Why Miss Marcel?
I can hardly begin this post, I'm so distracted by the punctuation (and lack thereof) in my title. The British grammar handbook Eats, Shoots and Leaves keeps coming to mind, both the one written for grown-ups and the children's version.
Believe it or not, I have no intention of this being a grammar blog (grammatical, yes, but not typically focused on punctuation). And yet I'm enthralled by the possibilities suggested in the heading "Why Miss Marcel."
I could, for instance, be earnestly searching for answers from a certain Miss Marcel, with the intonation thus: "WHY, Miss Marcel?" The real question being, "Just why did you do it?" as if she'd been discovered to have done him in, rather than the more typical solution that the butler did it.
Or I could be pleasantly surprised to see this elusive Miss Marcel, with the intonation thus: "Why, Miss Marcel!" as if she doesn't usually frequent a blog like ours.
But in fact, I'm simply wondering (along with you, I imagine): Huh. Why "Miss Marcel"? This is a pen name I haven't run across before . . . And why is Miss Marcel musing? Or is she a muse? Or is she amused? And why, if I put "MIss Marcel's Musings" into Google do I get nothing like this blog? [Don't bother trying it now . . . you're here . . . that's all that matters :)]
Happily, I can answer all these questions except the last . . . and since this is a blog set up so that I can ramble, and through which I hope to change the world one soul at a time, rather than for the purpose of demanding universal attention through a high algorithm launch which will be so en masse that it will take over the internet and threaten the cyber universe as we know it, I don't think we have to worry about Google and what it does for readership here . . . I can though, and will, tell you why Miss Marcel is musing (Jesus is the answer), whether she is a muse (sort of), and how amused she is (very).
What I'm a little at a loss to explain is how her name evolved, but I'll give that my best shot too.
It all started about a year and three months and twenty-four days ago. I was in a library looking for one particular book (Canticle of Love by Blessed Dina Belanger) when another book ambushed me. This ambushing book, which made its move by catching my eye and drawing my soul unto itself, was none other than the Autobiography of Marcel Van. I'd been introduced to Marcel some years ago by a booklet Leonie Caldecott wrote for the Catholic Truth Society, but he only got a page or so there since she was introducing several of St. Therese's spiritual brothers and sisters. Still, I remembered him and how I'd wanted to learn more about this Vietnamese boy who'd actually talked to St. Therese (though he lived 50 years after she died).
Down came the book, and being me I didn't bother with the first 223 pages or so. Life is short and books are long . . . a classic case of too many books, too little time . . . or most likely, as I've come to realize, the Holy Spirit is in charge of my reading, and page 224 was the natural starting place for me.
[We interrupt this blog post to announce a cool thing. Page 224 in the book I took off the shelf turns out to be page 562 in Marcel's own original copybooks; this is marked in the Autobiography with a (562) in the margin, and from now on in my posts, I'll use or add these numbers one sees in the margins so that readers of any edition can easily find the quoted passage.]
I started where I did, more than half way through the book, because it's there Marcel begins to tell us about "The Little Way of Childhood" and his encounters with St. Therese. I won't spoil the story at this juncture - we've got lots of blog space to fill up so we can redeem the internet and have fun at the same time; no use blowing our wad now - but suffice it to say I fell head over heels madly in love with Marcel Van.
And somewhere in my reading about him from that day to this, I came across a delightful fact: that some of his friends (I think among the Redemptorists, which Van eventually joined) nicknamed his sister "Miss Marcel" because she reminded them of him. Both Marcel and his younger sister Té were small in stature and devout, but I imagine they also shared some mannerisms and maybe facial expressions. Anyhow, it feels like I might as well be imagining it all, because for the life of me I can't find the place where I read about "Miss Marcel." I've asked St. Anthony, I've combed through the four volumes of Marcel's collected works, but alas, I am destined to be . . . Miss Marcel too!
You see, among Marcel's many charming and endlessly endearing traits, perhaps the one I relate to most is his forgetfulness. Like Dina Belanger in Canticle of Love (her autobiography and the book I was looking for when I found Marcel's), our hero had the mission of writing out the words Our Lord spoke to him. But while Dina, like most mystics of this kind, focused primarily on Jesus' part of their conversations, Marcel was specifically instructed by the Author of Life to write out both parts of the conversation: Jesus' words and his own. Which is how we know, besides Jesus mentioning it, that Marcel is very, very forgetful (as well as easily distracted).
For while Marcel's autobiography is wonderful, the book that really took me by storm was (and is) his Conversations with Jesus, Mary, and Therese of the Child Jesus. And there he is forever asking Jesus to repeat Himself, since Marcel has so often forgotten what it was Jesus said and wanted him to write down for us.
I console myself, then, that not only Marcel's sister (if that is truly who was first called "Miss Marcel") but I, too, resemble my spiritual brother. Forgetful? Not a problem, and in fact, if I can find the spot, I'll quote for you some convincing words on the subject . . .
