I want to begin by sharing with you this wonderful quote from a parent:
“How many saints were parents? Do you know how hard it is to be a parent and a saint. The frustration never ends sometimes! Somebody does something dumb every day. I have 7 children and not one day goes by that I have [not had] to bite my tongue. Some days I would like to say, That kid is not mine! This seems to be a job where there are absolutely no days off.”
On this day when we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, our patroness, I am not going to talk about her, but about her parents. Not only because Louis and Zelie Martin are St. Theresa’s parents, but because they are beatified. That means they are one step away from being declared Saints.
Now I was fortunate to have spent a weekend in Lisieux on pilgrimage right before I arrived here at Little Flower. And I met the priest in charge of the beatification and hopefully canonization of St. Theresa’s parents. I hardly know anything about them, but I was stuck by what he said about her parents. I think that is why Msgr. asked me to speak at all these Masses, to introduce you to Louis and Zelie Martin. And not just to speak about them, but to bring them to you. As he was leaving Lisieux, this priest gave me what he called a late ordination gift, a case with the relics of both of St. Theresa’s parents. So they are right here, joining the parish’s relic of St. Theresa. Feel free after the Mass to pray in front of all three.
What I most like about Louis and Zelie is that they were real. Often times we read about saints and it seems like they were born holy, or that they didn’t have the same doubts and struggles as we do. That is not the case with Louis and Zelie. They had the same joys and sorrows of any married couple, of any parent. Louis was a professional, a watchmaker who owned his own business which was quite successful. Zelie was a working mother. She was gifted in lace work and though she worked out of the home, her job forced her to spend all day and often late at night working on orders for customers. So all of her children had wet-nurses as babies, and many were sent to religious-run boarding schools later on.
But to introduce you more fully to them, I want to share with you some of their own words.
Zelie gave birth to 9 children, and 4 of them, including all her boys, died. At the death of a baby son, she said: “My God, how hard it is to put him into the grave, but since You will it so, may Your holy will be done”. And she also confessed to her brother: “My God! I’m so bored with suffering! I don’t have a penny’s worth of courage. I get impatient with everybody!” Louis also suffered his children’s deaths painfully. Zelie wrote that when their 6 year old daughter died, “[Louis] began to sob, crying ‘My little Helene! My little Helene!’ Then together, we offered her to God.” The entrance of Theresa into the convent was also a difficult blow to her father. He wrote, “Therese, my little Queen, entered Carmel yesterday! God alone could demand such a sacrifice, but He’s helping me so powerfully that through my tears, my heart abounds with joy.”
But life was not all sorrow for Louis and Zelie. In comparing her life to her sister the nun, Zelie wrote: “Sometimes I find myself regretting that I haven’t done as she did; but I quickly tell myself, ‘I wouldn’t have my four little girls, my charming little Joseph…No, it’s better that I struggle where I am and that they are here. As long as I reach heaven with my dear Louis and see them all there…I will be happy enough like this. I don’t ask for anything more.’” Louis and Zelie loved each other fervently, but theirs was a real relationship. Once their daughter Marie wanted to spend a week away from home, and Louis was firmly against it. But Zelie wrote: “Last night, Marie was moaning about this. I said to her, ‘Let me take care of it. I always manage to get what I want without fighting. It’s still a month away, that’s enough time to persuade your father ten times.’ I wasn’t mistaken…”And yet, after 10 years of marriage, Zelie was still able to end a letter to her husband with these words: “I am so happy at the thought of seeing you again that I can’t work. [Sincerely] Your wife who loves you more than her life.”
I could go on and on. But I hope that I have interested you in this extraordinary couple, in this very real couple. The Church certainly is interested in them. And by beatifying them, and hopefully soon making them saints, the Church wants to hold up their lives as a model for us, but especially for those called to the wonderful vocation of marriage and parenthood. So what would the Church want us to focus on by publicly honoring St. Theresa’s parents?
The only way their marriage could have survived and even thrived in the midst of so many struggles, particularly the death of 4 children, was because of their faith and trust in God. Christ was the foundation of their marriage; the winds and floods came, but could not destroy their commitment to each other.
The goal of their marriage was to see each other and their children in heaven. In other words, the only measure of success for their marriage was how much they, and especially their children, were growing in holiness. But without the first one, their foundation in Christ, this would have been impossible.
Finally, their marriage itself was the means of their sanctification. They became holy not in spite of their problems and struggles as a wife and husband, as a mother and father, but through these experiences. You don’t have to become a priest or religious to become a saint. Marriage too is a sacrament, so by the daily living out of one’s vows, married life is a source of real grace and holiness.
I didn’t talk about St. Theresa today. But I think she is just as happy to give her parents to us. And as I conclude, I leave you these words by Pope Benedict on the saints:
“…the saints show us that it is possible and good to live in a relationship with God, to live this relationship in a radical way, to put it in first place, not just to squeeze it into some corner of our lives…Still today Christ comes towards us, he speaks to every individual, just as he did in the Gospel, and invites every one of us to listen to him, to come to understand him and to follow him.”
On this Solemnity of St. Theresa, when we look at her life and the lives of her parents, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, I pray that we all may gain new strength and encouragement in our own journey to the Kingdom of Heaven, towards which we are all called. May God Bless you.