat before her profession. She goes on to tell how she then suffered a great temptation: she who had begged to be allowed to enter the convent at 15 was now afraid she didn’t have a vocation. And here is a lesson for us. No, not the one about not begging to join a convent at 15! The more universal lesson is the one I’m thinking of – when Therese was filled with confusion, she sought out her Novice Mistress (and really, many other people could fill in this role for those of us without Novice Mistresses) and told her the problem that was so overwhelming. Therese recounts:
“Fortunately, she saw things much clearer than I did, and she completely reassured me. The act of humility I had just performed put the devil to flight since he had perhaps thought that I would not dare admit my temptation. My doubts left me completely as soon as I finished speaking; nevertheless, to make my act of humility more perfect, I still wished to confide my strange temptation to our Mother Prioress.”
Ah! A double confession! And what did this higher superior say to ensure Therese’s peace? This is the response I love: Therese reports that Mother Prioress “simply laughed at me.”
Therese later used this same tactic, sweetly and wisely because sometimes laughter is the way out of our fears. When her own novice, Marie of the Trinity, confessed the same kind of fear, (“Oh no! I realize now it was all an illusion – I don’t have a vocation!”) Therese, like her own Novice Mistress had done, understood completely and calmed Marie’s fears. Later, though, she would tease Marie if the latter came to her with a vexed countenance or a worry to be solved. “Oh no, I bet you don’t have a vocation!” she’d say with a laugh. Poor Marie, but actually, she loved it!
Doesn’t it seem like only 10 days ago that September 8 came and went? Ah how the days and years fly! For it was on this day (a few years back) that Therese felt flooded with a river of peace and pronounced her Holy Vows. And what truth she speaks when she says, in retrospect, “This beautiful day passed by just as do the saddest since the most radiant day has a tomorrow; it was without sadness, however, that I placed my crown at the Blessed Virgin’s feet. I felt that time could not take away my happiness.”
How lovely a thought to remember when we are feeling like a sad day will never end! It too will end, like (unfortunately!) the happy days do . . . with the difference that our sadness will cease, while our happiness is the true feeling, the one that will be eternal!
Some pages later, after speaking of the holy foundress of their particular Carmel in Lisieux, Therese tells us of the relic she got after their Mother Genevieve departed for heaven.
“During her last agony, I had noticed a single tear glistening like a diamond on her eyelash, and this tear, the last she was to shed on earth, never fell; I saw it still glistening there when she was laid out in the choir. So when evening came, unseen by anyone, I made bold to approach her and with a little piece of linen I took the saint’s tear as a relic. Since then I have carried it in the little container which holds my vows.”
In fact, Therese later gave this tear-relic to her beloved sister Celine. I, too, have a hard time holding on to relics, but I love to gather them when I have the chance! When I was in Lisieux this past May, I had a blast imitating Therese and when no one was looking (not even my husband), I gathered up some pebbles from around the site where Therese was first buried (a place of miracles) and from around the graves of Marie of the Trinity and the other holy nuns. If you love relics too and would like one of these little rocks, use the Contact Me button in the sidebar (over on the top right) and send me your postal address. I’d love to send you some of my treasure!
Therese goes on to tell about the influenza that hit her Carmel and took many of the nuns away to Jesus forever. God sustained her in the midst of this epidemic; not only was Therese on her feet and free of sickness, but she ministered to the dying like an angel. To top it off, she was allowed to receive Holy Communion every day during this time, thus making the Bitter Valley a place of springs, the autumn rain covering it with blessings. And how did Therese make the most of these communions with her Beloved?
She tells us, “I picture my soul as a piece of land and I beg the Blessed Virgin to remove from it any rubbish that would prevent it from being free; then I ask her to set up a huge tent worthy of heaven, adorning it with her own jewelry; finally I invite all the angels and saints to come and conduct a magnificent concert there. It seems to me that when Jesus descends into my heart He is content to find Himself so well received, and I, too, am content.”
Lest we think Therese had a series of ecstatic communions bearing little resemblance to our own poor ones, she adds:
“All this, however, does not prevent both distractions and sleepiness from visiting me, but at the end of the thanksgiving when I see that I’ve made it so badly I make a resolution to be thankful all through the rest of the day.”
And here is the take away. Ready?
“You see that I am far from being on the way of fear; I always find a way to be happy and to profit from my miseries; no doubt this does not displease Jesus since He seems to encourage me on this road.”
