The topicality of the message of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin
We know many aspects of the daily life of this XNUMXth century family thanks to the many testimonies reported through the voluminous family correspondence and the writings of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
One life, one message
By their simple and ordinary life, well inscribed in their time, the family of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, with its joys and sorrows, is an opportunity and an example given to the Church and to the world to understand today, the importance of true love lived in family, between spouses first and between parents and children.
The life of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin is an invitation to put God in the first place in each of our families to continue to "Live in love" according to the expression of their daughter Saint Thérèse and as evidenced by the life of their daughter. Léonie, “The Servant of God, Sister Françoise-Thérèse”.
Through their life given to God and concretely translated into their daily family life, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin make holiness in our families today, affordable and desirable.
Made for each other, the Martin spouses will always love each other deeply, delicate and attentive to each other. Demanding and benevolent in the education of their children, they raise them in the love of God and of neighbor. They fully assume their vocations as father and mother, including through the difficulties they encountered.
By their choice of a simple life for their family, Louis and Zélie do not play the game of social events to which their social situation and their fortune acquired through work could expose them.
The social life
Louis and Zélie Martin are active in daily life, taking on the difficulties inherent in the life of their company. They are hard-working, give of themselves, are attentive to employees, supporting them in their personal difficulties.
They still pay attention to the most disadvantaged, in particular through their involvement in various works such as the Cercle Vital Romet and the Saint-Vincent de Paul Conference.
They are generous, attentive to the little ones and to the poorest who do it well with their grateful attachment.
Assiduous parishioners, they go every morning to the workers' mass. At the origin of the Night Adoration, they participate in different brotherhoods or associations of piety. Louis often goes on pilgrimage to this or that sanctuary. They both have great consideration for priests and still bear witness to their love for the Church.
Man and woman of prayer, God is always the first served through the various daily occupations.
The trials of life
Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin are first of all tested by the discernment of their respective vocation which sees them pass from the desire for religious life to the grace of marriage for a spousal and family life, happy and fulfilled.
They lose four young children. They know as parents, great difficulties with Léonie who however became since December 18, 2014, “The Servant of God” by the fame of holiness which crosses her existence, quite open to the love of God and to the love of God. next.
Tried at the end of their terrestrial life by the disease, Zélie is suffering from breast cancer which becomes general and carries it away at the age of forty-six, leaving a very affected family whom she will always miss as a wife and like Mom.
Twelve years later, Louis suffers from cerebral arteriosclerosis which causes signs of dementia and requires him to be interned for three years. Having become hemiplegic, he ended his life with his in-laws Guérin.
A journey of holiness that transmits faith
Conference of Cardinal José Saraiva Martins
"Alençon and Lisieux, July 12-13, 2008,
150e wedding anniversary
of the venerable husbands, Louis and Zélie Martin ”
« Granite wedding »
It is a great emotion for me and a grace from God to be with you today in this place. The Notre-Dame d'Alençon church, with its flamboyant Gothic porch, is a real gem or, as you yourself say, a real lace, the stone point of Alençon; I was told that "if we want to put God in the most beautiful place in the Church, we must throw him out!" "
I would like to thank for the delicate attention with which I was invited on July 12 to remember, with all of you, the 150e anniversary of the marriage of the Venerable Servants of God, Zélie Guérin and Louis Martin. Marriage and life, I would say, carried out with rare mastery, by the true architect of this magnificent masterpiece: the couple Louis and Zélie Martin are chosen stones, "precious and living stones, sculpted by the Holy Spirit" , like a very fine lace of Alençon point for the Church of God that are the dioceses of Sées and Bayeux and Lisieux where they lived and died.
Golden wedding in Christ, even, three times gold, so to speak, since they have lasted for 150 years. I think we have to justify the term: "granite wedding" like your bishop Mgr Jean-Claude Boulanger characterized them on the website of the diocese. When you see the houses in the historic center of your beautiful and famous city - which I can admire -, I find the image of granite quite adequate to characterize the solidity and simplicity of the love and the faith of the Martin spouses. .
Allow me to relate to you the words of a contemporary of their daughter Thérèse, Paul Claudel (1868-1955) who, in the Prologue to the Announcement made to Mary, wrote: “It is not for the stone to choose. its place, but to the Master of the Work who chose it… Holiness is not to go to be stoned among the Turks or to kiss a leper on the mouth, but to do the command of God immediately, that 'it is either to stay in our place, or to climb higher'.
Martins are saints chosen by God to be one of those saints, engaged in the building of His Church. It is in this, precisely, that holiness resides: to hasten to do the will of God where He has placed us, it is a question of "remaining in our place, or of ascending higher".
God is the “Three times holy”, God is this “truly holy Father, source of all holiness”, who “sanctifies” the gifts and the faithful “by the outpouring of his Spirit” (1). Holiness, all holiness, is therefore only the reflection of his glory. The Church, by raising someone to the honors of the altars, wants first of all to recount and proclaim the glory and the mercy of God. At the same time, through her testimony, she offers believers an example to emulate and, through her intercession, a help to turn to.
Precisely on July 12, in 1858 at 22 p.m., the venerable Servants of God, Zélie Guérin and Louis Martin contracted a civil marriage. Two hours later, at midnight, welcomed by Father Hurel, a priest friend, they crossed the threshold of this parish church to celebrate their wedding in Christ; this in the strictest privacy, surrounded by a few relatives and close friends. The night of their wedding is reminiscent of Christmas and Easter, the night which "alone among all" deserved to know the moment and hour of the event which upset the history of humanity. Thus began their “Song of Songs”.
