St. Joan and St. Thérèse – Together they are the most beautiful color in the heavens.
I am nothing but an accent.
“St. Joan and St. Thérèse – Together they are the most beautiful color in the heavens. I am nothing but an accent.”
One wonders just why Our Lord gives each of us certain devotions. These devotions are particular favors that reflect Jesus’ own goodness in our lives. He demonstrates His affection for us sometimes directly and sometimes through others. I think that it is only when we step back to see the whole that we gain insight as to why He prefers one way over another in the particular.
We might relate this to understanding the principle behind an action. It is one thing to know we are walking down a dirt path. It is another to know that our purpose in doing so is to reach a beautiful creek pouring into a deep lake sitting in a peaceful meadow. One might say, “I care not about the reason I travel. I simply trust the One Who leads me. I will just let the mystery unfold!” That is well and good. Yet, what if we were to say, “I trust the One Who leads me, and He has promised to lead me to a beautiful creek pouring into a deep lake sitting in a peaceful meadow!” Now, that is even more marvelous. That is more fulfilling. And there is a reason for this. It is our nature to seek wholeness of understanding through the principle that drives our actions and desires.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that Truth is the principle whereby the intellect is moved. Desire for the perfect Good, i.e. Happiness, i.e. God is the principle whereby the will is moved. Neither the intellect nor the will can rest until perfect Truth and Perfect Happiness are attained. Only when the perfect Good is attained do all of the other appetites of our soul rest, there being no higher good to reach. It is weakly comparable to resting under a shade tree by the ocean on a perfect afternoon with no pressing issues. We have much going on in our lives; however, in that moment everything else seems unimportant. Our spiritual house is at rest. For the moment at least, we think there is nothing more to attain; therefore, we have no unruly, anxious, and unmet desires roaming about our soul to disturb us. This is what it means to have our appetites quieted.
We can see from this why we can know what perfect Happiness is in the principle and even journey toward it in movement of intellect and will, but we nevertheless cannot attain it in its fullness in this life. The perfect Good before which all other truth and desire is surpassed, and therefore before which all unruly spiritual appetites are stilled, is God Himself. Though understanding Him to be our End, we still cannot attain Him perfectly in this life, for we can do this only in the next. Such is our state that no matter how happy we become in this life, we continue to feel a tug on our hearts toward something even higher. “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee, O Lord,” says St. Augustine.
So, even though we may tell ourselves that we do not need to know the end principle behind our spiritual journey, that it is “just an unknowable mystery,” our nature is such that we are constantly pursuing just that principle. Our nature is such that the intellect seeks more, the heart seeks more, and there will be no final rest until the End Principle, that toward which our entire being yearns, is attained.
What a state in which we would find ourselves, if not for the benefit of being further blessed, beyond our human nature, to receive from God the graces that lead us in the direction of that End Principle which is Himself in all of His glory. We call those graces the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. Where the natural intellect can reach no further with earthly reason, Faith provides that which it seeks. Where natural desire for earthly happiness yields the inevitable lack of fulfillment, Hope provides the desire for that which is truly fulfilling beyond the material world. Both Faith and Hope beckon us to that which is real and authentic but yet remains beyond our nature. That End Principle, that state of being beyond our purely human nature is Divine Love, the highest of the theological virtues. As it is beyond our human nature to attain this Divine Love on our own and as it is only attainable through sanctifying grace, we call this final state of being Glory. It is glorious indeed to be raised to such sublime heights. To live in Glory in Heaven is to attain God, Who is perfect Love. In Glory, the soul has reached the End toward which it has yearned and will be at perfect peace, its intellect and will now resting in Love.
Now, this all may seem to be a curious introduction to a discussion of my devotion to Sts. Joan and Thérèse. Yet, it is all of this that, in fact, drives me to say, “St. Joan and St. Thérèse – Together they are the most beautiful color in the heavens. I am nothing but an accent.” I will need to explain. Though not immediately obvious, these words reflect a key grace in my life that corresponds to the entire flow of ideas above. It has to do with that idea of movement toward the Principle, the End, and the Person Who is Love.
