News avoidant though I am, I heard about Ireland’s upcoming vote, and I prayed. Like many, I hoped for good news. Bad news came instead, and after the initial sick feeling passed, I had to ask myself: Can we really be surprised that after our series of bad decisions beginning early in Genesis, we’ve flubbed it again?
Well yes, I’ll admit it. I was surprised. I had hoped for better. I had hoped our prayers for life would be answered, but once again, God had this crazy idea that free will (and the suffering that often follows in its wake) is better than The Divine Puppet Show I envision—you know, the one where He perfectly manipulates each person on the face of the planet so that the world stage features a kind of Peanuts Ice Capades where former Olympic gold medal winners skate along to upbeat music in perfectly synchronized (if cartoonish) beauty.
The good news is that despite our mistakes we don’t have to figure out how to solve world problems or right world wrongs. We can instead listen to our brothers and sisters the saints on how to handle each day, whether it’s replete with good news or the more typical “one more false step for man, one more giant step toward disaster for mankind,” like it was with the Irish vote.
If we borrow a page from St. John of the Cross’ “Sayings of Light and Love.” his very first aphorism will guide us from the wide and perilous way back onto the Little Way of trust and surrender. The Mystical Doctor begins by telling us:
“The Lord has always revealed to men the treasures of His wisdom and His Spirit; but now that the face of evil more and more bares itself, so does the Lord bare His treasures the more.”
A glimmer of hope, and if we skip over to Saying #61, we find, even more reassuringly:
“See that you are not suddenly saddened by the adversities of this world, for you do not know the good they bring, being ordained in the judgments of God for the everlasting joy of the elect.”
There, now. That puts our Irish disappointment into perspective, doesn’t it? Heaven isn’t letting our antics distract from the awesome reality of God’s eternal Providence: He has not forgotten us nor will He let us stray forever. As St. Thérèse, Doctor of the Science of Love, tells us:
“Do not fear. The poorer you are, the more Jesus will love you. He will go far, very far in search of you if at times you wander a little.”
Have you heard of Pranzini? He was the convicted murderer Thérèse called her “firstborn.” He was the one whose story captured the headlines back in the late 1800’s when she was a girl. Thérèse’s father, the gentle St. Louis, had a rule that his daughters (at least this littlest one) were not allowed to read the newspapers that came into the house. Oh wise guardian of childhood innocence! Would that we had such restrictions on our intake of the latest atrocities!
Nonetheless, St. Thérèse was as mischievous as we are, and on this occasion, made an exception to her father’s rule. Having heard of Pranzini’s plight (he was to be executed, and he’d refused to see a priest), she prayed and sacrificed and begged God not only for his conversion but that “just this once” she’d have a sign that her prayers were answered. She figured the sign would bolster her courage and confidence for the many conversions she’d pray for in the future, and God must have agreed. Because sure enough, when she sneakily peeked at the paper covering Pranzini’s execution, she saw that after he’d climbed the scaffold, at the last possible moment he’d grabbed the crucifix from a nearby priest and kissed Jesus. This unexpected act of repentance that saved his soul assured Thérèse that God never gives up and always answers our prayers sooner or later.
St. Thérèse didn’t only have a spiritual firstborn (for whom she continued to pray until her own passage into eternal life, explaining her request for Masses for him by quipping, “He was very naughty, my firstborn”), she also had spiritual brothers. There were the two French missionaries she was given to correspond with during her lifetime, Adolphe Roulland and Maurice Belliere. But then, from her place in heaven, she became the spiritual sister of the Vietnamese Servant of God, Marcel Van.
In 1945, Marcel was ordered by his Redemptorist novice master and spiritual director, Fr. Antonio Boucher, to write down the conversations he was having with St. Thérèse, as well as those he had with Jesus and Mary. The result of Marcel’s obedience, his book Conversations features so much wisdom from Thérèse that you’d think she’d been doing nothing for the previous 50 years but waiting for her chance to instruct a little brother! But whether her instructions for Marcel had been stored up or were off the cuff, they were brilliant and come to us now when we need them most.
Take today, for instance. We’d hoped Ireland would prove itself better than the rest of the world, but not surprisingly after all, it has chosen the downward spiral toward self-destruction, just like our own country did 45 years ago. We’ve had a few days to grieve Ireland’s abandonment of the unborn, but now it’s time to think of something—Someone—higher than our own sorry plight: it’s time to think of Jesus and how He’s taking the news. St. Thérèse herself instructed Marcel Van on how to cheer up Jesus, and I can’t think of a better way to occupy ourselves or Him in the wake of Ireland’s sad, sad vote.
Here is what Thérèse told Marcel, as he recounts in Conversations, November 13, 1945:
“When on your return to work you notice that Jesus is sad, you must try to please Him. Go close to Him and ask Him a little question of this kind and, certainly, His sadness will disappear and He will give you a beautiful smile. You will say to Him: ‘My Jesus, why do you look so sad? What news then have you received today? I dearly love You Jesus.’ And if you notice that He continues to be sad, repeat these words unceasingly: ‘You are the only one I love, Jesus.’ He is sad because there are too few who love Him. Finally, if you see that His sadness still persists, call me immediately and both of us, together, will speak of love . . . And, come what may, Jesus will be forced to smile . . . One more word of advice. If at certain times Jesus is sad, it is because, more than ever, His love is trampled underfoot. There you have it, the sole cause of His sadness. When, therefore, you see that He is sad, do not be sad because that will make Him only sadder still. All there is to do in this case is to seek to make Him forget His sadness.”
The next day, Marcel had the opportunity to practice Thérèse’s suggestions. Jesus looked sad, so Marcel said to Him: “Tell me why You are so sad. I love You so much. I invite the whole of paradise to come down here to love You. I am even making use of Your love to love you. Yes, dear Jesus, I love You a great deal . . .”
The result? Nothing less than cheering up Jesus. Marcel continues his dialogue with Our Lord: “There, without having had need to call my sister Thérèse I have succeeded in making You smile. Truly, You have a very charming smile. Now allow me to ask You a question. Why were You sad just now? Tell me. If I am unable to comfort You, I can at least say again that I love You always and that I love You dearly.”
In Jesus’ answer, He not only endorses St. Thérèse’s advice, He also explains how we can help resolve the problems that cause His sadness. I can think of no more fitting words with which to encourage every reader here to respond to the sad news of Ireland’s vote for death. Again, from Marcel Van’s Conversations, this time Jesus’ part in the dialogue of November 14, 1945:
“My little flower, when you see that I am sad, follow the advice of your sister and do not stop being happy; that is the only way to bring joy to Me . . . What saddens Me is to see huge amounts of clay enclosing magnificent pearls which are very dear to Me, condemning Me to look at them from afar while no one thinks to offer them to Me. Nevertheless, my child, if someone placed, if only for a moment, these clods of clay in My hand, they would become as many precious pearls in My eyes . . . The clods of clay designate sinners. They allowed all the love I have given them to be lost in profane love and this profane love envelops them, making them similar to clods of earth . . . My dear child, do you love these lumps of clay? If you love them, try to think of them always and offer them to Me. These simple words: ‘Jesus, I offer them to You’ or any other loving words said with the intention of offering them to Me is sufficient for Me to receive them in My hand and there, My child, I will transform these ugly lumps of clay into many pearls as precious as diamonds.”
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Let’s not give up on Ireland any more than Jesus does. We have one more country now encrusted with clay, but let’s offer it along with our own to Jesus, that He may hold us in the palm of His wounded hand, and by His almighty Power and infinite Love transform these ugly lumps of clay into many pearls as precious as diamonds.