"Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts." - Psalm 33
"This grace has been given to me: to proclaim to the nations the infinite riches of Christ." - antiphon from evening prayer for St. Luke
* * *
On this beautiful day in 1997, a hundred years after St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, entered eternal life, Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed her the 33rd Doctor of the Universal Church.
And on this lovely day in 2016, almost 20 years later, our sister Therese changed my life forever by sending me a rose that is still blooming, a rose beyond any I could have imagined, and one that continues to charm me with its ever fresh color and fragrance which enchant me on a daily basis.
Five years ago I had been writing about Therese in a manuscript that has since become the book Something New with St Therese, Her Eucharistic Miracle. I finished the first draft on October 19 and asked her to give me a sign showing me that what I'd written pleased her. Never one to skimp on signs, and, more importantly, always eager to show forth God's infinite love for us, she came through with what could only be called, now that I think about it, a torrent of roses, rather than simply a shower, let alone a single rose.
For that day (or rather this day) five years ago, her little brother's book showed up in my mailbox. Therese had promised her sisters that after her death they would "find her in the mailbox," and her prophetic words continue to ring true. Servant of God Marcel Van's Conversations (with Jesus, Mary, and St. Therese) entered my life via my mailbox, and I haven't been the same since!
I had read, some years before, of this Vietnamese boy with whom St. Therese chatted from heaven during the 1940s, and I had hoped he'd written down her words. He had, but they were originally in Vietnamese, then much later translated into French by Marcel's spiritual director, and unavailable in English until the wonderful translation of Jack Keogan was published in 2008. They then took eight years to find me, but when they did - POW! Not only did they knock my socks off, they sent me reeling barefoot for joy like Snoopy doing a happy dance!
For in the book of Marcel's Conversations, I found - and have continued to find - the pure doctrine of the gospels as brought into focus by St. Therese, and then spelled out by Jesus and Marcel in primer fashion for the very little ones who need constant instructions because they (or rather we) are bears of little brain and keep forgetting everything. No worries, Jesus assures us, and even all the better, for He can remind us again and again of the truth of His love for us and the confidence and abandonment He wants from us in return.
He asked Marcel, when He began their conversations in 1945, to write down everything - not just what Jesus Himself said (and Mary and Therese), but what Marcel said too. Our Lord explained that while His usual method was to have mystics write down only His words, in the case of Marcel he should write down his own part in the conversation too - that way we could see just how typical our own littleness is, and how much He loves that in us as He loved it in Marcel!
This is Therese's Little Way of Spiritual Childhood. God is not far away, He is not disinterested in us, nor is He waiting for us to impress Him. No, He loves us in our littleness! If you think about it, He has plenty of bigness already!
The book that brought Therese's little doctrine to the world was her Story of a Soul, and it continues to captivate readers and bring hearts to Christ with a freshness and intimacy that will never fade. Conversations does the same, and it is remarkable to me in how many ways it repeats and then expands on all she taught.
To take one example, Therese concluded her memoir in 1897 with an explanation of her confidence in God's mercy. She wrote:
"Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own. Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love . . . "
In Conversations, on May 9, 1946, Jesus explained to Marcel:
"Little brother, you do not know that I know man's extreme weakness. Even if men offend me deliberately and as gravely as you can imagine, their sin is nothing in comparison with a hint of Love . . . Love is infinite and infinite, repeat it to men; yes infinite and infinite. Have confidence in me and never, eternally never, will you be separated from me. Even the devil must despair of a soul in which the word 'confidence' is found."
Or as Therese wrote to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart in 1896: "It is confidence, and nothing but confidence, that must lead us to Love!"
Lately I've been enjoying the simple descriptions of prayer, the simple ways to pray that Jesus, Therese, and Mary teach Marcel (and us) in Conversations. On May 5, 1946, Marcel tells Mary:
"I wanted to have many rifles and aeroplanes to fight the communists and prevent them from reigning over Vietnam, my country. Mother, I even asked little Jesus to grant me what I wanted, but He was content to answer me: 'The best weapon for safeguarding the interests of your country and to snatch it from the hands of the communists is prayer. Do not stop looking towards Me, little brother, and that will be enough. Each of your glances with this intention is enough to make me understand the situation of Vietnam, your country.' My sister told me the same thing as well."
Our Blessed Mother replies:
"And I, my child, I tell you the same thing also. The only way to save your country from communism is prayer. This is very easy; it requires neither cunning nor rifles, nor ammunition. A glance, or a smile, or a sigh toward little Jesus is enough; it is like a game within reach of everyone."
These passages echo the teaching Therese left us as quoted in the Catholic Catechism:
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558.
Finally, what thrills me to the marrow is the way that Conversations shines a light on Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love. Therese helped Marcel make this Act of Oblation, and Jesus explains it to him on numerous occasions, helping him (and us) to understand its pervasive beauty and power over His Heart.
On this day of anniversaries, I pray that Conversations will bring Therese's little doctrine to you too!
Draw me, we will run!
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