An apostolic couple
Thérèse, who had become a Carmelite, invited her sister Céline to express a song of thanksgiving to Jesus on the occasion of his taking of the habit:
"Look up to the Holy Fatherland
And you will see on thrones of honor
A loved Father ... a dear Mother ...
To whom you owe your immense happiness!… ”(PN 16,1)
The venerable Servants of God Zélie and Louis, whom the Pope will have the joy of elevating to the honors of the altars, were above all a couple united in Christ, who lived their mission in the transmission of the faith with passion and with a rare sense of duty. They lived at a particular moment in history, this XIXe century very different from ours, and yet they testified and engaged in a very natural way, I would even say physiologically, in what we call today evangelization.
We can rightly define them as an "apostolic couple" such as Priscilla and Aquila: spouses Louis and Zélie committed themselves as a lay Christian couple in the apostolate of evangelization, and they did so, in a serious and convinced manner. throughout their existence, within their families as well as outside.
The “gift of oneself” is quite remarkable in the life of these “incomparable parents” (2) according to the very expression of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face. But the holiness of their life, like their reputation for holiness, is not limited to the marital period. It is already present before. Their lives have both developed in the search for God, in prayer, animated by the deep desire to carry out His will above all. At the outset, they were oriented towards a consecrated religious life. They were helped in their discernment.
We would never stop being edified by the stories of the many acts of charity manifested in your streets by the Martins. Several Alençonnais, members of the Martin family and their friends were direct witnesses of their "self-giving". They submitted to the various informative Processes, first for the cause of Thérèse and, later, for that of her parents, lawsuits which aim to verify the criteria of holiness in the Church. In the testimonies collected for the cause of Thérèse, many people spoke of her parents and their eminently Christian qualities.
Just read Story of a Soul and stroll through the streets of your city to discover the places where Louis and Zélie grew up, received their human and Christian training and worked: rue Saint-Blaise pour Zélie, as a lacemaker (and what a lacemaker!); rue du Pont-Neuf for Louis, as a watchmaker and jeweler. It was there that they deepened their faith and thought of giving themselves to the Lord. God, however, had other plans for them and, one day, on the Saint-Léonard bridge, they met, got to know and loved each other. Then they got married and became parents. It is precisely here, in this church, that Thérèse, their last daughter, is reborn to Christ. The baptismal font is still the same; they represent the bosom of the Church, Mother and educator of saints, a unique bosom which makes us all children of the Unique Father, unique matrix of holiness.
They are proverbial, the openness and the welcoming capacity of the Martin family: not only is the house open and welcoming to anyone who knocks on the door, but the hearts of these spouses are warm, broad and ready to "give of themselves. ". Contrary to the bourgeois spirit of their time and of those around them, which hid behind a certain decorum the religion of money and contempt for the poor, Louis and Zélie, with their five daughters, spent a good part of their time and their money to help those in need.
At the trial of her parents, Céline Martin, at Carmel Sister Geneviève, testified to the love of her father and of her mother for the poor: “If the economy reigned in the home, it was lavishness when it came to. to help the poor. We went to meet them, we looked for them, we urged them to enter our home, where they were filled, supplied, clothed, exhorted to good. I still see my mother busy around a poor old man. I was then seven years old. But I remember it like it was yesterday. We were out for a walk in the country when, on the road, we met a poor old man who seemed unhappy. My mother sent Therese to bring him alms. He seemed so grateful that she entered into a conversation with him. So my mother told her to follow us and we went home. She made him a good dinner, he was starving, and gave him clothes and a pair of shoes… And she invited him to come back to us when he needed something. "(3)
And, about her father, she adds: “My father took care of finding them a job according to their condition, making them enter the hospital when it was necessary, or giving them an honorable position. This is how he helped a nobility household in distress […]. In Lisieux, at Les Buissonnets, every Monday morning, the poor came to ask for alms. They were always given, either food or money; and often it was little Thérèse who carried the alms. Another day my father had met an old man in church who looked very poor. He brought her home. He was given food and everything he needed. As he was about to leave, my father asked him to bless us, Thérèse and me. We were already great young women and we knelt before him, and he blessed us. "(4)
These are amazing things that have happened right here! We are not before a simple kindness, but before the love for the poor lived in a heroic way, according to the spirit of the Gospel of Matthew (5). In this luminous couple shines something of the eternal holiness that we find throughout the history of the Church.
The reputation of holiness
All the Popes, who had to take care of little Thérèse (Saint Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, Blessed John XXIII, the Servant of God Paul VI - of Pope John Paul Ier I will speak later - and up to the great Pope John Paul II), all highlighted the exemplary holiness of Martin parents, emphasizing the link between their holiness and that of their daughter.
The holiness of these spouses is not due to the holiness of their daughter; it is a real willed personal holiness, pursued through a path of obedience to the will of God who wants all his children to be holy as he himself is holy. So, we can say that Thérèse is the first “postulator” of the holiness of her parents; holiness in the truest sense of the word is not just a way of speaking. Thérèse speaks of her father, using words like “saint”, “servant of God”, “just” several times. She admires in her parents not only their capacities and their human finesse or their courage at work, she also notices their faith, their hope and their charity, the heroic exercise of these theological virtues. It highlights all the elements that are examined in canonical trials. If I could, I would recommend her as a postulator.
