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Saints Louis and Zelie Martin: greatness in service

A new icon of the Martin family. I’m putting this on my Christmas list. Get more information here.

The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. (From the homily at their canonization)

On Sunday, October 18, Pope Francis canonized Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of nine children, including St. Therese. What can we as lay people, as parents of families, learn from this holy couple?

The Mass readings for the day were appropriately about service. The first reading came from Isaiah’s famous passage on the Suffering Servant. The second reading from Hebrews spoke of the weakness of the High Priest, who was fully man and tempted just as we are. Yet instead of giving in to selfishness, He was selfless, giving Himself over to the Father’s will to the point of death. Finally, the Gospel told of how James and John sought places of honor in Christ’s kingdom. His response?

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. (Mk 10:42-44)

Louis and Zelie Martin present us with a way of holiness that is refreshingly new, yet as old as the Gospel. They were not canonized for performing great deeds. They were canonized because they gave themselves completely to God and others out of love.

Thwarted by God

Before their marriage, both Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin as she was then, sought to enter religious life. In the culture they lived in, nineteenth century France, religious life was seen as the obvious vocation for those who loved God. Yet both of them were turned away.

We can imagine the spiritual darkness they must have gone through. This darkness was like a precursor to the darkness suffered by Therese when she was told she would have to wait years to enter the Carmelite cloister. What do you do when you thought you knew God’s will for your life, but you are unable to fulfill it?

What can you and I do in such circumstances? Now we can go to these new saints for understanding and support. We can ask them for trust, patience, and understanding. We can ask them to show as us the right path.

For the Martins, there was only one path other than religious life. If God was not calling them out of the world, he must be calling them to marriage.

Louis and Zelie married after a short courtship. Perhaps still of the mindset that celibacy was necessary for giving oneself totally to God, Louis persuaded Zelie to accept a Josephite marriage. That is, they would leave as brother and sister. By the time they had been married ten months, a priest friend had shown them that God’s plan for them was different.

Openness to others

Zelie bore nine children. Four of them died in childhood, three as infants. She had hoped to have a son become a priest, but her only two sons passed away.

In the meantime, she was a talented business woman who supported the family through her lace-making enterprise. The Martins invited the poor into their homes on many occasions. Celine Martin later wrote:

If thrift reigned in our house, when it came to assisting the poor my parents were positively prodigal. They went toward them, sought them out, and invited them into our house, where they were nourished, given supplies of food, clothed, and urged toward a better life. I can still see my mother hastening toward a poor old man. I might have been seven years old, but I remember this as if it were yesterday. We were passing by when we met, in the road, a man who aroused compassion. Mother sent Thérèse to give him some alms. This poor man displayed such gratitude that Thérèse began talking to him. And so Mother invited him to follow us, and we returned home. She prepared a good lunch for him—he was dying of hunger—and gave him some clothes and a pair of shoes … And she invited him to come back to us if he needed anything else.

By the time Marie-Francoise-Therese was born, her mother was already suffering from breast cancer. Zelie died when Therese was four.

The Martins had an active social life among their Catholic friends in Alençon. After Zelie’s death, Louis left this life behind to move near his brother-in-law’s family in Lisieux.

Later Louis Martin’s gift of self became the gift of his five surviving daughters to God. One by one they left him for religious life. Therese was the third daughter to enter Carmel. Shortly afterward, her father fell ill. He spent two years in a mental institution, then came home to die. Daughters Leonie and Celine cared for him before finally entering religious life themselves.

The Martins show us that giving ourselves in relative obscurity is a true way to holiness. Instead of performing great deeds, they taught their daughters to love God with all their hearts. Time after time they gave up their own plans and accepted the unexpected road God set before them. They loved each other, their children, and the less fortunate. They gave their all.

The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary. From heaven may they now watch over us and sustain us by their powerful intercession. (From the homily at their canonization)

Connie Rossini

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5 things you didn’t know about St. Therese

October 1 is the feast of St. Therese, Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church. I have a giveaway and some special deals to celebrate. But first, here are five things you may not have known about this beloved saint.

1. She almost died as an infant.

Before Therese was even born, her mother, Blessed Zelie Martin, was already suffering from the breast cancer that would eventually kill her. She was unable to nurse Therese properly, but did not want to turn her over to a wet-nurse. A previous daughter had died in a nurse’s care, and daughter Celine had not fared well with a nurse either. Eventually, when Therese was nearly starved, Zelie did find a nurse for her. Therese lived with the nurse for over a year. Afterwards, she had trouble re-attaching to her own mother.

