The Little Way for Dummies
Sometimes it seem like you can find anything on the Internet.
That's not actually true though. I discovered recently that there is nothing (at least nothing I could find) on the Internet about long haired poodles except scary pictures about the pelt the groomer will have to shave off if you try this (a long haired poodle) at home . . . Which reminds me, speaking of things you should not attempt with dogs: you should also not try putting on roller skates before you take your dog for a walk (especially if you have a big dog, your driveway is sloped, and the leash is "retractable" which also means extendable before the dog takes you for quite the ride of your life) . . . which reminds me, at last, of what I'm supposed to be talking about here, namely Dummies books.
Did you know that (supposedly, according to Google) you can find free Dummies book cover generators and templates on the Internet? Well fortunately for us all, I'm such a dummy myself that I couldn't figure out how to make them work, so instead of an insulting and ugly book cover as the image at the top of this post, we get a laughing picture of Marcel - or a picture of Marcel laughing - and I can't yet figure out if he's laughing with us or at us, but I guess that depends on if we're laughing! I'm laughing now, as I think about my new book series. We have "for dummies" and "idiots guide to" -- but let's face it, those are both insulting, and as I heard someone funny say on the radio, they're also rather confusing for those of us who qualify. Hours of indecision can follow when a dummy or idiot (or simply an indecisive person like myself) discovers a bookstore that carries both series. How to choose whether one is a dummy or an idiot, and thus know even where to begin finding the books you need?
I think I should start a less insulting series called "___ for Blondes." Or do you think that might carry its own pejorative connotations? I've already told you my soul is blonde, so I'm certainly not excluding myself, and being from California I find it not only a more flattering series title, but one that is sure to make me millions . . .
Anyhow. On to Marcel.
I realized a few months ago that one of the things I love about Marcel and Conversations is that what we have here is The Little Way for Dummies! I even thought that could be my next book, until I realized I'd have to join the bright yellow or bright orange colored covers franchise. I really do like beautiful book covers, and I hate lots of bullet points inside and little icons and sidebars and fingers with strings tied to them. (Although we just watched It's a Wonderful Life last night, and Uncle Billy's fingers tied with strings were charming!)
Nonetheless, whether or not a book comes out with the name, the reality remains: Marcel being very little, he manages to translate St. Thérèse's Little Way of Spiritual Childhood into a language spoken by those of us who are, while I don't want to say dummies or idiots, at least very, very little like he is. He makes the Little Way more accessible. He brings it down to our level.
What makes me smile is that the Little Way was already supposed to be doing that - bringing sanctity down to the level of the littlest ones. But something happens over the years - accretions, our sister Thérèse's fame and her miracles, lots of books written to explain what is supposed to be simple. Don't get me wrong: I love some of those books and all of her fame and miracles; I wouldn't trade them for a million dollars, but still the whole kit and caboodle does tend to obscure the original message, at least for someone as prone to distraction by shiny things as I am.
I was delighted today to find in my bucket of endless treasures (Conversations) Jesus' confirmation of the quote I used to lead into "Who is Marcel Van?" There I quoted his vice-postulator saying Marcel was the one who was weaker and littler than Thérèse . . . and sure enough, there's evidence in the text (as we used to say in college). On p. 225 in my edition (506), Jesus says it plain as day (the day was, to be precise, April 22, 1946).
He says, "Little brother, it is necessary for you to know that you are very weak, that no soul is as weak as yours; and I admit that your weaknesses never cause Me the slightest sadness. It is only your scruples that make Me feel such pain as to clasp you in my arms, to spoil you and give you my kisses." And then (who can stop, once he's begun quoting Jesus to Marcel?), Jesus adds, "Enough, Marcel, my little brother. Do not be sad, do you understand? From now on, no more worrying, all right?"
So there we have it. Marcel is the tiniest of the little ones, the weakest of the weak. When you read the Conversations you'll see it clearly. Jesus tells him all sorts of wonderful truths, and Marcel either changes the subject (because he's distracted by his uncomfortable sandals, or a stomach ache, or something someone said to him earlier, or any number of the exact same things that distract us constantly) or he admits to Jesus that he's already completely forgotten the important things Jesus told him. To which Jesus responds with His trademark patience and kindness (hallmarks of Love, that is Himself), and that characteristic gentleness of Heart which He begs us to imitate when we come to Him, rest in Him, and learn from Him.