The Church feels indebted to Louis and Zélie, they who were true masters and models of holiness for their daughter Thérèse, as Balthasar rightly affirmed in his work Sorelle nello Spirito (6) when 'he writes:' In the supernatural, Thérèse only realizes what she has, in some way, experienced in the natural. Perhaps there is nothing more intimate and more compelling than the love of her father and mother. This is why his image of God is determined by the child's love for his parents. To Louis and Zélie Martin we finally owe the doctrine of the "little way" ", the doctrine of" childhood ", because they made alive in Thérèse of the Child Jesus the God who is more than father and mother. "(7)
This observation of Balthasar is of paramount importance. He affirms very clearly that the doctrine of the "little way" which made Thérèse a Doctor of the Church of Science in the love of God, we owe it to the holiness and exemplary life of Louis and by Zélie; The Church, in preparing today to beatify this couple, shows that holiness is possible, that it is within the reach of all, whatever the choice and the state of life that we have embraced. And it can be great holiness.
Shouldn't that be a reality for every household? Is not the family called to transmit to its children the mystery of "God who is more than father and mother"? Isn't the family a school of true humanity and a place of exercises in holiness? It is the privileged place to forge character and conscience. This is the mission, the lifelong duty of couples, of the Christian family.
On closer inspection, the reputation for holiness of these spouses already exceeds the limits of your dioceses; it is present today, we could say, in all the Catholic Oikoumene as it emerges from the abundant and detailed documentation which does not cease increasing for more than 80 years.
This miracle, we certainly owe it to Thérèse. If it is true that Story of a Soul, the first edition of which dates from 1898, is, after the Bible, the book most translated into many languages, we understand very well the immense resonance that results for parents. Martin in the world. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that, in terms of reputation, after the Holy Family of Nazareth, the “holy Martin family” comes second.
The Servant of God, John Paul Ier, when he was still Patriarch of Venice (1969-1978), wrote, in a well-known book, Illustrissimi (8): “When I saw that the cause for the beatification of the parents of Saint Teresa was introduced. 'Child Jesus, I said to myself: “Finally a cause for two! Saint Louis is a saint without his wife Marguerite, Monique without her husband Patrizio; Zélie Guérin, on the other hand, will be a saint with Louis Martin her husband and with Thérèse her daughter! “Already in 1925, Cardinal Antonio Vico, sent by Pius XI to Lisieux as delegate to preside over the solemn feasts in honor of Saint Thérèse of The Child Jesus, recently canonized, spoke to Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline, the second daughter of the Martins): "Now we have to take care of the daddy… It is from Rome that I am in charge of you. say so ”(9) If the affair did not have an immediate result, we owe it to the obvious perplexity of Mother Agnès of Jesus.
All those who have approached, even quickly, Story of a Soul, could not help but notice the human and spiritual personality of these parents who, with wisdom, built the family atmosphere in which Thérèse grew up. They could only love his "incomparable parents".
Zelie's rich correspondence is a testament to how Mme Martin followed the human, Christian and spiritual formation of all the members of his family, first of all that of his brother Isidore, before and after his marriage, that of his sister-in-law Céline Fournet and that of his own daughters. There is not one of his letters which does not manifest the presence of God, a presence that is not formal or of convenience, of circumstance, but a constant reference for every aspect of life. A correspondence that testifies to an exquisite attention to the good of the whole person and to his overall growth. Growth that is full and valid insofar as it does not exclude God from its horizon.
Louis, her husband, is less talkative and does not like to write. He does not refuse to openly testify to his faith and does not fear mockery against him; in relations with his wife, at home with his five daughters, in the management of his watch and jewelry store, or even with his friends, in the street or when traveling, in all circumstances, for him "Lord God, first served" .
An early missionary family when, in France, recently, the work of the Propagation of the Faith by Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862) arose and the missionary movements of the XNUMXth century began.e century. You know that the Martin parents registered all their daughters in the Oeuvre de la Sainte Enfance (the souvenir image of Thérèse's inscription on January 12, 1882 is still preserved) and that they sent generous donations for the construction of new churches in mission land. For Thérèse, participating in the activities of the Work of Holy Childhood at a very young age only awakened and developed her missionary zeal. Louis and Zélie were saints who engendered a saint, they were missionary spouses who not only participated in the missionary enthusiasm of their time, but educated the Patroness of Universal Missions for the Church (1927).
Louis and Zélie are saints, not so much by the method or the means chosen to participate in evangelization (which are obviously those of the Church and of the society of their time), but they are saints by the testimony of seriousness of their faith lived in their family. They evangelized their children by the example of their married life, then by word and teaching within the family.