My devotion to Sts. Joan and Thérèse throws into living color how it is that I fit into the whole, unified panorama of metaphoric creeks, rivers, and meadows mentioned above, and the unified wholeness of which represents the End Principle of my movement on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. The unity and completeness of the panoramic landscape is the Principle of Divine Love in the Kingdom of God. The Trail represents the movement of my intellect and will toward that principle. We all have a desire to know where and how we fit into God’s loving plan. Our intellect and will move by nature toward answering this question and then actualizing the answer as demonstrated above. To understand even a little more and to have our desire increase even a little more, is an astonishing satisfaction in the heart of the soul. That is what it means to travel on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. One never reaches the End Principle in this life, but joy and meaning come from moving toward it with both heart (will) and mind (intellect) in this life. And my devotion to Sts. Joan and Thérèse has been a gift that moves me just so along that Trail.
In summary, this devotion has given me true freedom by showing me the End, which is Divine Love, and the means to reach the End. Authentic freedom is the freedom to obey. It is the freedom to do that which I ought to do, which is to love God and my neighbor as myself. It is freedom to seek that End which the intellect desires to know and the will desires to Love. I did not have that freedom before. I “did that which I did not want to do, and did not do that which I wanted to do.” Therefore, I was a slave. I was the victim of “license,” demanding my “right” to be allowed to do whatever I please and by which I felt “affirmed,” which is the world’s understanding of freedom.
In this devotion I found true freedom, which is that of obedience. If joy is found in moving toward the authentic End, which is Happiness, which is God, then one needs to be obedient to that Trail that leads the intellect and the will there. The principle is quite simple. If you follow the proper trail, you will arrive to the desired location.
Still, despite my joy in journeying along the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed with this devotion, I have, over the years, been troubled by one aspect. That troubling aspect has been the degree to which I perceived I did not fit. I have been most perplexed as to why this specific manifestation of grace has been that of two young women who were both very pious and holy in their lives while on this earth despite the differences in each vocation, one a Carmelite nun and the other a Warrior. There is no semblance of the goodness of their lives in my own. How would a cowardly vagabond and scoundrel find himself in such company?
To answer that one might think of the murderous villain for whom Thérèse prayed as a youth and who was converted just before being executed at the guillotine. Or perhaps one might think of the uncouth and foul-mouthed Captain La Hire whom Joan of Arc forced to pray, confess, and attend Mass before leading his men into battle. My life history would place me somewhere in their company, and, if not for the grace of God, to be even worse than both combined.
However, it fell upon my soul one day to understand all this in the more edifying light of the journey toward the End Principle St. Thomas has introduced to us. Referring back to Thérèse’s own metaphor of Jesus’ garden of souls being like that of a beautiful landscape where not every flower is a rose nor every tree a mighty oak, we see that each falls exactly into place so as to create for Him the most pleasing mystical landscape. I have often referred metaphorically to Joan and Thérèse as both being flowers making up the most beautiful flower bed in that landscape. They are, in their combined spiritual blooms, “the most beautiful color in the heavens.” Yes, I believe that to be true.
And this edification that fell upon my soul stemming from this metaphor is that in order for the landscape to be truly right, that is, for its end principle to be truly attained in its splendor, it was therefore essential that there not only be the subjects of beauty, such as flowers, and rivers, and trees. There must also be, for every color and every subject, proper accents to bring the subjects into proper proportion.
Now, accents do not exist but for the purpose of the subject matter. For example, an accent above the é in Thérèse’s name means nothing sitting alone. Brightness is a meaningless concept without color. The audible softening of a note has no meaning without the violin actually bringing that note to life.
However, accents are very important. It is a most noble call to be an accent. How would the flower bed’s hues resonate without accents? How can the flower bed move the eye in fascination toward it unless placed amidst the proper accents of grass, earth, and light? Yes, accents are crucial to making the picture just right. But an accent by itself is an oxymoron.
