Marie-Azélie Guérin, called Zélie, was born in 1831. She had wanted to enter religious life, but was dissuaded. Instead she married Louis Martin in 1858 and eventually gave birth to nine children, but four died in infancy. The heartache from this must have been terrible though she was a woman of great inner strength and faith. She died in 1877 at the age of 45 from breast cancer; her youngest child, Thérèse, was only four years of age at the time. Prior to her death Zélie had travelled to Lourdes seeking a cure from her cancer. Although she did not receive the cure, she accepted this, saying that her time was up and that God wanted her to be “somewhere else other than on this earth.” She was deeply devoted to God, and the faith she shared with Louis was the center of their marriage.
Louis Martin was born in 1823 and died in 1894 at the age of 70. When he was young he had wanted to become a monk, but could not master the Latin he was required to learn. So he left the monastery and became a watchmaker and family man, exhibiting great love for his wife and children. Because of his earlier desire for the religious life, he maintained a disciplined prayer life, seeking times of solitude and prayer as part of his daily routine. He had a strong love for nature and therefore he liked to travel, making a number of pilgrimages during his life. He had a close relationship with all his daughters, and doted on Thérèse in particular after his wife died. When he had a series of strokes in the last years of his life, Thérèse, already in the convent, took it very hard.
Noticing that both Louis and Zélie had tried to enter religious life when they were young made me wonder what the world would have lost if Louis had decided to stick it out in the monastery, mastering the Latin somehow. What would have happened if Zélie had entered religious life rather than marrying? There would have been no St. Thérèse, nor would any of her sisters have existed either. With no Thérèse there would be no Little Way, no proclamation that “my vocation is Love,” no “Story of a Soul,” no “spending my Heaven doing good on earth.” The most popular female saint of modern times would never have been born! There would have been no saintly couple of Louis and Zélie to give witness to the sanctity of marriage, and no example of how a man and woman can help each other grow in holiness or be guides to the culture of a family in which holy children might be raised.
The gospel for this week was the one in which James and John, brothers, asked to have the reward of sitting at God’s left and right hand when they were finally in heaven. The other apostles were outraged at this, but Jesus simply said to them that they had no idea what it was they were really asking. While noting that only the Father would decide who was to sit at His right or left, Jesus said that they would have to drink the same cup which He had drunk, which basically boiled down to the fact that He had come to serve and not be served. He said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be the servant of all.” (Mark 10:44) This is what the Martins seemed to have learned so well. Louis and Zélie served God by raising their daughters with the same values as Jesus taught His followers. The last will be first, and so they had to learn to serve if they truly wanted to love God in return. It is no wonder that Thérèse wanted to do even the smallest thing with great love and came to discover her Little Way. The seed was planted by her parents that it is in serving that we are most like Jesus.
St. Louis and St. Zélie had no idea when they raised their daughters that they would make such an incredible contribution to the world in their own right. They did not seek fame or reward, save that of loving God greatly in everything they did. What we can learn from them, and from their daughters, is that each one of us is called to nothing less than this: that we do everything with love, even the smallest of things. We are called to service, generosity, mercy, and love whenever opportunities present themselves in whatever vocation we are living. We are called to do the best with whatever it is we have. And we are invited to grow more deeply in love with our good and generous God who loves us more than we can imagine.
©Michele L. Catanese
*Catechism of the Catholic Church, from the section on the Christian Family
Some good resources on the Martins are the following websites, (though I must mention that the best insight into St. Thérèse is her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul.) There are many other resources also.
The first photo is found at https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/st.-therese-of-lisieuxs-parents-to-make-history-as-first-married-couple-to
The photos that follow are all mine. Of these the first is a photo montage of St. Thérèse and her sisters which was on display at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
Next is the garden at the house Thérèse lived in with her father and sisters after the death of her mother in Lisieux, France.
Following, is a photo of a stained glass window in the cathedral dedicated to St. Thérèse in Lisieux, France.
Last is the view from the garden at the Martin house in Lisieux.