In this regard, it suffices to recall what Thérèse herself wrote in Histoire d'une soul about the fascination that her father and mother exerted on her: “All the details of the illness of our dear mother are still present to my heart, I especially remember the last weeks she spent on earth; We were, Céline and I, like poor little exiles, every morning, Mme Leriche came to pick us up and we spent the day with her. One day, we didn't have time to say our prayers before leaving and during the trip Celine whispered to me: "Must we say that we haven't said our prayers? ..." "Oh ! yes ”I answered him; so shyly she told Mme Leriche, this one answered us "Well, my little girls, you are going to do it" and then putting us both in a big room she left ... So Céline looked at me and we said: "Ah! it's not like Mum… she always made us say our prayers! "…" (10)
Her father, "the King of France and Navarre" (11), as she liked to call him, exerted a beautiful spiritual fascination on her. His male face inspired veneration and respect: “What can I say about winter evenings, especially those on Sunday? Ah! how sweet it was to me after the checkerboard game to sit down with Celine on Papa's lap… In his beautiful voice, he sang tunes filling the soul with deep thoughts… or else, rocking us gently, he recited poems imprinted with eternal truths… Then we went upstairs to pray together and the little queen was all alone with her King, having only to look at him to know how the Saints pray… ”(12)
A Christian initiation in the family
We can define the manuscript A as “the manuscript of the family Christian initiation of Thérèse”. An initiation conducted with the same seriousness as school learning. Faith, among the Martins, is a lived faith and not a series of standards to be respected. For her preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation, Thérèse, still in manuscript A (1895), thanked not only her parents who had already died (the mother in 1877 and the father in 1894) but also her older sisters.
I want to underline here the particular value, not only of the parents, but also that of the elder sisters, therefore of the whole family. Parents, educated themselves by the teaching of the Church, in turn passed on this teaching received to all children. And they did it so well, that they deserved that the most illustrious of their daughters, after having been herself taught and formed by these "incomparable parents", became Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus and of Holy Face, who today teaches the whole Church and all humanity as a teacher (1997). Ab ipsis docta docet: Taught, she now teaches.
This is the challenge that the Church launches today to all Christian families, with the beatification of this family.
They were not simple instruments that conveyed the faith, like an aqueduct carries water, but the depositum fidei, the deposit of faith, they have transmitted and enriched by their own personal experience of faith, d hope and charity. They did not pass on the faith as something traditional, fragmentary and notional, but as something living. Not a faith which would be an inheritance like that left by the dead; for the inheritance comes after death; no, by baptism they grafted their children into the living and vital current of the Church, not replacing the Church, but with the Church and in the Church. They collaborated with the Church in perfect harmony.
It should also be observed that the holiness of this couple is found in agreement with the Vatican Council II and other Documents of the Church.
"Preceded by the example and the common prayer of their parents, the children, and even all those who live in the family circle, will thus open themselves more easily to feelings of humanity and will find more easily the path of salvation and the holiness. "Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes
How can we fail to see the closeness of the Martin family to this text? All of this may surprise us when we consider how far their time is from ours. 150 years ago, July 12, 1858 was in Second Empire France. We, men and women of the Third Millennium, can find it difficult to imagine their way of daily life, without electricity, heat, radio or television, none of those modern means of communication that characterize our modern life. But we here today judge the holiness, not the distance that separates us from their testimony; we judge holiness, not the form in which it comes to us. Their holiness is distant from us in form but not in substance, content and doctrine. The Martins knew how to keep the good wine until the end (Jn 2/10)
Even in the light of Church documents, this couple can be proposed as a family committed to the evangelization of their sons. In their time, it was an evangelization more borrowed, perhaps, from catechism and precepts, the doctrine of the Church was taught not only in the parish but also in the family, we learned the truths by heart. faith. In all this the Church followed the current teaching method at that time when memory played an important role.
The Martin family witness in their home - with their children and those around them, their parents and their servants - the role of evangelism, not only as a couple: the whole family has a mission and a task to develop.
Paul VI wrote in his encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi (71) something that we see lived in the Martin family. “Within the evangelizing apostolate of the laity, it is impossible not to underline the evangelizing action of the family. She has well deserved, at different times in history, the beautiful name of “domestic Church” sanctioned by the Vatican II Council. This means, that in each Christian family, the various aspects of the whole Church should be found. In addition, the family, like the Church, must be a space where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel shines. So within a family conscious of this mission, all the members of the family evangelize and are evangelized. Parents not only communicate the gospel to children, but can receive from them this same deeply lived gospel. And such a family becomes evangelizer of many other families and of the environment in which it fits. “The house in rue du Pont-Neuf, that in rue Saint-Blaise and that in Les Buissonnets have always been, despite the various moves, a“ small domestic church ”where once again the Martins are in harmony with our times.
The family of Louis and Zélie, was, for their five children - four others died in infancy - the privileged place of the experience of love and the transmission of the faith. In the house, in the intimacy of family warmth and domestic life, everyone has received and given. In the midst of many professional worries, both parents have been able to communicate the first teachings of the faith to their own children, from early childhood. They were the first teachers in the initiation of their children to prayer, to love and to the knowledge of God, showing that they prayed alone and together, accompanying them to Mass and to visits to the Saint. - Sacrament; they taught them to pray, not just saying to pray but turning their homes into "a school of prayer". They taught how important it was to stay with Jesus, listening to the Gospels that tell us about him. In addition, the spiritual life, cultivated from youth, as was the case for Zélie and Louis, was nourished at the source of parish life. They were faithful readers of the Liturgical Year of Dom Guéranger, a book much appreciated by Thérèse herself, who learned about it at home.
Dear brothers and sisters, Louis and Zélie reveal to us a simple truth, even a very simple one: Christian holiness is not a profession for a few. It is indeed the normal vocation of all, of each baptized person. Louis and Zélie simply told us that holiness concerns the wife, the husband, the children, the worries of work, and even sexuality. The saint is not a superman, the saint is a true man.