Ah, here we are . . . p. 71 (178) of Conversations, written by Marcel on Christmas Day, 1945.
Jesus says, "The more you forget, the more you see your weakness and your ignorance, and the more you are dear to me and receive my kisses."
I wanted to find that reference to little Miss Marcel the first, but I'll gladly trade finding it for receiving little Jesus' kisses!
I mentioned in my previous post that I have a dear friend who urged me to begin this blog. The day she suggested it and I began to seriously consider it, I wrote to another dear Friend, the British gentleman who had the privilege of translating Marcel's writings from French into English. (Marcel's spiritual director, the French Canadian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Boucher, had the previous privilege of translating Marcel's writings from Vietnamese into French.)
I told My Friend the Translator (talk about privileged! I still can't believe I know him!) that I was hoping to start this blog . . . and he wrote back that he'd been preoccupied for some time with the thought and desire of making Marcel better known. He'd suspected a blog was the way to go, but hoped he wasn't the man to do it, as his translations being completed, he'd rather not tackle another large project, especially one with new technology to master. When he received my news of this blog, he counted it as a blessing and a sign that the Holy Spirit had marked out someone else for this apostolate of sharing Marcel -- namely me!
Not to change the subject, but Merle Oberon has a brilliant (and brilliantly delivered) line in the Wuthering Heights film that featured Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff. Distraught and beside herself, she explains their spiritual union at one point by crying out in thoroughly dramatic and haunting tones, "I . . . Am . . . Heathcliff!"
You can appreciate, then, my natural propensity, once I'd discovered my close spiritual bond with Marcel, to cry out frequently myself in what I hope are dramatic and haunting tones, "I . . . Am . . . Marcel!"
But just as Jesus and Therese explained to Marcel that he needn't (and wouldn't) be changed into a female though he wanted to resemble Therese in everything, so too I've come to understand that I need to be my own version of Marcel (a female one since that's how God made me, for which I'm ever grateful). I can resemble him spiritually in everything while retaining my femininity by simply being his female other half. Hence, again, we are forced to the conclusion that I simply am Miss Marcel!
Which brings us full circle, Now that we know "why Miss Marcel", the next question is, "Why is Miss Marcel musing?"
The truest answer I can think of, an answer that G. K. Chesterton, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel all express quite winningly, is that it's a wonderful world . . . and so wonder seems the natural response. Which explains why this Miss Marcel muses.
But is Miss Marcel a muse? Certainly her inspiration - Marcel Van - is inspiring me . . .
And is Miss Marcel amused?
To that I say, unequivocally and absolutely, yes! Miss Marcel is highly amused!
Because, first and foremost, she has her brother Marcel and his antics to amuse her.
When I started reading Conversations and couldn't help but read snippets aloud to my husband, his reaction was the following (and I quote verbatim because I, like Marcel, write things down and thus know sometimes at least where to find them). He said:
"As the world (and the Church) takes itself more seriously,
the Saints get sillier! The greatest are the littlest - so little that this is their greatness."
I've discovered that there's a lot of laughter in Jesus, and if it doesn't come out in the Gospels, it definitely comes out in his conversations with Marcel. And who could blame Him? Marcel is very funny! And so, yes, as his sister who cherishes his charming guilelessness and silliness, like Jesus, I too am highly amused.
Now I've told you all I can about "Why Miss Marcel."
So what remains to be said?
To begin with, a tremendous amount about Marcel, the true inspiration and genius behind Miss Marcel. But that must be told in another post, for that's how blogs work.
I will only add here that I'm tremendously grateful for God's kindness and solicitous tenderness shown through His beloved Son and our true Love, Jesus. Do you know what day it is as I write and officially begin this blog? It's the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, the Apostle of Love "to whom secrets were revealed and who spread the words of life through all the world" (as the opening antiphon to his Mass puts it).
I am in awe of God's marvelous timing.
Marcel Van was (and is from heaven now), like St. John, an Apostle of Love, and he too had secrets revealed to him and spread the words of life through all the world.
I too would like to be an Apostle of Love. Marcel has shared his secrets with me, and especially the secret of Jesus' limitless love, and I too want to spread Marcel's words of littleness and Jesus' words of life through all the world.
Like Marcel, I don't even need to understand exactly what it is I'm writing: I'm likely too little to understand the secrets confided to my heart and pen, even as I can say, with St. John and St. Peter, "Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen."
But Jesus always puts it best, and I hear Him tell me as He told Marcel on that Christmas night 72 years ago in 1945: "Your duty simply consists in writing."
I rejoice in my mission of writing, and I ask my guardian angel to protect me from ever worrying for a single moment about how many people my words will reach - that is, as Jesus would tell the Apostles of Love before me, none of my business. My business is simply to write, and if I reach one single soul, it will have been worth it (not to mention my concern about exploding if I don't get some of these words out from inside me).
You are reading this post now, so it has already been worth it.
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