"It is confidence, and nothing but confidence, that must lead us to LOVE!"
- Marcel's sister St. Therese
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.
Merciful Father, in the name of our gentle Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints, I beg You to enkindle all my sisters and brothers with Your Spirit of Love and to grant them the favor of making You loved very much.
So here we are, in the last few days, the final triduum, of our second Triple Novena of Love. We are just past St. Jude (pray for us!) and his compadre, St. Simon (pray for us too!) and sneaking up on the Vigil of All Saints, our last day of prayer. Ever? No way, Torme! (We're big Mel Torme fans over here, so I thought I'd change that up a little!)
I'm thinking maybe one way God ensures we'll keep praying is by not answering all our prayers at once. But I do hope you're seeing answers to some of your prayers! I think the way it happens in my life is that God answers prayers constantly - some for me, some for others - but then new needs crop up so quickly that I hardly have time to thank Him for those He has satisfied before I find myself asking for more. And just for the record, I don't think He minds at all. As St. Therese used to tell her novice Marie of the Trinity: To restrain our hopes, desires, and prayers would be to put a limit on God's Limitless Love, Goodness, and Omnipotence! So ask away!
This week I'm very grateful because my husband and I are in the midst of a miracle, even though the miracle sits amidst an ongoing unanswered prayer request. Our miracle is the great grace to spend time with Tony's family even while my father-in-law Paul is very ill - terminal cancer and the latest complication, pneumonia - but we're hopeful Paul will be home from the hospital soon, and we're so happy we can spend some days with him wherever he is! My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are the ones holding the fort, and what a mightily heroic job they're both doing! I know that even with the help of their good angels, these dear women are exhausted, so I ask your prayers that our presence will lighten their load.
Meanwhile, your intentions are included in our prayers as well! We've got them all in our big bucket of prayer requests which correspond to St. Therese's buckets of roses. She's planning to share them (the intentions and the roses) with the other Saints this week - may every Saint be involved, and may every rose be dropped down to a needy heart and home! You qualify I'm sure, so look for roses!!!
And then, along with our other graces and miracles, we are here together! And just in time to have a meeting of Marcel's Book Club for October! Yes, we already had one earlier this month, but that was really last month's overdue . . . like last month's was the month's before, better late than never. Never give up, though, because miracles happen and we're getting back on track before our year of reading Story of a Soul comes to a close. We're not done (or undone!) yet! So if you've got a copy of our sister's autobiography handy, you can read it before or after you read this post, but I hope you do read it - Chapter 10 in particular, which is where we are for our 10th month's installment. I'm sure I'm going to glide over (or skip altogether) many pages, and those might be the very pages she wrote for your heart, so think of this as an appetizer, rather than the whole feast!
Chapter 10 of Story of a Soul (in John Clarke's edition, but really every edition is good) picks up Therese's religious life where she left off in her writings for Mother Agnes, her sister Pauline, who (prompted by their sister Marie of the Sacred Heart) had requested Therese's childhood memories. Those formed Manuscript A, the opening chapters of the book.
Now Therese is writing for Mother Genevieve, the mother superior who received her into Carmel and oversaw her first steps there, and is now mother again (following the three years when Pauline became Mother Agnes and was superior). This portion of the book is referred to as Manuscript C, and is the third part of what Therese wrote that was gathered, after her death, into what the world now knows as her "Story of a Soul."
As Marcel and I dive in, we find ourselves skimming until the third page of Chapter 10, when we are, together, arrested by this paragraph:
"O Mother, how different are the ways through which the Lord leads souls! In the lives of the saints, we find many of them who didn't want to leave anything of themselves behind after their death, not the smallest souvenir, not the least bit of writing. On the contrary, there are others, like our holy Mother St. Teresa, who have enriched the Church with their lofty revelations, having no fears of revealing the secrets of the King in order that they may make Him more loved and known by souls. Which of these two types of saints is more pleasing to God?"
Therese has a ready answer, but I have another question . . .