Yes! Let us too shake the dust of the way of fear from our souls! Let’s find ways to be happy, to profit from our little miseries. This will not displease Jesus – He’s the One who inspired every Pope since Therese’s time to hold her up for us as an example! He’s the One who glorified her and proved the truth of her words by fulfilling her wish to spend her heaven doing good on earth. He’s the One who has strewn her Little Way with roses and papal endorsements that we, too, might become (as He long ago requested) little fearless children climbing into His arms to kiss His Holy and sweet Face!
Later in Chapter 8, Therese tells about the one retreat that was an exception to her usual rule of dryness and distraction. The priest, a Franciscan, was known for his ministry to great sinners. Therese’s love for Magdalene must have qualified her, because Fr. Prou did great good for her too. As she explains, though she didn’t say much in the confessional, this priest was enlightened to understand her in a marvelous way, reading her soul like an open book and (as she writes), “He launched me full sail upon the waves of confidence and love which so strongly attracted me, but upon which I dared not advance.”
Isn’t it wonderful to think that even St. Therese was at one time afraid to advance in confidence and love? Until, that is, Jesus gave her the green light, and then through her, gave that green light to the rest of us! Jesus told Therese through this priest “that God was very much pleased” with her. These are the very words Jesus is forever telling us through Marcel! No wonder this little brother is the second Therese – his message is the same, and his intimacy with Jesus the same. And as Jesus told Marcel, He treats us the same way, though we often know it not. The great thing is, as we can see from this chapter, Therese was confident, but not because she felt Jesus’ presence constantly. Far from it! She was confident because she heard and clung to the words of His ministers and His gospel, the words of love He speaks in the beauty of creation, the tear of a loved one, the gentle laughter of a superior. She explains:
“Oh! How happy I was to hear those consoling words! Never had I heard that our faults could not cause God any pain, and this assurance filled me with joy, helping me to bear patiently this life’s exile. I felt at the bottom of my heart that this was really so, for God is more tender than a mother, and were you not, dear Mother, always ready to pardon the little offenses I committed against you involuntarily? How often I experienced this! No word of reproach touched me as much as did one of your caresses. My nature was such that fear made me recoil; with love not only did I advance, I actually flew.”
I can never believe how full this book is of everything I love!
If we skip a few pages ahead, we find Therese confiding that “God showed me the same mercy He showed to King Solomon. He has not willed that I have one single desire which is not fulfilled, not only my desires for perfection but those too whose vanity I have understood without having experienced it.” She then gets specific, and records how she had wanted to be like her dear older sister and second mother (now her Mother in the Carmel), Pauline (Mother Agnes). She wanted to paint and write poetry like Pauline did, and to everyone’s surprise, when she was given these tasks in the Carmel, she fulfilled them beautifully!
Even then, “instead of doing me any harm, of making me vain, the gifts which God showered upon me (without my having asked for them) drew me to Him; and I saw that He alone was unchangeable, that He alone could fulfill my immense desires.”
This makes so much sense to me. I have often thought about how a great artist cannot simply create one great piece of art and be done. We have the Mona Lisa, or the Pieta, yet Leonardo and Michaelangelo (the artists, not the Ninja Turtles!) did not create only those works of beauty, or rest in them. In lesser art forms, I think of one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail,” and how Nora Ephron didn’t write only that movie and retire, nor did Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan act in it and hang up their hats. Similarly, Gerard Manley Hopkins could have rested forever (in my books) if he’d only given us “Pied Beauty,” or “God’s Grandeur,” or one of his Marian poems – but thank the good Lord he didn’t; he kept writing!
I think that’s why Therese realized that “He alone was unchangeable, He alone could fulfill my immense desires.” The artist has a desire to share the beauty he sees and feels, the beauty God has given him to express, and yet it is always so much less than real Beauty, God Himself!
And here is where Therese and her Jesus (Who is, of course, our Jesus too!) slay me. She goes on to tell about how God granted not only even her unspoken noble desires, but her childish desires as well.
She loved flowers. She thought she was giving them up when she went into Carmel. Well sure, there might be a few arrangements to be put in the church near the altar, but gone were the fields of flowers she’d run through and bring home in baskets to her heart’s content.
Except . . . except, God can do anything! And if she could not go to the fields of His glory, He could bring them to her. She recalls, “It is the custom for fiancés to often give their fiancées bouquets and Jesus didn’t forget it. He sent me in great abundance sheaves of cornflowers, huge daisies, poppies, etc., all the flowers that delighted me the most. There was even a little flower called corncockle that I had never found since our stay at Lisieux; I wanted very much to see it again, that flower of my childhood which I had picked in the fields of Alencon. And at Carmel it came to smile at me again and show me that in the smallest things as well as the greatest, God gives the hundredfold in this life to those souls who leave everything for love of Him.”
