The Littlest Therese
I've had an experience in the last few days that shows me, once again, how very interested Heaven is in all that concerns us. And when I say "Heaven" is interested, I mean our Loving True Father, our adorable little Jesus, the Holy Spirit of Love, Our dearest Blessed Mother and her beloved spouse, St. Joseph, all of the angels, and every single one of our brothers and sisters, the Saints. That last category would include our littlest brother and sister, Marcel and Therese, and they perhaps more than any other delight in showering us with rose petals, if not always whole roses.
I've been dipping into Therese's Story of a Soul (the ICS edition translated by Father John Clarke, O.C.D - that's Order of Carmelites Discalced! - from Therese's original manuscripts, and published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Washington, D.C.), and wow, the front and back matter have been so much fun! After reading the first bit of the actual Story - the part that hooked Van from page one - I went to the various introductions, reading backwards on my kindle. I was walking on a treadmill while reading backwards, but don't worry, I wasn't walking backwards. Talk about "Don't try this at home!" And I wasn't even reading word-for-word backwards, just kind of paragraph by paragraph backwards. I think I first learned this trick when I was holding one of my own books in my hands for the first time after it had been newly published. I'd read it front to back a zillion times in manuscript in the many drafts and then proofs and page proofs, etc., but I still loved the book so much that I decided the next obvious way to approach it was from the back page to the front!
But leaving aside my backward ways, I then skipped forward to the back matter, the stuff that comes after the book proper. I started with the Epilogue, and unlike the Epilogue written by Mother Agnes for the originally published edition (I think that's who wrote it, and it is marvelous!), this newer one is a relatively recent addition (from the 1970's as opposed to 1898; one more proof of God's existence even in the 1970's: The Wizard of Oz and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory re-aired yearly on network TV in the US, and the centenary edition of St. Therese's writings . . . how reassuring to realize God was with us even in the lean years!).
You'll appreciate how much I appreciated the Epilogue, and how obvious it is that Heaven is attending to us, when I tell you that there I read this saying from Therese: "I am not breaking my head over the writing of my 'little life.' It is like fishing with a line; I write whatever comes to the end of my pen."
I feel so much better about my own writing when I think that the pioneer of the Little Way, the very one in whose tiny footprints we're stepping as we venture forward, had precisely the same attitude that I do! Or to set aside my reverse order once again, I should say that I have the same attitude as our fearless leader.
But it gets better, better by far. Soon the author of the Epilogue, after telling us that Therese entrusted the publication of her writings to Mother Agnes, continues regarding our sister:
"She had a presentiment that her activity after her death would extend far beyond the influence of a book, that it would be worldwide. 'How unhappy I shall be in heaven if I cannot do little favors for those whom I love.' She began to multiply mysterious promises: 'I will return!' 'I will come down!' Then on July 17, she made her now famous prediction: 'I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission of making others love God as I love Him, my mission of teaching my little way to souls. If God answers my requests, my heaven will be spent on earth up until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.'"
Our sister is in complete earnest, and her prophecies have come true beyond anything even she imagined. Her sister Celine later said as much, and Therese herself had predicted this too (the mystery of God's magnificent benevolence, through her, exceeding every possible expectation - for He is Infinite Mercy, Limitless Love). And yet, amidst all this gravity, there remains Therese who is the sister of Marcel, and therefore, eminently silly.
And so I read in the Epilogue, "There was not the least bit of sadness in the atmosphere of the infirmary. Sister Marie of the Eucharist, Marie Guerin [Therese's cousin] wrote a note to her parents in which she said: 'As far as her morale is concerned, it is always the same: cheerfulness itself. She is always making those who come to visit her laugh. There are times when one would pay to be near her. I believe she will die laughing, she is so happy!'"
Ah, delightful Author of the Epilogue, I salute you! For what comes next but a catalog of Therese's tools of the mischievous trade:
"Therese was in possession of a large repertoire that expressed the depth of her character: puns, tricks, mimickings, jokes about herself and the doctor's inability to help."
How consoling to think that the very humor which appears to show a soul's superficiality could eventually be interpreted as the expression of depth of character! Of course, it helps if the humor and unrelenting cheerfulness persist through extreme physical suffering. I admit I'm okay with being considered superficial till the Judgment Day if that's the opinion I'll get in exchange for avoidance of physical (and any other kind of) suffering!