She says, "It seems to me, Mother, they are equally pleasing to Him, since all of them followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and since the Lord has said: 'Tell the just man ALL is well.' Yes, all is well when one seeks only the will of Jesus, and it is because of this that I, a poor little flower, obey Jesus when trying to please my beloved Mother."
Ah, yes, all that is well and good, but here is my question:
"Which of these two types of saints is more pleasing to me?"
And my ready answer is, always, the Saint who leaves books for me to read!
It is a constant source of wonder to me that God has chosen books as the way to reach my soul. Time and again books have changed my life, to the point that you might ask, "How much changing can one life afford?"
Oh, plenty, I assure you! And I know God has many ways of changing lives, even without books (perish the thought, but then again, His ways are not always ours!!). Did you know, for instance, that the good Carmelite known as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, which has changed many a life) was himself changed and converted by seeing a tree without its leaves when the seasons changed? I appreciate this and have looked at trees admiringly and wonderingly, hoping something miraculous would happen to me too, but give me a book any day (which I suppose we can think of as a tree in another form) and I am happier and more changed by far!
Take Story of a Soul, say, and let's pick up where we left off a moment ago, because here is a passage with great life changing potential! Therese writes:
"You know, Mother, I have always wanted to be a saint. Alas! I have always noticed that when I compared myself to the saints, there is between them and me the same difference that exists between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and the obscure grain of sand trampled underfoot by passers-by."
Marcel and I interrupt merely to say, "Amen, sister!" And then back to Therese:
"Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires."
Did you know this is one of the great truths of all the Saints and the spiritual life?
Therese got it from St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as well as from the Scriptures. But just yesterday I found it in an article on Mother Teresa written by my dear friend Maura HERE. Maura quotes a letter Mother Teresa wrote to Malcolm Muggeridge, and when I saw Mother Teresa's words, I almost fell off my chair!!
St. Mother Teresa says (in words reminiscent of her namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux), "“I don’t know why, but very often in my heart a desire has come to be with you in England when you make your first Holy Communion with Jesus. I don’t know—but Jesus never gives desires which He does not mean to fulfill.”
Poor Malcolm had no idea he would make his first Holy Communion ever - but sure enough, the grace of God and His love through the saints brought dear Malcolm into the Church ten years later, and he received Jesus in his First Holy Communion, and many, many more thereafter.
Talk about miracles! If we have had the grace to receive Holy Communion even once in our triple novenas, we can be sure miracles are happening! And I love that Maura's article appeared on Mother Teresa's feast, September 5th, the day before we set out on our Road of Triple Novenas!
What goes around comes around, as they say, and how lovely that we are still here (or here again) to petition Mother Teresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Brother Marcel Van and so many more on this upcoming feast of All the Saints. God is so good, and our Communion of Saints - and our communion with the saints in Holy Communion - is yet another miracle of His grace and His Love in which we can rejoice, even while we don't let up petitioning Him for all we need and haven't yet received.
But what about Therese and her lack of discouragement? I, for one, and Marcel for another (as he tells in his own writings), have certainly felt some discouragement when seeing the difference between ourselves and the saints. What is Therese's solution? What saved her from a like feeling?
She knows, and we must learn, that God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. This is a perfect lesson for our prayers, too! If yours aren't answered when this triple novena ends, do not be discouraged! Keep knocking, and the door will open! Keep asking and you will receive! Here is what Therese says she understood next:
"Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections."
Wow! Did you expect this answer to our prayers? An answer to the plague of perfectionism! How marvelous!
A dear new friend and brother recently sent me two stones, precious relics from the Cave of St. Michael that Padre Pio used to frequent (as did many other Saints, and Popes too). St. Michael had appeared at this cave, said it was holy, and promised those who came to the cave would be healed of the ravages of the plague - and even those to whom stones from the cave were brought! This must be the gift I was given recently: to be healed from this plague of perfectionism! But I hate to hoard relics, so please accept them (spiritually at least) from me as little pebbles from our sister Therese and our brother Marcel, in the name of St. Michael. What are these little pebbles? They are our saints' healing words, and they sound like this:
"I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections."
So far, so good! And then?
"But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new."