On April 4, 1957, Céline - at Carmel Sister Geneviève de la Sainte Face -, testifying at the trial on the heroic nature of her father, spoke of "the beauty of a married life lived entirely for God alone, without any egoism or withdrawal into oneself. If the servant of God wanted many children, it was to give them to God without reservation. And all this in the simplicity of an ordinary, laborious existence, sown with trials greeted with abandon and confidence in Divine Providence. ".
I end by repeating the very words which concluded the declaration on the virtues of Louis and Zélie on October 13, 1987: “We have before us a couple, and a family, who have lived and acted in full harmony with the Gospel, concerned only with living every moment of the day the plan prepared by God for them. As they questioned and listened to His voice, they did nothing but perfect themselves. Louis and Zélie Martin are not protagonists of brilliant gestures or of a particular apostolic density, but they have lived the daily life of any family, always illuminated by the divine and the supernatural. This is the central aspect, of ecclesial significance, offered in imitation of today's families. By putting the Martin family in front of us, we will be able to receive food, strength, guidance, to avoid secularism and modern secularization, and thus triumph over many miseries, and see the gift of conjugal love and, with it, the gift of fatherhood and motherhood in the light of an immeasurable Gift of God. "
Homily of Cardinal José Saraiva Martins
Alençon and Lisieux, July 12-13, 2008
150e wedding anniversary
of the Venerable Servants of God, Louis and Zélie Martin
Céline… «raise your eyes towards the Celestial Fatherland, And you will see on seats of honor A beloved Father… A dear Mother… To whom you owe your immense happiness! … ”
Dear brothers and sisters,
I wanted to start this reflection with Thérèse's own words, describing the family atmosphere in which she grew up.
The family, from the XIXe century to today
When the sky is empty of God, the earth is populated with idols. Already in the XIXe century, that of Martin, and at the beginning of the XXe century, we gradually lost interest in the field of education within the family, in favor of the socio-economic field. Charles Péguy, born five days after Saint Thérèse, underlined this, almost prophetically: “A Christian child, he writes in fact, in one of his works, is nothing other than a child who has been placed under eyes thousands of times the childhood of Jesus ”. In the rhythms and in the daily words one still finds unconscious reflexes of this Christian people "who went and sang" and who "resupplied the chairs in the same state of mind that they carved their cathedrals" Yet one cannot say that little Charles enters into the description of the Christian child dear to the adult Péguy. Around him, in the family and school environment of his childhood, no one lives like this, their gaze familiarly and affectionately turned towards Jesus. But, for the Martin family, it is.
This refusal of paternity continues in the XXe century in a more complex way, mainly in adherence to the models of the great totalitarianisms, which intended to replace the family, by entrusting education to the totalitarian, communist or national-socialist state. This abdication, this eclipse of the figure of the father, continues in the consumer society, where careerism and image have taken the place of the education of children. Education is about witnessing.
Without long speeches, without sermons, Monsieur Martin introduced Thérèse to the ultimate meaning of existence. Louis and Zélie were educators because they didn't have the problem of educating.
The family today: sick love in the family
At the beginning of the year, an Italian daily ("Il Mattino di Napoli" [The morning of Naples] of Monday, January 14, 2008) published an article by Claude Risé, under this significant title: "Love fell ill in the family ”.
Love fell ill, especially the place where every human being experiences love, being loved and loving others for the first time […]. In today's family, children, rather than being the object of the parents' love, find themselves in competition with many other things.
An exceptional family: the testimony of the Martin daughters
This is the testimony of the Martin daughters.
“All my life, the good Lord has been pleased to surround me with love, my first memories are imbued with the most tender smiles and caresses! »(Ms A, 4 v °): this is the most vivid portrait of the Venerable Servants of God Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin, drawn by the most illustrious of their daughters. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, in the first pages of The Story of a Soul, describes the sweetness and joy of her family life. Thérèse, the youngest Doctor of the Church, saw her family as the land of a garden, “a holy land” where she grew up with her sisters, under the skilful and expert guidance of her incomparable parents.
“The good Lord - she wrote to Father Bellière a few months before her death - gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth”. This deep conviction of the Martin daughters of the holiness of their parents was shared by members of their families as well as by ordinary people who spoke of it as a holy couple.
Fourteen years after Zélie's death, in a letter of 1891 (one thousand eight hundred and ninety-one), Aunt Céline Guérin wrote to Thérèse, already in Carmel: "What have I done so that God surrounded me? of so loving hearts! I only responded to the last look of a mother whom I loved very, very much. I thought I understood this look, that nothing will be able to make me forget. It is engraved in my heart. Since that day, I have sought to replace the one that God had taken from you, but alas! nothing replaces a Mother!… Ah! it is that your Parents, my little Thérèse, are of those whom one can call saints and who deserve to give birth to saints "Leonie, herself, who created so much difficulty for her parents, repeated to her Sisters of the Visitation of Caen: »Noblesse oblige; I belong to a family of saints; I have to be up to it. “The Martins are not saints for having given birth to a saint, but for having aspired to holiness as a couple. They were animated by a reciprocal desire, there was in both the will to seek, in the state of life which they had embraced, the will of God and obedience to his command: "Be holy because I am holy ". Louis and Zélie Martin were the humus, the fertile land, where Thérèse was born and lived for fifteen years, before becoming “the greatest saint of modern times” (Pius X)
Their secret: an “extraordinary” ordinary life
Louis and Zélie are a shining example of married life lived in fidelity, in the reception of life and in the education of children. A Christian marriage lived in absolute trust in God and which can be offered to families today. Their marital life was exemplary, filled with Christian virtues and human wisdom. Exemplary does not mean that we must copy, photocopy their life by reproducing all their deeds and gestures, but that we must use, like them, the supernatural means that the Church offers to each Christian to realize his vocation to holiness. Providence wanted their Beatification to be announced within the framework of the celebrations of the one hundred and fiftieth (150 °) anniversary of their marriage, thirteen (13) July one thousand eight hundred and fifty eight (1858).
