St Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin are the first married couple to be canonized as saints whom the world knew and recognized as the parents of St Therese of Lisieux. Pope Francis issued the decree approving their canonization in Vatican during the Synod of Bishops on the family. It was because of the timely divine intervention. The human mind and family life is like water flowing through the same channel. If the mind is polluted the family life will not be clean and clear. Every layer and wave of the family life will disorient the mind. In today’s world the family life is filled with storms. The intervention of God is necessary for it to be calm and that is why every family should know the story of Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin.
Often times we see plants sprouting on the banks of streams and rivers and make the place beautiful. With time the streams and the banks change. When love flows without any obstructions the family life becomes like these banks filled with love, grandma stories and walking cane. Just like how the rivers and streams nourish the plants on the banks, as long as there is love the family bonds are formed which even death can’t break. If there is no love in the family, then it will fail like any business. Every family should have a strong foundation and should be holy and every parent should be saints.
My mother never burns her hand while cooking and my father’s hands never hurt how much ever he ploughs in the farm. The hands that labor hard and the face that is wrinkled by worries and times are the symbols of parenthood. Taking the hand of the partner given by God they go through all the cycles of married life and sacrifice everything for the sake of the wellbeing of the family, they are all saints or they are called to be canonized as saints.
Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin are epitome for parenthood and family life. The words of St Therese that “God had given her parents who belong to heaven than earth” bears testimony to the fact that they were born to be saints. It was not martyrdom or solitude or penance and sacrifice that made them saints, it was because they brought up their children and lead a family life placing their trust, hope and life in the hands of God.
Both Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin were born to a middle class God fearing familiy. Zelie Guerin describes her childhood and youth as “dismal.” Her mother and father showed her little affection. She was one of the least liked child among their three children. As a young lady, she sought unsuccessfully to enter the religious order of the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu. Zelie then learned the Alencon lace-making technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful. She took care of her siblings and her family. Louis Martin’s childhood was filled with bitter memories of deaths. He lost his brother and sister to death and took up the responsibilities of the family as the only son. He soon lost his elder sister and brother in law too. He accepted all the loss as the will of God. Louis Martin was a watchmaker by trade, and quite a successful one.
Both of them wanted to join the religious life. Even though Zelie joined the convent could not continue due to her health conditions and Louis found it difficult to learn Latin as per the rule of the order and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life. They accepted this life as the calling of God. They spent their calling forming their children in the faith; finding time to pray and to be active in their parish. Devout Catholics, they saw Christ in the poor and worked for a just society. There were very few youth at that time in France who stood and lived by the teaching of God. A chance meeting on the bridge of St Bernard became the turning point in their life. They decided to get married after praying about it for a long time. They decided to live together as brother and sister. After ten months, they realized that was not really what God wanted, especially in view of Zélie’s desire to have children. God blessed them with 9 children. They lost four of their children at a very young age. They believed that their family was raised to the heavens with this loss. They prayed for the intercession of their dead children. They brought up the children with daily prayers, daily Mass, reading the scriptures and so on. This gave a strong foundation for the children to lead a holy life. When Zelie read the scriptures especially the passion of Christ Therese remembers that her face would be stained with tears. They would discuss the scriptures and the sermons at home.
They brought up their children as per the Christian faith with obedience. They ensured that the children received the spiritual food in accordance with their age. When they started to go for Mass they were given the Mass book and when they were of age to join the evening prayers they were presented with the Rosary, and when they could read they gave the children books on the life of the saints. Thus they ensured that the children were brought up in the Christian.
When Therese was 5 years old Zelie died of breast cancer. But she had sown the seed of sainthood in her children’s mind. Louis was able to nurture that seeds of faith. When one by one all the children joined the religious order, Louis consoled himself saying that God loved him very much. In the end he sold everything to build an altar for the church and thus sacrificed everything for God.
The world came to know about these two saints when the seeds they had sown gave many fold harvest. All 5 children became nuns. One of their Children is a doctor of the Church, another one is the servant of God and after all Louis Martin and Zelie Gurein are saints. They created an environment that invited her to holiness, and she responded freely to the invitation they offered her.
Fr. Jerit Pullattu CST