Can I tell you something? If you are reading this blog and have read this far, there is no doubt you have left everything for Jesus. No, there wasn’t some hidden commitment, some unseen poverty clause you inadvertently signed when you got half way through this post! But you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t love Jesus (or weren’t thinking you might fall in love with Him any moment if only you keep reading), and that is precisely what leads to (or results from) giving up everything for Him! His love makes everything else pale in comparison, so don’t worry that it will be hard to leave the rest for Him. Most of us will “leave” by staying in the midst of our surroundings, our loved ones, our jobs and duties and little round. But the leaving is in the where, as in where our treasure and heart are, and how could they not be in His, the Heart of Love? And so having left all in His Heart, you will, as Therese says, find your hundredfold and all that you were willing to leave behind – you will find again things you thought you had lost forever, and people most of all – right there in the Heart of Love!
Just today I had the most amazing experience of Jesus giving back to someone a gift she had long given up for Him. I had two friends visit me at my dear alma mater, Thomas Aquinas College. We went to Mass there and had lunch, roamed the lovely campus a bit, and in the midst of it all one of my friends told me she had never expected to find herself in this beautiful place again. She used to come here with her husband, it turned out. When he died some 10 or more years ago, in the deepest, quietest place of her heart, she had grieved this loss (so little in comparison to her loss of him, but a loss nonetheless). So what did Jesus do? He brought her back to the place her heart had sorely missed! A little hundredfold in gratitude for her sacrifice and love.
As for Therese, what she found that she had lost was her sister Celine. She speaks of this next, and though I won’t re-tell the whole story here, suffice it to say that the one whom Therese had most deeply felt the loss of, this sister who was the sweet echo of her soul and a friend the likes of which we all long for, her dear Celine was given back to her in Carmel, even despite great odds. There were rules to prevent too many relatives form being in the same monastery, and these rules had already been far exceeded in the case of Therese’s family!
Then there was a missionary, the priest dearest to the Martins (Therese’s family) and their spiritual director. He was off in Canada and inviting Celine to come be a missionary there too. How could she resist?
Then there were the suitors and parties and dances. There was Celine’s prodigious artistic talent and her father’s offer to have her paint under the direction of a great master in Paris. In short, there was almost no end to the options ahead of Celine, all of them more glamorous than entering the tiny Carmel in the tiny town in which she lived. And yet, watch out when Therese wants something! She is confident her Spouse will give it to her, and He always does!
“And now,” Therese writes, “I have no other desire except to love Jesus unto folly. My childish desires have all flown away. I still love to adorn the Infant Jesus’ altar with flowers, but ever since He has given me the Flower I desired, my dear Celine, I desire no other; she is the one I offer Him as my most delightful bouquet.”
We think of Heaven as the place where God fulfills our desires, and well we should. Yet in the case of Therese, I must add this caveat: she who was a daughter of her mother in Carmel, Teresa of Avila, whom the poet Crashaw called “the daughter of desires,” she too – Therese – is a worthy daughter of desires. And she sure looks, in Heaven, like one who continues to desire! She told us she would want to work in Heaven until the end of time, until the last trumpet sounds. And that means that now, right now this very minute you are reading this, she is desiring you as she desired Celine. Desiring you to share in a union with Jesus even surpassing her own!
This is marvelous, but not too surprising if you read Story of a Soul. Okay, very surprising, but it makes so much sense! For there Therese writes:
“How sweet is the way of love! True, one can fall or commit infidelities, but, knowing how to draw profit from everything, love quickly consumes everything that can be displeasing to Jesus; it leaves nothing but a humble and profound peace in the depths of the heart.”
Therese and Marcel and I – and Jesus most of all! – wish for you that peace. We are praying for it for you and in you and in all those you love – praying in our triple novena, and thanking God as we do so.
Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the joy of our sister and brother, that sweet joy which you share with us. Thank You, dear Jesus, for treating us the way You treated them – may we recognize Your love in all that befalls us! And dear Holy Spirit of Love, fill and animate us completely, act in us, pray in us, love in us until the day we are united altogether with You, in Your unity in the Heart of the Blessed Trinity!
I have heard a sad thing today. The beautiful 4-year-old girl we have been praying for is now in the arms of Jesus in Heaven. Well, if I put it that true way, it doesn’t seem sad at all, but surely her parents and sisters and friends will miss her greatly until the day they too are in His arms. Please remember them, then, in your own little glances and sighs and smiles for Jesus. And let’s pray together one final little prayer of love and confidence:
Draw me, Jesus, we shall run!!!
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