Yes, as I think of my life, now the meaning of it all is coming into focus.
My life on my own, that ignoble life I introduced above, was oxy-moronic both in the real meaning of the word and in the pun. My adult life has been filled with both incongruity and foolishness. This has been driven by a self-destructive desire to accent myself, which is to accent nothing, and to therefore be the oxymoron as defined.
Our Lord sought to save me from this dire condition of self. He first presented to me a magnificent inspiration to both my intellect and will, that is, through Faith and Hope, to honor Him by healing the wounds of His mother’s heart, so grievously saddened by the impious blasphemies our world hurls at her Son. This gracious gift was analogous to asking an impoverished man dying of an untreatable disease if he would prefer to live healthily in a seaside mansion amidst perfect temperature and sunshine. My intellect and will leapt forward toward that magnificent God of Love and the meaning He wished to place in me just as our dying man might leap toward that mansion.
Later, as I came to know St. Thérèse and her metaphor of the heavenly garden of souls, I was drawn further into this mystery of Jesus’ love and just what He would like from me in more detail. In the Lord’s garden where sat the Thérèsian bed of flowers, He and Our Lady revealed those other blooms, those from Thérèse’s spiritual sister, Jeanne d’Arc. And there, right there, when seeing those blooms arrayed together, I saw the color. I saw that color to which I refer when I say, “Together they are the most beautiful color in the heavens.”
Those blooms and that colorful array moved me. I knew I had discovered the place Jesus and Mary wished for me to be. This would be a place where He is honored and where she is therefore consoled. It was the place where I could take my wretched nothingness and at last be part of something beautiful. It was the place where my intellect and my will could move in obedience a step closer to the End-all principle Who is Jesus Himself and Who is Love, by fulfilling my role in the landscape. It was where I discovered that Jesus was pleased and glorified by this bed of flowers and where Our Lady desired to place accents in order to delight Him.
Journeying further along the mystical Trail of the Dogmatic Creed, I could see more clearly that to please Jesus and to console her own heart, Our Lady simply wanted me to be an accent. She wanted me to write, speak, whisper, and sing about His elegant flowers in His beautiful landscape that makes up His glorious Kingdom, the archetype of which is the heart of that same faithful mother whose spirit “rejoices in God her Savior.” Together with all of the other flowers, trees, rivers and lakes, each having their own colors, tones, and accents, the entire landscape exalts in Him and sings the praises of the Blessed Trinity. And that is what everything is all about.
“Je ne suis rien mais un accent.” I am nothing but an accent. My place is not about me. In principle, it is not even about Joan and Thérèse. It is about being where I am supposed to be in that mystical and mysterious landscape that is the Kingdom. It is about this Kingdom and about this Kingdom’s End Principle Whom we desire with all of our minds (intellect) and all of our hearts (will) to adore. It is about Love. At least that is what Joan and Thérèse told me.
So, this is why I tell people about Joan and Thérèse. It is what I am supposed to do. I am nothing, an accent with no subject, if I do not do it. At the same time, though I am very small in the scheme of things, I am still important. When Jesus walks through His Kingdom and by this flower bed to enjoy those blooms and to breathe in that joyful fragrance, the accents need to be in place. We all want Him to be pleased. Sunlight over here, please. Slide the rock to the right. And smooth that soil. He’s coming.
I may seem a bit foolish in my devotion. But I believe that the Holy Spirit has defended my demeanor in Scripture. The sinful but penitent woman who bathed Jesus’ feet in her tears made quite a scene at that Pharisee’s dinner party. It happens when you love Jesus. In fact, I think it should happen when you love Jesus.
And though I may seem foolish in my devotion and my expressions of love for Sts. Joan and Thérèse, for Our Holy Mother the Virgin Mary, and for Our Lord Jesus Christ, it beats being lost in the Dark Forest where I had previously been not only foolish but mad. Furthermore, and in all truth, I will say it beats being, well, I think the expression is, an oxymoron.