“I am longing to be near you, my dear Louis. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection so much more when you’re not here with me. It would be impossible for me to live apart from you.”
–Zelie, in a letter to Louis
Today is the feast day of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, not the first married Saints by far, but the first married pair to be canonized as a couple..
Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, after photographs. From the 2016 series.
Before their marriage, both considered religious life. Louis was turned away because of his lack of education, and Zelie because of her health issues. This proved providential, however, as they would go on to meet one another and marry within months.
“The two young people quickly came to appreciate and love each other….They did not see their marriage as a normal arrangement between two middle-class families of Alençon, but as a total opening to the will of God.”
– Order of Carmelites
Louis and Zelie went on to work as a watch and lacemaker, respectively. Zelie found such success that eventually Louis sold his watchmaking business to join her. They built a home together, and rather than relax their devotions, seeing marriage as a less holy vocation than religious life (as so many seem to assume), they carried on with their faith, enriched by the vocation of married life. From a talk by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins in 2008:
The openness and welcome of the Martin home were proverbial. Not only was their house open and welcoming to whoever knocked but also the hearts of the spouses were large, warm, and always ready to give of themselves. Contrary to the bourgeois ethics of their century and their milieu, which, behind the “decor,” tended to conceal the worship of money and contempt for the poor, Louis and Zélie…devoted a large part of their time and their earnings to help those in need.
For ten months into their marriage, the couple lived as brother and sister, thinking it proper, until a confessor reassured and encouraged them to consummate their marriage. Zelie went on to give birth to nine children.
The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practised Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters…
– Order of Carmelites
Sadly, four of the children died at a young age.
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I can’t bear that kind of talk. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We’ll see them again in Heaven….On the death of my first child…God showed me in a noticeable way that He accepted my sacrifice…I received a very extraordinary grace.”
– Zelie Martin
In the midst of this sadness, the Martin home proved quite fruitful- all five of their daughters who survived infancy went on to become Roman Catholic nuns, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
“God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
– St. Thérèse
From the papers of the beatification process:
Sister and brother, and servants of the same Lord, without the slightest division of body or soul, together they pray, together they kneel, and together they fast. They teach each other, encourage each other, and sustain each other mutually. Together they are in the holy gathering, together at the table of the Lord, together in trials, in persecutions, in joy. There is no danger that one might hide something from the other, that they might avoid each other, that one might be a weight upon the other.
Willingly these two visit the sick and help the needy. They give charity without any bad feeling, sacrifice without haste, and perform their devotions each day without pause. They do not know the furtive sign of the cross ; they give thanks without the slightest reticence and bless each other without shame in their voices. They recite psalms and hymns, alternating verses, and offer their finest songs in praise to their God.
Seeing and hearing this, Christ rejoices and sends his peace to these spouses. Wherever these two are, there also Christ resides….
Louis and Zélie tell us simply that sanctity concerns the wife, the husband, the children, the worries of work, and also the realm of sexuality. The saint is not a superman or superwoman ; the saint is a true person.
On April 4, 1957, Céline, known in the Carmel as Sister Géneviève of the Holy Face, testifying at the process about the heroic virtue of her father, spoke of “the beauty of a conjugal life lived entirely for the good God alone, without egoism or withdrawal into the self. If the servant of God wanted many children, it was to give them to God without reservation. And all this within the simplicity of a life that was ordinary, hard-working, and filled with hardships welcomed with abandonment and confidence in the Divine Will.
“Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, Parents of Therese of Lisieux.” The Official Website of the Carmelite Order. Web. 13 July 2017.
Sisters in the Spirit : Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of Dijon. Ignatius Press, 1992 : p. 125. Cited in the papers of the beatification process, Summarium Documentorum, XXVIII, Roma, 1987, p. 1042.
Spencer, Susanna, “12 Things St. Zelie Martin Taught Me About Sainthood As a Mother.” ChurchPOP. 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 July 2017.