Saints Who Were Spouses: The Best Guides for World Marriage Day
Holiness is the goal of marriage, John Paul II reminded married couples, and many married couples have attained heroic sanctity together.
The goal of marriage to for spouses to get one another to heaven — a truth Blessed Charles of Austria and his wife, Servant of God Empress Zita, had in mind. On their wedding day, he said, “Now we must help each other get to heaven.”
This is timely wisdom to contemplate as the Church celebrates World Marriage Day on Feb. 12 — within National Marriage Week, running through St. Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
The Martins and Quattrocchis
Another banner day to celebrate holy marriage was Oct. 18, 2015, when the first married couple to be canonized together in one ceremony were raised to the altars: Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Seven years earlier, on Oct. 19, 2008, Benedict XVI had beatified them — together.
Although they were the parents of St. Thérèse and four more daughters who also entered religious life (and other little souls in heaven), essentially they lived a regular married life built on the immoveable foundation of a love for God and each other. Louis was a watchmaker; Zélie was a lace-maker. Their work was not out of the ordinary. Their faith filled their days, which included family walks and pastimes like fishing and travel. They believed God had willed to bring them together for this marriage, so they entrusted their love and lives to God’s protection and always wanted to do his will and serve him first.
The Martins went daily to Mass, regularly to confession, regularly to Communion, and carried out corporal and spiritual works of mercy and charity, especially helping needy families and the sick. After Zélie died, Louis cared for their daughters. (The couple had another four other children who died at a very young age.)
A few years earlier, Oct. 21, 2001, to be exact, the first married couple to be beatified together were Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi of Italy. At the beatification, St. John Paul II said in his homily:
Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life.
Two sons became priests and concelebrated their beatification Mass with John Paul II, who affirmed that “daily Communion was at the center, to which was added filial devotion to the Virgin Mary, invoked by praying the Rosary every night.”
Holy Marriages Throughout History
Married couples becoming saints is not a new phenomenon. In the New Testament, there are Joseph and Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Aquila and Priscilla. Converts to Christianity, they appear in four New Testament books and were closely connected to St. Paul, who visited them and ended up staying with them since they, like himself, were tentmakers. He stayed quite a while, then, when leaving for Syria, Paul “took Priscilla and Aquila with him, but left them behind when he reached Ephesus.” There, the married couple met Apollos, who was speaking boldly in the synagogue but in need of instruction. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (Acts 18:1-3, 18, 26).
Paul mentions this holy couple in several epistles. Writing in Romans (16:3-5), he said, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles have reason to be grateful to them. My greetings, also, to the church in their household.”
Another time, Paul mentions in his Second Letter to Timothy, “Greet Prisca and Aquila” since they had returned to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19). And writing to the Corinthians, he said, “A greeting to you from all the churches of Asia, and many greetings, in the Lord’s name, from Aquila and Priscilla, as well as the church in their household” (1 Corinthians 16:19).
“Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.”
So said St. Gianna Beretta Molla.
Gianna Beretta married Pietro Molla in 1955. He would write:
Her holy virtue, the gentle goodness and affection of Gianna, all her cares, give me the full joy and serenity which I asked of Jesus on my wedding day. With Gianna I am sure of forming a truly Christian family on which she will know how to draw the most beautiful heavenly graces. … We have begun and will continue with perseverance the daily recitation of the Rosary. May our heavenly Mother always watch over us and give us the grace to be cheered by little angels [future children].
A pediatrician, Gianna also found time to accompany Pietro on his business trips. When demands meant she could not go, this loving Christian couple kept in constant contact through heartfelt letters. They would go to concerts or plays together. When their youngest daughter, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, spoke with the Register during a trip to America, she shared that her father had written about his wife, telling their children:
Your mother’s life has been a perpetual act and action of faith and charity; it has been an incessant search, in each decision and in each deed, for God’s will, with meditation and prayer, the holy Mass and the Eucharist. It is a continuous accomplishment of the Gospel precepts and advises, even of those which are calling you at the top of your duty, to the apostolate and to love, always, even when the sacrifice required is that of your own life.
It was for healthy daughter Emanuela that St. Gianna gave her own life, dying shortly after childbirth. Her husband and their children were at her canonization on May 16, 2004.
That same year, Emperor Karl von Habsburg, of the House of Austria, was proclaimed “Blessed.” His wife, Zita, has been named a “Servant of God.” To emphasize their closeness, Pope St. John Paul II set Blessed Karl’s feast day on their wedding anniversary date, Oct. 21. They married in 1911. After World War I, they were exiled and lived in poverty. They always were constantly devoted to each other, inseparable in all they did, even during all of his ruling duties, in which she supported him. They were the parents of eight children. Both had great love for the Blessed Sacrament and were very devoted to the Blessed Mother. In their wedding rings, they had inscribed in Latin, “We fly to take refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.”
Of course, there are other saints who were married: Mary’s parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne, of course, as well as Sts. Thomas More, Rita of Cascia, Louis IX and Elizabeth of Portugal.
John Paul II reminded married couples that holiness is the goal of marriage. Beatifying the Quattrocchis, he said:
[T]oday we have distinctive confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful, and fundamental for the good of the family, the Church and society.
He added that this “prompts us to pray the Lord that there be many more married couples who can reveal in the holiness of their lives, the ‘great mystery’ of spousal love, which originates in creation and is fulfilled in the union of Christ with his Church” (Ephesians 5:22-33).
For those couples who might be facing some proverbial potholes along the way, he entrusted,
struggling families to the providence of God and to the loving care of Mary, the outstanding model of wife and mother who knew the suffering and the exhaustion of following Christ to the foot of the Cross. Dear married couples, do not be overcome by hardship: the grace of the Sacrament supports you and helps you constantly to raise your arms to heaven …
Lumen Gentium captures marital guidance in this encouraging way
[M]arried couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path [to holiness] by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God’s gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. … [B]y such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love, with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her.