Recent reports from the Vatican indicated that Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, will be canonized in October. Although many news articles said the canonizations will take place during the Synod on the Family, this has not been confirmed. Devotees are hoping that an official date will be set in June. A second miracle has officially been approved.
What makes Louis and Zelie saints? Why would God want them to be canonized now? St. Therese showed us the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood, a way of sanctity for ordinary, weak people. But too often people think that her life as a cloistered Carmelite nun made her path special, that people living in the world cannot be like her.
Her parents are examples of how married people, even married couples, can practice a simple holiness.
Refined by suffering
Both of them suffered greatly. They lost four young children. The death of Helene from a sudden illness at age five devastated them both. How did they respond? Zelie wrote in letters that she would strive for holiness all the more, that she might see her little daughter again soon in heaven.
When Zelie was dying of breast cancer, she still attended Mass daily until she could literally no longer walk to the church. She sought a cure at Lourdes. Coming home worse than ever, she strove to accept the fact that she would be leaving her husband and five remaining daughters. Therese was only four, and another daughter, Leonie, was a troubled child.
Louis also suffered greatly. Dementia that was probably related to end-stage kidney failure caused him to spend two years in a mental hospital. Although this was a terribly painful experience for him and his daughters, the other patients and the staff loved him for his goodness to everyone. The last words he spoke to his daughters were, “To heaven!” as he pointed upwards.
Accepting God’s will
Before meeting each other, both Louis and Zelie sought to enter religious life, but were turned away. Later Zelie became a successful business woman, running a shop where other women helped her make lace. But her top priority was her family. She longed above all for all her children to become saints.
Even before having children of their own, the Martins took in an orphan boy. Throughout their lives they welcomed the poor to their table and helped many unemployed people find work. Louis regularly caught fish that he shared with an order of sisters in Lisieux.
Their course in life was never clear. They hadn’t planned to marry, Zelie hadn’t thought she would die with her children still so young. God prevented them from doing what the world would consider great things. Some people even protest at hearing about the canonizations, “They didn’t do anything!” How fitting, since this is the same comment made when their famous daughter died.
All three Martin saints, each in his or her own way, show us that sanctity isn’t a matter of what opportunities one has. It isn’t a matter of doing great tasks that the world will appreciate. It’s a matter of accepting the circumstances we can’t control, trusting God in the midst of suffering, being content with the weaknesses we cannot overcome, and loving each person we meet as someone beloved of God.
Louis and Zelie Martin showed their daughters how to trust and to love. In doing so, they changed the world forever. And now the Church throughout the world will celebrate their quiet holiness.