Jesus also responds with humor, and reassurance in case Marcel (or we) think He is being harsh when He is only teasing, and in case Marcel (or we) think He's scolding, when He's only pointing something out, and in case Marcel (or we) worry and fret, as we so often do, and worst of all despair that our weaknesses are causing Him pain or frustration with us.
What could be more perfect than Jesus' infinitely sensible and adorable explanation of why Marcel (and all little souls) should not worry about their constant forgetfulness of His truths?
To those for whom the Little Way, even in its simplicity, is somehow still too much to remember, Jesus says, "What did your sister Thérèse teach you? You have forgotten everything already; it's hopeless! And it is also so much the better, since what you have forgotten, I am always there to remind you of and then you can continually learn the lesson anew. What happiness can be compared to yours?" (387)
What is it, again, that we've forgotten when we've forgotten what little Thérèse taught us?
I think her Little Way can be summed up in five words:
Failure is the new success.
Or again: Weakness is the new strength.
Or how about: Losing is the new winning.
These are all straight from the Gospel . . . and yet I, for one, have a really hard time remembering them. Especially when I've just failed or lost or said or done something (or failed to say or do something) so that I'm left wearing my weakness on my sleeve or on my face. I'm supposed to remember that these failures, losses, weaknesses are all to the good.
Jesus teaches it this way on page 296 (652) of Conversations: "Yes, it is just as you say, little brother; it is only in these moments of fatigue that I am able to make you see your weakness and to teach you that, truly, you haven't got a scintilla of virtue . . . Little brother, see how weak you are. That it is enough for you to abandon yourself to Me and to put all confidence in Me alone."
To which Marcel replies, "Now, I am not angry any more because I no longer am tired." (Talk about a familiar pairing!)
And Jesus responds, "Nevertheless, little brother, your weakness has not disappeared for all that; it will remain in you until the time when you receive from Me the first kiss of your life . . . Little brother, always remember that you are a truly poor and destitute soul. Do not worry about your weaknesses, as your sister Thérèse has told you, and as I, Myself, have told you many times. It is in knowing your nothingness that your confidence in Me will be truly firm."
Ah, Jesus! Ah, Marcel! Ah, forgotten message of little Thérèse!
For no matter how many times I hear it, no matter how many times I tell myself, "Don't forget! Remember this, at least!" (and I just can't bring myself to tattoo it on my forearm - I'd probably forget to look there anyhow) -- well, despite all these admonitions and reminders, like Uncle Billy I still forget!
This is why the Conversations and Marcel himself are the Little Way for Dummies. Because we find repeated in them over and over the same message of love, the same truth that will set us free, that Word of littleness that came to us first in the manger on Christmas in the darkness of night.
"It is in knowing your nothingness that your confidence in Me will be truly firm."
"It is enough for you to abandon yourself to Me and to put all confidence in Me alone."
I open at random and read Jesus repeating again His message to Marcel and to us: "I have a means which can allow you to understand: this means consists in loving Me and in abandoning yourself to Me in total confidence." (429)
To which I add: Don't worry if your confidence feels less than total. This will put you somewhere nearer Marcel on the scale of littleness, rather than next to Thérèse. (Although this is, recall, a scale of littleness, so you won't be far from either of our sister and brother team -- it's a little scale!) What can you lose from being weaker and littler, by any measure? Remember: weakness is the new strength. As for little, that's what puts you in the game. I'm tempted to quote Thérèse on staying very little and becoming littler all the time, but Marcel is the commentator and I'd only have to quote him again then too (or Jesus' words to him).
So let's keep it simple - not with bullet points or bright yellow covers or stick figure faces with crew cuts, but with a final quote from the ultimate authority. There will be time for more later. For now I've found a good ending in these words of Our Lord. He's speaking to Marcel (p. 48) but much more importantly, He's speaking to you:
"My child, the smaller your love is for Me, the more mine will envelop you with its intimacy."
That's the Little Way for us, and who could ask for more?
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