2. She dreamed of posing as a penitent.

Therese and her father, Blessed Louis Martin, used to bring fish to an order of nuns that cared for penitent girls. Some of the girls would join the order. Therese, in her humility, dreamed of hiding among them, letting no one know that she was not a penitent herself. Eventually, of course, she found her real vocation in the Carmelite cloister.

3. She believed perfect trust substituted for Purgatory.

Therese chided her cousin Marie Geurin for thinking she would go to Purgatory. “When we love, we can’t go there,” she said. She taught the novices under her direction that if they completely trusted in God and gave away all their merits to others, God would not betray their trust. He would take them to His side immediately after death.

4. She was a prolific letter writer.

A two-volume set of letters between the Martin family and others contains over 1200 epistles. Many were written by Zelie, giving us a glimpse into the years that Therese could not remember. Others were written by Therese to Celine, after Therese entered Carmel. Therese also had two priests with whom she corresponded. Some of the most beautiful and startling words she ever wrote were contained in the letters to these priests.

5. She painted a self-portrait that still exists.

One of Therese’s tasks in the cloister was painting religious paintings. In 1893 she painted a fresco in the Invalids’ Oratory. A sleeping child above the tabernacle to the left represents herself. She was struggling at this period to stay awake in prayer.

And if you knew all five of those things, you must have read Trusting God with St. Therese!

I’m holding my annual sale to mark her feast day. From now through the early morning hours of October 2, the ebook of Trusting God with St. Therese is only $.99 (regular $4.99). You can buy a signed paperback directly from me for $14, including shipping. As always, you can buy 5 paperbacks from me at the regular price ($15.95) and get a sixth free, shipping included. Email me at crossini4774 at comcast dot net for details of both paperback deals. Online the price is $15.95 each.

And if you’d like to win a free audiobook, please enter the contest here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy feast of St. Therese!

Connie Rossini

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Homeschooling help from St. Therese

I’m gearing up for the Minnesota Home Education Conference and Curriculum Fair this Friday and Saturday at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. I will be speaking on Homeschooling Help from St. Therese, and Working with Your Child’s Temperament. Here are the slides for the St. Therese talk. I posted the slides for the Temperament talk two weeks ago.


These are 7 lessons we can learn from St. Therese’s time as assistant novice mistress in Carmel. Therese was a mother to the women under her direction, although many of them (including her sister Celine) were older than her. She teaches us to humble ourselves before God, realizing we cannot succeed as parents or educators of our children without His help. We must trust Him for everything, including the results.

In the meantime, we are His servants alone. We do not serve our kids, our neighbors, or a method or curriculum. We are only answerable to Him. And so are our friends and fellow homeschoolers.

Please pray for the success of my talks. I am sure I will have lots of stories and photos to share soon. If you are going to the conference, please stop by and introduce yourself!

Connie Rossini

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Offering our Good Deeds for Others


As we have seen in past posts, St. Therese of Lisieux did not want to place any trust in her ability to do good works. She knew she was weak. But she still performed many little sacrifices of love for God daily. She didn’t want to be tempted to start counting her merits again, to see if she was “good enough” to go straight to Heaven when she died or have treasure there beyond companionship with Jesus. So she decided to give away all the merits of her good works. Instead of offering sacrifices to God for herself, she would offer them for others.

She considered that just being in God’s presence, forgiven for her sins and seeing him face to face, was enough reward for her, and more than she deserved. She desired nothing else. Jesus had been so good to her, showered so much love down upon her. The best that she could do in return was to help other souls to love him. And since she knew by experience that many souls were helpless, she would help them with her loving deeds, so that they could join the ranks of those praising God’s mercy for all eternity.

Through each little sacrifice she could love both God and her neighbor, with complete unselfishness.

Prevented from doing great deeds

Therese’s health prevented her from being sent to a new Carmelite foundation in Saigon. She would have loved to go to spread the faith among the pagans. But being confined to the convent of Lisieux she saw she could still help the missionaries. Instead of nursing disappointment, she chose to offer her sacrifices for the success of the missions.

The prioress of the convent then assigned Therese to correspond with two missionary priests who were going to Africa. This perfectly corresponded with her desires. She offered her prayers, sacrifices, and sufferings for their work. She considered them to be her brothers.

Many of her companions in the convent were storing up little sacrifices for the Day of Judgment. They had spiritual riches to offer to God, which would bring them eternal glory (so they hoped). Therese pictured herself standing before God empty handed. She gave away all her spiritual wealth, leaving herself destitute. She would have to rely completely on God’s mercy.