To tell you the truth, though, this post has gotten away from me. Like Therese, I'm stuck with whatever attaches itself to the end of my line, and today while I set out to feature the sentence I'm going to quote next from this Epilogue to Story of a Soul, I haven't quite prepared you to understand what I'm talking about. I've been sidetracked once again by the beauty of the Saints, which, if we're going to wander off, is a great path to take. Still, I have to try and get us back on course or (self knowledge is key) I'll meander and muse till the cows come home without getting to the point.
And the point is, as the title above indicates (nah, don't scroll up, it was simply "The Littlest Therese"), a consideration of Therese and Marcel and a resolution of that burning question: which one is least? Possibly, thus, greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, but for now we'll just tackle their status while on earth. Having written last week about Marcel Van: the Littlest Redemptorist at Catholic Exchange (and yes, if you somehow missed that reflection, you can click HERE), this week I was gobsmacked by a sentence from the Epilogue of Story of a Soul, a sentence which brought home to me the answer to above said burning question. But after all I've said in the preceding paragraphs, you can hardly be impressed if I now trot out evidence in favor of the striking claim that Marcel (and NOT Therese) is the littlest Therese. After I've shown how very impressive Therese was in her illness (staying cheerful, even amidst, though I hate to mention it, her trial of faith) and the predictions she made about her heavenly glory, I've conspired to make her look awfully big, so naturally Marcel will be the littler of the two. (Plus, if you look at their pictures up at the top, you can see Marcel is the littlest! Though yeah, I know, it could be an optical illusion. In actuality he was the smaller of the two, but we're talking about poverty of spirit and that sort of thing, not poverty of height.)
Okay, so if you're wondering what in the world I'm talking about, putting Therese and Marcel in competition for a title that seems to pertain only to those named Therese (this is about "The Littlest Therese" not "The Littlest Saint," though these amount to the same thing), let me remind you that Jesus and Mary refer to Marcel as "The Second St. Therese." Given, then, that there are two little Thereses, again we ask: which is the littlest?
We already suspect it is Marcel, but here is the proof, as well as the argument. The sentence that thrilled me to the core was this one (again, from the Epilogue to Story of a Soul) which described St. Therese toward the very end of her life:
"She had become perfectly simple."
The author then quotes our sister as saying, "Everyone will see that everything comes from God. Any glory that I shall have will be a gratuitous gift from God and will not belong to me. Everybody will see this clearly."
Sadly this seems to be one of her prophecies which is no longer true. I think it came true at the beginning of her life in heaven and the beginning of her glorification when, to the utter shock of her sisters in the convent (not her blood sisters there, necessarily, but the others who had lived with her as religious sisters), this hidden nun about whom it was said (and she even overheard them saying it!), "What will we have to write about her after she dies?" was bringing hundreds of letters a day to their mailbox. Letters about her worldwide appearances, consolations, "little favors" and big to the near and the far. I was looking in the Posthumous Chronology this Story of a Soul provides and wondering what would be said (if anything) for 1918 - 100 years ago. Here is the one entry I found:
"1918: February 9: The Carmel received 512 letters that day."
My husband has been wondering when anyone will mention that this Veteran's Day (the day before yesterday) marked exactly 100 years since the Armistice was signed to end World War I - called at the time The Great War because of the rampant devastation, the unprecedented death toll from so many countries . . . Hi honey! I know you won't be reading this, but I'll tell you later tonight: I did! I mentioned it! Because it was in this same horrible war, when paper was short, tempers and time and lives were short, that 512 letters arrived in one day (February 9) at the Lisieux Carmel testifying to St. Therese's presence in the lives of those who had found time, spirit, and energy to write those letters, and money to post them! Keep in mind these weren't the only letters received that month - this was just the high water mark. Usually there were only 500 or so! A day!! Testifying to Therese's having come down and touched these lives!
The nuns were scratching their heads under their wimples! Or perhaps by then they'd gotten used to the deluge in the mailbox. But the point is, they would have seen, having lived with little Therese, having been her contemporaries, that it was all God's doing . . .
But we seem to have wandered away from Marcel again, and that won't do at all (Jesus never did, Therese never did, and we must strive to do so much less than we do)!
So here is the deal: while Therese became perfectly simple at the end of her short life, Marcel didn't ever have to become perfectly simple, because he always was perfectly simple!
Isn't that wonderful? It's taken me all day to say it, but it was worth it! I started writing this post this morning, was interrupted by Life, returned to it this evening, and phew! At last I've gotten out what I have been wanting to say.
