The editorial of the month
Editorial by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux once wrote in a letter, “God gave me a father and a mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.” This judgment will soon be confirmed by Pope Francis, who has decided to canonize Thérèse’s parents as Saint Zélie and Saint Louis Martin.
Both Zélie and Louis originally felt a call to consecrated life. Louis tried his vocation with the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine (but was let go for his lack of Latin), and Zélie with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul, until the superior deemed otherwise.
Louis kept a holy card in his missal containing a quotation from Charles Montalembert: “But who is then this Invisible Lover who died upon a gibbet nineteen centuries ago, and who thus draws to himself youth, beauty, and love? Who appears to souls with a splendor and fascination which they cannot resist?”
The Invisible Lover was soon to show his face. One day, as the two young people were crossing the bridge of Saint Léonard, Zélie heard an interior voice tell her: “This is he whom I have prepared for you.” They married soon after.
It was through the Sacrament of Matrimony that these two devout souls embraced the Invisible Lover and their destined path to sanctity. Zélie confessed in a letter: “When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. Thenceforward we lived only for them; they made all our happiness and we would never have found it save in them. In fact, nothing any longer cost us anything; the world was no longer a burden to us. As for me, my children were my great compensation, so that I wished to have many in order to bring them up for heaven.”
Together, Zélie and Louis had a total of nine children…four of whom died in childhood. But such devastating trauma did not tempt the couple to despair.
Zélie would write her daughter Pauline, who was at school: “Do not hope too much for joys on earth or you will have too many disappointments. As for me, I know from experience how much one may count upon joys in this world, and did I not hope for those of heaven I should be a very unhappy woman.” And in another letter: “You see, in this world it is like that. We must carry the cross in one way or another. We say to our Lord, ‘I don’t want that.’ Often he hears us, but often, alas! for our unhappiness. It is better to take patiently what comes to us; there is always joy beside the pain.”
Louis was known to tell his children, “He who enjoys life enjoys death.” And Thérèse would recall about her father: “He easily got over the contradictions of life. God flooded his soul with consolations. During his daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament, his eyes filled with tears and his face breathed forth a heavenly beatitude.”
From his youth, Louis Martin inscribed in a notebook quotations from spiritual writers. One entry reads: “O my beloved Savior! When I first entered your service I knew not the happiness there is in belonging to you; but today I know all that you are to me. That is why, taught by experience, I protest to you that I prefer the honor and joy of your service to all the satisfactions of the world.” Louis became one of the first pioneers of social action in the Martins’ hometown of Alençon.
Zélie Martin died from breast cancer in 1877. The former family servant of eleven years, Louise Marais, shortly before her own death, attested: “In my sharp sufferings, I invoke my little Thérèse and, at the same time, her good and holy mother; for if little Thérèse is a saint, in my opinion her mother is one also, and a great one. She was sorely tried during her life and she accepted all with resignation. And then—how she could sacrifice herself! For herself anything was always good enough, but for others it was quite another matter. I should be too long if I told you of all her goodness and submission to the will of God.”
After a visit to church in May of 1888, Louis revealed to his children his prayer: “My God, it is too much, yes I am too happy; I shall not get to heaven like this, I wish to suffer something for you—and I offered myself as a victim.”
Soon after, he experienced a physical and mental breakdown. Committed to an asylum, Louis astonished the caregivers by his kindness and docility. In a moment of lucidity, he confided to his doctor, “I never had any humiliations and I needed one.” His doctor replied, “Well, this one should count!”
Zélie Martin’s sister wrote her niece, “Ah, my little Thérèse, the truth is that your parents are of those who may be called saints, and who deserve to beget saints.”