This freed her from worrying about her lack of great deeds. It freed her from temptations both to pride and despair. She had nothing to gain from the deeds she performed. They were pure gifts.

Do everything for love

Therese knew God did not need her little offerings. Does a king need the penny a child gives him? She wrote to her sister Celine:

“We must do everything we are obliged to do … prove our love by all the little acts of tenderness and consideration we can muster …. Yes, it is needful when we have done everything that we believe we have to do, to confess ourselves unprofitable servants, at the same time hoping that God out of grace will give us everything we need. This is the little way of childhood.”

May St. Therese, through her intercession and example, teach us to practice it.


If you have enjoyed this post about St. Therese, you’d love my book Trusting God with St. Therese. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook, with an audio book coming soon!

By the way, have you heard the new about St. Therese’s parents? Louis and Zelie Martin are set to be canonized this fall, during the Synod for Families! You can read about it here. Please pray to them for a strong affirmation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life.

Connie Rossini

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Radio interview, video conference, new book cover

Today I am letting you catch up on some of the things I’ve been doing outside my blog. I’ll be back to posting on the third mansions next week.

First, I had a great radio interview with Tony Agnesi of Finding God’s Grace. It aired in Ohio last week. You can listen to a replay here.

Next, for those of you who are moms, I’m taking part in an online moms conference in March. The Catholic Conference 4 Moms is totally online and you can watch at your own pace. About 25 women and a few men will present talks on all aspects of being a Catholic woman. I am offering my talk on Learning to Trust God. The conference is free, but you can buy a package of the entire conference afterwards if you can’t attend. I encourage you moms to gather a few girlfriends in your living room with Mystic Monk Coffee and decadent treats and refresh yourselves in the faith. It’s a retreat you don’t have to leave home for! Lots of giveaways will be held as well.

If you missed my recent post at, you’ll want to read it. I ask Are there Two Paths to Holiness?

Finally, I just finished designing the cover for my next book, which I hope to publish this spring. Obviously, I will be adding a quote where the generic quote is on the left, once my blurbs come back. If you would like a review copy, send me an email to crossini4774 at comcast dot net. What do you think of the cover?



Connie Rossini

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How weak people can become holy

File:Vittore Carpaccio 067.jpg
Painting by Vittore Carpaccio, Wikimedia Commons.


Before we return to studying Interior Castle, I’d like to return today to St. Therese and her little way.

So far in our study of St. Therese of Lisieux we have learned that God is our loving Father, in whom we can have complete trust. We have learned that great deeds are not necessary for holiness. We have discussed remaining calm when we sin. Now I’d like to look at the way St. Therese believed that ordinary Christians could become holy.

How did St. Therese explain the essence of her little way of spiritual childhood? When her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes) asked her what it meant to remain a child before God, she said:

“To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of His little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God’s treasure.” (Last Conversations 139)

As we have spoken of before, when Therese was little she learned to count her good deeds on beads. That led to her putting too much emphasis on her works, which in turn led to severe scruples when she realized how worthless her little deeds must be in God’s eyes. How could she ever be good enough to merit Heaven?

Therese had a complete turn-around in her thinking. The deeds could be good enough because they themselves belonged to God. All she had to do was the task He set before her, the little tasks of her everyday life. The greatness of the task in the world’s eyes was completely irrelevant. What mattered was that she performed it, not out of fear or scruples, but out of love. She might not be able to do great deeds for God, but she believed that everyone could love Him greatly. Love transforms little deeds and makes them great.

Instead of doing great penances, as many saints of the past had done, Therese focused on submitting her will to God’s will. Her penance was to return a loving word for an unkind one, to remain silent when others misunderstood her, not to complain when things did not go as she desired, and to accept all the difficulties of her life with peace.

Therese wanted to become a foreign missionary and perhaps even a martyr. God did not allow this. She did not found a religious order as many saints have done. She did not even become a superior in the order as her sister did. In fact, she was denied having the title of novice mistress, although she did the work of one.

When a Carmelite nun died, the order would publish a short biography that included her spirituality. After Therese died, one of her fellow nuns asked, “What can they say about Sr. Therese? She hasn’t done anything!” This would have been exactly what Therese would have liked to hear. All her good deeds were done in secret.

We could spend a lifetime wishing we were stronger, physically or spiritually. We could wish to do great things for God. But Jesus said that it is those who have been faithful in little things that will be given great things to do (see Matthew 25:21-23). Little things are always available to us. We can begin to do them today out of love for God.

Connie Rossini