Why after so long? Isn't such a family far from our time?
How are these Martin parents today? Can they help our families face today's challenges?
I am sure that a vast debate will open up around this couple and during their next Beatification. Conferences, debates, round tables will seek to determine the timeliness of their experience with our complex history. One thing must be clear, however: the Church did not canonize an era, but did examine holiness. With the Martins, the Church offers the faithful the holiness and perfection of the Christian life, which this married couple has achieved in an exemplary manner and, to use the language of the Trials, to a heroic degree. The Church is not interested in the exceptional, but has underlined how, in their daily life, they have been the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5.13: 14-XNUMX). The Servant of God John Paul II affirmed: It is necessary for the heroic to become everyday and for the everyday to become heroic. The Church has established that Louis and Zélie made something heroic out of their daily life, and out of heroism into everyday life. This is possible for every Christian whatever his state of life. I like to quote here a passage from the famous Letter to Diognetus on Christian marriage and which the Martin spouses were able to perfectly embody:
Christians are not distinguished from other men by land, language, or clothing. (…) They get married like the others and they have children, but they do not abandon the newborns. They live in the flesh, but not according to the flesh. They spend their lives on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey established laws, but their way of life exceeds the laws.
This letter traces a concrete model of possible life, a road that every disciple of Jesus is called to follow, even today: to announce the beauty of Christian marriage with its authentic, credible, attractive experiences. To achieve this we need husbands and parents who are mature in love. Louis and Zélie embraced the form of married life to follow Christ. Husbands, partners and parents in Christ where marriage is welcomed as a call and a mission given by God. With their lives, they announced to everyone the good news of love “in Christ”: humble love, love that spares nothing to start over every morning, love capable of trust, of sacrifice. This communion emerges clearly in the letters exchanged between the two spouses.
In one of these short letters, which is almost a synthesis of matrimonial love, Louis signs as follows: Your husband and true friend, who loves you for life. These words echo those of Zélie: “I am in your mind all day; I say to myself: "He is doing such and such a thing at the moment". I look forward to being with you, my dear Louis; I love you with all my heart, and I still feel my affection redoubled by the deprivation I experience of your presence; it would be impossible for me to live far from you. "
What is the secret of this communion? Perhaps, the fact that, before looking each other in the eye, they kept their gaze fixed on that of Jesus. They lived reciprocal communion sacramentally, through the Communion that both cultivated with God. This is the new “Song of Songs”, specific to Christian spouses: not only must they sing it, but only they can sing it. Christian love is a “Song of Songs” that the couple sings with God.
Vocation is above all a divine initiative. But a Christian education favors a generous response to God's call: It is within the family that parents should be for their children, by their words and their example, the first announcers of the faith, and that they must promote the vocation of each one, and in a special way, the consecrated vocation (CCC, 1656). Thus, if parents do not live the Gospel values, young men and young women will hardly be able to hear the call, understand the need for the sacrifices to be made or appreciate the beauty of the goal to be reached. In fact, it is in the family that young people have their first experience of Gospel values, of the love that is given to God and to others. They must even be formed to take responsibility for their freedom, to be ready to live, according to their vocation, the highest spiritual realities (John Paul II: Consecrated Life).
All Martin children were welcomed as a great gift from God and then returned to God. The mother, her heart torn with pain, offered her four children who died at an early age. The father offered his five daughters when they entered the convent. For their children, they not only suffered the pains of physical childbirth, but also the pains of generating faith in them until Christ was formed in them (Galatians 4:19).
They were true ministers of life and holy parents who fathered saints; they guided and educated in holiness. The Martin family, like the Nazareth family, was a school, a place of learning, and a place of training in virtue. A family that today will become a point of reference for every Christian family.
Homily of Bishop Luigi Ventura
Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux
Homily of Mgr Luigi Ventura Apostolic Nuncio in France
"Sunday July 10, 2011
Feast of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin
15e Sunday in ordinary time, Year A ”
It is a real privilege to be among you in Lisieux this morning, and I would like to express my gratitude for the honor bestowed on me in presiding over the celebrations for the feast of the blessed parents of Saint Thérèse.
I salute in particular Mgr Jean-Claude Boulanger, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, and Mgr Jacques Habert, Bishop of Séez, both, through their ministry, guardians and promoters of the memory of the Martin family and of the holiness rooted in this family. As Representative of the Holy Father, I have the privilege of ensuring this community and its pastors of the spiritual closeness of Pope Benedict XVI, who wholeheartedly sends his Apostolic Blessing.
I am happy with this possibility of joining the pilgrimage in places associated with the family of little Thérèse, friend and guide who accompanied me since my youth as a pilgrim who was very touched by her simple message, so deep and so beautiful.