Do you demand more proof? If you doubt Marcel's simplicity, I dare you to give him a test. Get out your copy of Conversations (and if you don't have one yet, I encourage you to save your shekels and get one asap) and open to any page . . . Simplicity personified! The quintessence of simplicity! The second little Therese without a doubt, living the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood from the truly innocent heart of an eternal child.
Okay, I must give you one quote. Let's see what the Holy Spirit sends us . . .
Ah! The passage I was too lazy to quote recently, but that's okay, since according to Marcel, Jesus is lazy too! At (589), our little brother is talking to Mary about cleaning his room. It reads like a Marx brothers' exchange, because Mary is concerned about the room of Marcel's soul, and he is concerned about his physical room that must be cleaned . . . And the Holy Spirit has given us the perfect Marian passage to help us see just how dependent we are on Our Lady, even before our consecration! How much sense it makes to continue our 33 days in preparation of giving all to that lazy and adorable Jesus through our darling Mother. Just listen!
Marcel: Mary, little Jesus is very lazy. He shares the same room with me but He never takes the trouble to sweep the floor. I have to do it each week. I am asking you to mention it to Him in my place, since if I speak to Him about it, I am not sure He will listen to me. This bedroom is full of spiders' webs; if it continues like this, perhaps, in a little while, I will not even have a path to get out. The Zealator has already blamed me twice but I haven't got enough time to sweep. As for little Jesus, He spends all day playing, but He does not take the time to sweep. He has obviously decided to allow me to suffocate in this room. . . Ah, I've found the answer! You must allow me to make, as appropriate, a division of labour. Without that it will be very difficult for me. Little Jesus will sweep instead of me, my sister Therese will wipe the table and make everything tidy and you, Mother, will make my bed. And, as I am very small, I will go and play. Mother, do you agree? It is fair that I divide the work in this way, otherwise, I will continue worrying.
Mary: Marcel, who has told you to worry? Up till now you have not had to worry at all about the room of your soul.
Marcel: But Mother, I am talking about the room I live in.
Mary: My child, just listen to me a little. Your soul is really a living room; and in this room, what dust and untidiness . . . It is I who must sweep it and make everything tidy; it is I who must make sure to open and close the door so that you may breathe easily and be comfortable. In short, it is impossible for me to favour you more than I do. I am like your servant. After having freed you from your scruples, I save you from occasions of sin . . . And yet, my child, you complain about having the most difficult work? Whether or not you divide up the work, I still must do everything, whereas you have no other job but to play. Would playing be a very difficult task for you? So, change jobs with me. My child, you see that I wish to have fun so you may be happy. Truly, if I confided to you the care of the room of your soul, you would not know how to find a means of getting out; you would certainly have a body tangled up in spiders' webs.
Marcel: But, Mother, little Jesus and my sister Therese are, then, doing nothing?
Mary: You are, all three of you, busy playing, what more can you want? If little Jesus and your sister Therese were busy like me, who would play with you?
Marcel: Mother, must you really give yourself so much trouble? The room of my soul is certainly very small, so that, in my opinion, your work ought not to consist of anything tiresome.
Mary: There is only one job I find tiresome. I have even asked little Jesus and your sister Therese to help me in this, but it seems that we have not yet fully succeeded. Do you know what it is a question of? Bearded Jesus, himself, has not been able to bring it to a close; I mean that he has not succeeded in ridding you of anxieties. This spider's web is very difficult to remove, but I have the firm hope that one day you will be relieved of it. I know that this spider's web, in which consist your troubles, makes breathing very difficult for you. However, remain in peace. I am going to do the chores for you and so you will be very happy.
Marcel: But Mother, this room I am living in is very dirty, so what can be done?
* * *
Let me leave you with the assurance that Mary does give Marcel a solution to his physical room's cleaning too! It will happen the next Thursday, and 15 minutes will be enough time for Marcel to make a quick job of it. But do you see what I mean? The simplicity, the naturalness, the familiarity! This is why God has given us Marcel. He gave Therese to Marcel to teach him to do what came naturally - to speak to Him on intimate terms with no self-consciousness . . . and He gave us Marcel to show us in his every conversation just how very intimate and familiar God desires us, too, to be with Him!
And with that, I will pray with you in utmost simplicity to the dear Father who wants to give us (and everyone) every good thing - let's not wait any longer to sigh to Him our yes!
Draw me, we will run!
p.s. And now I will post this with more simplicity than I feel entirely comfortable with, but forgive me for this time it's not laziness. My computer is almost out of battery! I have not yet proofread to the degree that perfection demands, so let's rest in littleness tonight - even though Marcel has already won that race!
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