Prayer card above available at Agape Catholic Ministries shop
Last week I wrote about parents being models of holiness for their children. We looked at a few saints and how their parent’s example had impacted them. This week I want to reflect on one particular family: The Martin family.
St. Therese is a Doctor of the Church, a modern saint whose “Little Way” has had an incredible impact in the 21st century. Now, as of last fall, St. Therese’s parents Louis and Zélie have joined the ranks of canonized saints as the first married couple to be declared saints together. They even share a feast day: their wedding anniversary, July 12th.
Together Louis and Zélie had no theology degrees or brilliant theological treatises, but were able to transform their ordinary lives into something extraordinary through their love for God. Celine, their daughter, said they were “different temperaments, but perfectly well-matched, each one completing, in perfect harmony, the deficiencies of the other, always corrected by virtue.” There was a communion of love in their family because the couple loved each other deeply, fueled by their love of God.
Both came from strict military families, with Zélie telling of a “dismal” childhood and she never got along with her mother. They were no strangers to suffering. After both being rejected from religious orders, they passed each other on a bridge where Zélie heard a voice say, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.” During their 18 years of marriage, they gave birth to 9 children and buried 4 of them. Zélie was also sick with breast cancer, and died when St. Therese was only 4. They had to balance running their own businesses, being attentive their family, and caring for others in their community. They struggled to raise children of different strong-willed temperaments and suffered the guilt of knowing that their maid had abused one of their children.
All of this is very relatable to today’s families.
Before Zélie died, she had made a pilgrimage to Lourdes to ask for healing. She prayed that if the Lord did not wish to heal her, he would at least make Leonie, their most difficult and rebellious child, a saint someday. Leonie’s cause for beatification is now underway!
After Zélie died, Louis sold their business, said goodbye to his livelihood and friends and moved to Lisieux to be closer to Zélie’s family so their Aunt could help raise the girls. He sacrificed so much to be there for them. And during their time in Lisieux, they practiced the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They shared what they had with the poor, and went through their day in a spirit of prayer. St. Therese had this to say about her father: “At long last we would make our way upstairs to say our night prayers, and once again I would find myself close to him, only having to look at him to know how saints must pray.”
As St. Therese also famously said, “God gave me a mother and a father more worthy of heaven than of earth.” This is because Louis and Zélie had their eyes fixed on heaven. They bore their sufferings patiently, practiced virtue, and their deep love for God flowed into a deep love for their children. Again St. Therese says, “With a nature such as my own, had I been reared by parents without virtue or even if I had been spoiled by the maid, Louise, as Celine was, I would have become very bad and perhaps have even been lost.”
So what are some lessons we can take away from the family life of Louis and Zélie Martin? Certainly we will not find our own path to heaven in the exact way they did, but we can learn a lot from their example as we walk our own journey!
First, pray as a family at bedtime like the Martins did. Sometimes Therese would even accompany her father to the adoration chapel. Keep your family life centered on Christ, and reflect each day on God’s presence in your family. The only way all 5 daughters could have entered a convent is if they were accustomed to an attitude of prayer!
Next, create an environment that invites your children to holiness. The Martin home was filled with religious objects – a smiling statue of Mary, religious articles among the toys. Their faith was a way of life, not an hour at Mass on Sunday, and it showed in their house.
Last, practice the works of mercy. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or encourage your kids to give hard earned money to a charity. Do not become attached to things of this world. We will go through our own painful trials and sufferings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still reach out to others in need. When our children can see us trust God in our trials, they will have faith in Him too!
5 x 8 Prayer cards available on Agape Catholic Ministries shop (original art by Olivier Heitz)