The liturgy makes us meditate on the Gospel text of the day - the beautiful parable of the sower. This parable, in the mouth of Christ, is a real call to awakening and conversion. It is certain that our land is still very much intertwined. We are all, at the same time or in turn, docile and rebellious, receptive then refractory, welcoming to the Spirit and closed in on ourselves. The tares and the good grain coexist on our land (Mt 13, 24-30). And the field of our lives may sometimes take on the appearance of a battlefield rather than a good garden.
The Gospel asks us a question and invites us to an answer: "What earth are we" to receive the Word of the Lord which is sown so generously among us? The good soil can always appear, with the humus of humility. Let us not forget that the Word of God, which is all-powerful, can become truly life-giving and active in us.
Yes, when, in human sight, all obstacles accumulate in your footsteps, when all the apostolic effort that we give ourselves seems in vain, Jesus invites us to live in the certainty that the harvest will eventually come and that it will be. magnificent. For this, we have to make ourselves a welcoming breeding ground for the divine Word. May she come to prune and purify our congested lands!
In the life of the Church, the fact of giving oneself to the end and the generous sharing of the divine Word are reflected in the lives of the saints as tangible experiences and human expressions of the Word of God in our community.
The pains of childbirth
I would like to focus our reflection on the second reading, taken from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans (8, 18-23). It is creation as a whole, Saint Paul tells us, which is called, after a painful and mysterious transformation, to “know the freedom, the glory of the children of God.
The text of the letter to the Romans asks us some fundamental questions: What makes me suffer? What do I expect from the glory that God will reveal in us? What am I longing for with all my might? What do I hope to be freed from? Who is the being that God is giving birth in me?
For couples, parents and grandparents, this text asks us: what do we aspire with all our strength for our couple? One for the other ? For each of our children and grandchildren? For each of our children and grandchildren, what is the work of childbearing that makes them become themselves?
For those who work (professionally or at home): what is related to productivity and fertility in my work? What is painful with those I meet in my work? And in my work itself?
The Martin family: a model of daily holiness
Our gaze goes to Zélie and Louis Martin's family to discover some answers to these fundamental questions and some avenues for reflection for our lives. The holiness of the People of God belongs to no one other than God alone. It is up to him to reveal in due time the witnesses of his Love that the world and the Church need.
In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the beginning of the new millennium) Pope John Paul II writes: “I thank the Lord who allowed me to beatify and canonize many Christians, and among them many lay people who have come together. sanctified under the most ordinary conditions of life.
It is time to propose once again to all, with conviction, this “high degree” of ordinary Christian life: the whole life of the ecclesial community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. »(N. 31) This is the reason why the Martin family will have its place in the spirituality of Christians of our time.
First as a couple: Louis and Zélie loved each other deeply and they knew how to express their love. "Our feelings were always in unison," said Zélie, speaking of Louis. "He was always a comforter and a support to me". They lived as a couple for 19 years. A beautiful exemplary setting of married life.
Despite the hardships and suffering, Martin's parents did not turn in on themselves. Their house has always been open and welcoming to everyone. There is no trace of jealousy or rivalry in this family. Even though the parents struggled to understand their daughter Leonie, they always loved her and prayed for her. They also prayed for vocations and in their hearts of father and mother they consecrated their children to God. Families of our time, however diverse they may be, can find example and support in Martin parents.
The Martins show us an authentic conjugal love and the harmony of their couple. Zelie wrote on her husband's account: “I am always very happy with him, he makes my life very sweet. My husband is a holy man, I desire one like him for all women. »(Letter, 1.1. 1863); “I can't wait to be with you, my dear Louis; I love you with all my heart, and I still feel my affection redoubled by the deprivation I experience of your presence; it would be impossible for me to live far from you ”(Letter, 31.8. 1873).
They testify to the joy of being parents despite the sacrifices. “I love children madly”, wrote Zélie (Letter, 15.12.1872). “We no longer lived except for them, it was all our happiness, (…) also I wanted to have a lot of them, in order to raise them for Heaven” (Letter to Pauline; 4.3.1877).
They are a model of educational commitment, always acting in mutual agreement, with tenderness and firmness, above all by the example of everyday life: daily Mass, prayer at home, sustained work, climate of joy, courage. in hardship, solidarity with the poor, apostolate.
They demonstrate professional and social responsibility. Zélie runs a lace-making business, Louis runs a watch shop and a goldsmith's trade, helping his wife in addition. Both are deeply involved, with intelligence, in the work, harmonizing professional and family requirements, scrupulously respecting the rights of workers and suppliers, observing the Sunday rest.
Louis and Zélie are also a light for those who face illness and death. Zélie died of cancer, Louis ended his life, suffering from cerebral arteriosclerosis. In our world that seeks to hide death, they teach us to look it in the face, surrendering ourselves to God.
Louis and Zélie are a gift for all those who have lost a spouse. Widowhood is always a difficult condition to accept. Louis lived the loss of his wife with faith and generosity, preferring the good of his children to his personal attractions.
Louis and Zélie Martin's life project
Holiness is part of their life plan. One day, Zélie Martin will write to her daughters Marie and Pauline: “I want to become a saint, it will not be easy, there is a lot to stake and the wood is hard as a stone. It would have been better to do it earlier, while it was less difficult, but well “better late than never” ”. Louis and Zélie understood that holiness was nothing other than the Christian life taken seriously, the believing experience that one allows to unfold throughout one's existence.