Aha! We are little, we cannot be other than we are (try as we might, for years, for decades even!), so we too need a little way to get to heaven! Lucky for us, our sister explains:
"We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the houses of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection."
Me too! Marcel too! You too? Let's read on!
"I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: "Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me."
"And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for. But wanting to know, O my God, what You would do to the very little one who answered Your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered: 'As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you.'
"Ah! Never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more."
This gets better and better! Therese has already given us permission to stay little. Now she says it is even better to become littler and littler! This is not just a cure for perfectionism, it is a whole new way: the way of the child who abandons himself in his father's or mother's arms!
And next comes something to make me smile. I brought back many holy cards from Lisieux (and sent out one of the last extras today!), and some were in French. I delighted in pretending to know French so I could translate them, and one of my favorite quotes I translated as, "O my God, You have exceeded all my expectations!"
Knowing that Therese's hopes and expectations were so very great, I love that she says He not only met them, but exceeded them. I like to think about how St. Monica prayed for years that her son Augustine would get baptized before he died, so he could slip into heaven. God far exceeded that mom's expectations! He went so far as to make Augustine one of the greatest Doctors of the Church (right up there with our sister Therese, haha!)!!
And here it is, the line I love:
"O my God," Therese writes next, "You surpassed all my expectation. I want only to sing Your mercies. "You have taught me from my youth, O God, and until now I will declare Your wonderful works. And until old age and gray hairs, O God, forsake me not.' What will this old age be for me? It seems this could be right now, for two thousand years are not more in the Lord's eyes than are twenty years, than even a single day."
I love, love, love that Therese took God at His Word. She never hesitates to remind those around her (and the rest of us, who have inherited her words) that God promised and explained, over and over in the Scriptures, that it is not years alone that bring wisdom. In fact, as she and Marcel and I love to quote, and as I heard again today at Mass because the Church loves to use this as the Alleluia verse,:
"Jesus full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what You were pleased to do."
Marcel and I are skipping to the next page, because Therese says it so much better than we can:
"Mother, you know that those souls are rare who don't measure the divine power according to their own narrow minds; people want exceptions everywhere on earth, but God alone hasn't the right to make any exceptions! For a very long time, I have known that this way of measuring experience according to years is practiced among human beings. For instance, the holy King David has sung to the Lord: 'I am YOUNG and despised.' And in the same Psalm 118, he does not hesitate to add: 'I have had understanding above old men, because I have sought your will. Your word is a lamp to my feet. I am prepared to carry out your commandments and I am TROUBLED ABOUT NOTHING.'"
* * *
I find myself in a great dilemma at this juncture. It seems absolutely wrong to write more. There is so much here already to fill our hearts and minds, that writing more for you to read is like inviting you to be a glutton!
At the same time there is so much left in this chapter that is beautiful, that would nourish our souls, that seems a waste to leave in the book and not bring out onto the table.
And yet I cannot go on. I think my dilemma is solved by the simple solution of what Fr. Thomas Dubay (God rest his darling soul!) used to call "The Time Pressure Problem." I need to go make dinner (or discover it in the fridge!), and you? You may have things to do, people to love, prayers to say, something to eat, or sleep to enjoy.
But most of all, I hear Marcel saying, "Enough! I want to stop where Therese talks about very few years bringing great wisdom, and especially where she finishes with our being TROUBLED ABOUT NOTHING!"
Yes, Marcel, it's your book club, so you get the last word. How about one I remembered in the middle of the night, which brought me as much consolation as any of the magnificent sentences we read in Story of a Soul? Granted, this word is from Jesus, but it does appear as you wrote it for us in your Conversations. Thanks be to God for the miracle of books, and especially this book-of-my-heart! And so I quote (for once from memory!) these words of Truth Himself to our hearts:
"The smaller your love for Me, the more mine will envelop you in its intimacy."
Now there's a reason to get littler and littler!
May your dinner be delicious, and your sleep even more so! I ask Our Lady to send angels to watch over you, and may God answer your prayers, every one, though He take His sweet time in doing so, until the day we sing, with little Therese and Marcel, "O my God, You have surpassed all my expectations!"
Draw me, we will run!!!
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