Saints for today
‘Good God gave me a Father and Mother more worthy of Heaven than earth. They asked God to give them many children and to take them for himself. This desire was heard. Four little angels flew to Heaven and the remaining five chose Jesus as the Beloved in the arena of life’
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
She – full of life, spontaneous, resourceful, does not like meetings and travelling. He – quiet, meditative character and on the contrary, he likes travelling and new places. Opposites whose virtues complement each other. In their youth they both wanted to consecrate their lives to God. However, God wanted a different way for them – through their lives he wanted to convince the world that sanctity in marriage is possible. Zelie and Louis Martin. The parents of St Therese of the Chid Jesus. On Sunday, 19 October 2008, the Church will raise them to the altars.
Unity in opposites
This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the marriage of 27 year old Zelie Guerin and 35 year old Louis Martin in the church of Our Lady at Alençon. Would they have found themselves in the contemporary world? Can families of the 21st century draw something from them? Certainly, they can. Today we would say that both of them were craftsmen: Louis was a watchmaker-jeweller. Zelie was a lacemaker. Each was good at his/her profession. The whole town of at Alençon admired Louis’s reliability, precision and mastery (then he helped his wife to run her workshop). Zelie’s laces were also very popular. And we should add that laces from Alençon were luxurious and most expensive. They knew the meaning of financial problems, long hours of work and consequently, fatigue. However, they could say ‘stop’ when they were too much immersed in the whirl of work and obligations. They managed to combine their roles of a married couple, parents and businessmen. Contemporary families face similar problems. But one thing made them unique and perhaps would have made them unique today – their lives with God. The lives were marked by daily Eucharist at 5.30 a.m., frequent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, regular confession, observing fast, family prayer. And one more thing – honouring the Lord’s Day. It was really time to celebrate.
Brought up by example
St Therese’s parents were open to life although they spent their first months of their marriage in virginity. They had nine children, four of them died in early childhood. Both of them brought up five daughters. They cared for them, were full of warmth and tenderness but at the same time they were consistent; they did not spoil their children and did not fulfil all their whims. They were proud of their daughters and at the same time they fought against vanity. They treated each daughter in an individual way. They noticed their vices and virtues, fought against the former and gave to God what they could not change themselves. They directed their girls to heaven where, as they believed, they were going to meet all. Heaven was to be their destination. The children received so much love as they could. Louis and Zelie had time and energy for that. They taught them how to meet the needs and poverty of other people. By their example they showed them that one should not be indifferent to anyone that needed support, time and material help. They defended others; they spoke for the falsely accused even it that would make them face the risk of losing good name. They convinced their girls that they could not live for themselves but they should notice those in need around them. Louis and Zelie were also an example of an extremely harmonious marriage. They supported each other; they made important decisions together. In her letter to her brother Zelie wrote, ‘I am still very happy with Louis; he makes my all life sweet. My husband is a holy man. I wish such a man to all women.’ They were convinced that one could reach sanctity in every state, at every post, if one was obedient to God’s will. After Zelie’s death (the youngest daughter Theresa was four and a half years old then) Louis carried the burden of bringing up his daughters. After having moved to Lisieux he devoted all his life to them. He was ready to help each of them but he did not force his help. He directed and advised them when they needed support.
The way of the cross of the married couple
Each of them had their own passions, own way of the cross to heaven. At first, they followed the way together, grieving over the death of their four children. Then one of their daughters Leonia caused them pain – she was unruly; she followed her own ways, and was rebellious. Zelie said that she was a heavy unbearable cross for them. (In the end, like all her other sisters she joined a religious order.) Zelie had a breast cancer that devastated her organism. The last days of her life were a run of martyrdom and long dying. She died at the age of 46. Louis experienced another cross: paralysis and insanity for three years. In the 19th century such people were treated with scorn and contempt. The future Little Saint described this period of his father’s life (he died at the age of 71), ‘…heroic Patriarch gave himself to God as a burnt offering. So his paralysis changed its course and placed itself in the distinguished head of the offering accepted by the Lord… He accepted this experience being aware of his great humiliation but his heroism was so big that he did not want anyone to pray for his recovery.’ Struggling with problems that many contemporary families face the holy married couple showed how to treat suffering that they shared. Confidence and relying on God in all matters, in spite of fears, offering him their physical and moral sufferings – this is the shortest profile of their attitude towards the cross. And one more sentence of Zelie, ‘Good God is the Lord: he can send for our good smaller or bigger suffering but we will always count on his help and grace.’
Now we will speak about these ordinary, but yet unique couple, ‘blessed’. Since now on especially families have had new ‘official’ advocates in heaven. They have become blessed not because they were parents of a saint but because as husband and wife, father and mother, they aspired to sanctity in their whole lives. In their ordinary lives, full of effort and suffering, they remained faithful and confident in God’s plan for their family. Perhaps the best summery of their lives were the words of Louis, ‘…I am rushed to offer thanksgiving to Good God … because I am convinced that our family, in spite of their simplicity, have the honour to belong to the privileged circle of the Creator who is worthy of praise.’