The secret of their Christian life was held in three words: "God first served". They are for us today a call: is the search for and the discovery of the love of the Lord really the compass of our life? The conjugal love of Louis and Zélie is a pure reflection of the love of Christ for his Church; it is also a pure reflection of the love with which the Church loves her Bridegroom: Christ. The Father chose us before the foundation of the world, so that we may be holy and blameless under his gaze, in love (cf. Eph 1: 4).
Evil is only eliminated by holiness, not by rigor. Holiness introduces into society a seed which heals and transforms.
I take the liberty of quoting the words spoken by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in his recent speech to the participants of the meeting organized by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family (Salle Clémentine, Friday May 13 2011):
“The family is the place where the theology of the body and the theology of love merge. Here, we learn about the goodness of the body, its testimony of a good origin, in the experience of love that we receive from our parents. Here one lives the gift of oneself in one flesh, in the conjugal charity which unites the spouses. Here one experiences the fruitfulness of love, and life mingles with that of other generations.
It is in the family that man discovers his capacity to be in relation, not as an autonomous individual who realizes himself alone, but as son, husband, parent, whose identity is based on the fact of being called to love, to be received by others and to give oneself to others. "
Thérèse: fruit of the love of Zélie and Louis
We can say that the spirituality of Saint Teresa is rooted in that of her parents. Very young, Thérèse had learned to send kisses to Jesus, to praise God, to offer her heart to Jesus. Both the act of offering and “the little way” were experienced by the Martin parents. They simply remind us that they are baptized people engaged in the life of the world of their time and who have manifested the holiness of God through their entire lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, this huge basilica in Lisieux is built in honor of a person who was very small. His message is thus offered as a very sure path for those who want to follow Jesus and live a beautiful communion with him.
A few years after her death, in 1897, she became widely known around the world for her little path of simplicity, doing little things and fulfilling daily duties. She has become a model of godliness for countless ordinary people around the world. With the publication of her manuscript in 1956, the real image of Thérèse was revealed; not the image of sentimental piety that his time might have suggested, but the image of an ardent witness to the proclamation of the Gospel. “Blessed are the pure in heart: they will see God. "(Mt 5, 8)
Young Thérèse had wanted to join a group of Carmelites destined to found a mission in Hanoi, Vietnam, but this desire was never realized. Despite this, it was God's plan for her to be proclaimed Patron of the Missions by Pope Pius XI. In addition, she was declared Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997, thus joining two other women, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom Paul VI, in 1970, had conferred this title, until then recognized only to men. Having become the youngest theologian of the Church, little Thérèse, through her life and her writings, emphasized the love and grace of God.
On the occasion of the proclamation of Saint Teresa as Doctor of the Church, the Holy Father John Paul II, in his homily, said: “She could not attend university and did not do 'continuing education. She died young: yet, from today, she will be honored as Doctor of the Church, a highly qualified recognition that elevates her in the consideration of the whole Christian community, far beyond what can be make an “academic title”. (…) To a rationalist culture too often invaded by practical materialism, it opposes with disarming simplicity the “little way” which, by returning to the essential, leads to the secret of all existence: divine Love which envelops and penetrates the whole human adventure ”.
We need this doctor, who is little Thérèse. She, who lived a short life, locked and hidden in a Carmel, continues to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to the people of our time. I was very surprised, during my previous mission, to see the crowds that filled the churches as his relics passed. This is a phenomenon that is always repeated when the reliquary containing his body is transported to any country in the world. It is something inexplicable that catches the attention of even those who disbelieve and raises questions in them. But there is a reason: it is the secret of holiness, that is to say the presence of the love of God which is manifested and expressed in the life of a simple soul.
We need little Thérèse, in her hands we put our lives with our poor human weaknesses and all the anxiety and suffering that some of us can endure. She is a doctor: the doctor's first role is to treat the sick person, the dilapidated and the injured. We ask her to be cared for and to learn her little way of love and grace. We need the benevolent gaze and the company of his holy parents, Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin.
They tell us that holiness is fruitful, that it is fertile ground where new flowers of holiness sprout. Since my arrival in France, almost two years ago, I have been discovering the richness that can be found in the signs of its history. I am more and more touched to see what France owes to the Church thanks to the missionaries and to the saints of the first centuries, and what the Church owes to France thanks to the many and great saints, of extraordinary value. and universal, which she gave: doctors, pastors, martyrs of charity, missionaries, ascetics and pioneer of many paths of Christian life and holiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, this morning we celebrate the Lord's Eucharist on this 15e Sunday of the liturgical year. As we contemplate the life of this remarkable Martin family, we see that it is indeed in prayer, in the Eucharist, in a regular ecclesial life and in a very realistic attention to others that they have drawn from day to day. the dynamism of their self-giving. They are thus the witnesses of the joy, of the true joy, that of believing and living in Christ.
We too are called to decenter ourselves, to turn to others and to experience a true gift of ourselves. Louis and Zélie Martin show us the way. Their daughter Thérèse shows us how simple and beautiful this road is. May the Lord cause to germinate in us the seeds of holiness and uprightness of mind, of wisdom and of virtue, sown in our human hearts!
It is there that always and again lies the secret which can transform the world, our world.