St. Therese of Lisieux's Parents to be Proclaimed Saints of the Family
VATICAN CITY – This weekend in Rome, Pope Francis will canonize four blesseds: Vincenzo Grossi, the founder of the Institute of the Daughters of the Oratory; Maria Dell’Immacolata, the Superior General of the Congregation of Sisters of the Company of the Cross; and, Louis Martin and Marie Zelie Guerin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. According to Vatican Radio, Sunday’s canonization will mark the first time a “married couple with children [will] be canonized in the same ceremony.”
Ahead of this weekend’s canonizations, representatives of the Conférence des évêques de France briefed journalists on the life and works of the soon-to-be sainted parents of the Doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Father Olivier Ruffray, Rector of the Sanctuary of Lisieux; Father Jean-Marie Simar, Rector of the Sanctuary of Louis and Zélie Martin in Alençon; Father Romano Gambalunga, Postulator of the Cause; Father Antonio Sangalli, Vice-Postulator of the Cause; and Emmanuel Houis from the Sanctuary of Lisieux presented the life and work of the Martins and fielded questions from journalists.
In their presentations, the panel members shared the hagiographies of the two new saints. Born in Bordeaux on August 22, 1823, Louis was “A man of deep faith and prayer, he desired at one point to devote himself to God in the hospice of the Grand St. Bernard, but, discouraged by the study of Latin, he became a watchmaker and settled in Alençon,” according to his official hagiography. His wife was born in Gandelain, located near Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon on December 23, 1831. Her hagiography explains that “She worked as a lacemaker with Alençon needlework.” Like her husband, “She too was attracted by religious life, but her precarious health and the negative judgment of the Superior of the Daughters of Charity of Alençon dissuaded her.” Both Louis and Marie Zelie lived the ordinariness of life in an extraordinary way.
Their shared hagiography continues: “They had the joy of giving birth to nine children; four died in childhood, but neither grief nor trials weakened their deep faith, sustained by the daily attendance at Mass and filial devotion to the Virgin Mary.” For this reason, and because of their closeness to their daughter, a Doctor of the Church, tens of thousands of pilgrims are coming to Rome to witness their canonization in the context of a Synod on the family.
As they do so, here are three takeaways worth keeping in mind.
Takeaway one: Canonizations of saints are intended for the good of the whole Church. They do not belong to particular churches alone. As such, it is important to see this weekend’s canonizations in the context of the larger pastoral program of the whole Church.
This morning’s briefing underscored that Sunday’s canonizations are part of a pastoral program concerned with the renewal of family life in the heart of the Church. In September, Pope Francis presided over the closing liturgy of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. This month, he has convened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the “Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Contemporary World.” And in recent weeks, he has been dedicating his weekly catechetical addresses to the spirituality and vocation of the family.
But, the canonizations also occur against the backdrop of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Fifth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Cristian Family,” which Pope St. John Paul II convened from September 26-October 25, 1980. The final document of that Synod reminded the Church that “marriage and the family constitute one of the most precious of human values” (FC, n. 1). As such, the Church has an obligation and a right to promote and defend the family.
As the “Pope of the Family” stated in Familiaris Consortio, the Church has this vested interest in the family because it “is the first community called to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis, to full human and Christian maturity.” The canonization of saints of the family point out this pathway toward full Christianization.
Takeaway two: The canonization of the Martins should be understood in light of the Church’s doctrine of the family and society. That teaching holds up the unique communion founded on the gift of love between a man and a woman as a source of blessings for the Church and the world. In their married life, the Martins proclaimed this Gospel of the Family in a way the contemporary world could understand: through a life of welcome for others, care for one another, closeness among themselves, and love for their children.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis developed this theme in an address to two groups of pilgrims inside St. Peter’s square and the blessed Pope Paul VI Hall. Indoors, some seven hundred sick people followed the Pope’s discourse in the square on the promises parents make to children. He was not speaking about what he termed “the promises we make now and then,” but the basic or foundational promises we make forever.
In his remarks he said that “Welcome and care, closeness and attention, trust and hope, are likewise basic promises, which can be summed up in a single word: love. We promise love, that is, love which is expressed in welcome, care, closeness, attention, trust and hope, but the real promise is love.”
The intimate family life of the Martins was characterized by this little way of love. As the panel at this morning’s briefing explained, the home life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux was marked by welcome for outsiders, the rhythm of family prayer and fasting, and a gentle tenderness on the part of the parents for their children.
As noted in their hagiographies, both “Louis and Zelie are sublime examples of conjugal love, of an industrious Christian family concerned for others, generous to the poor and inspired by an exemplary missionary spirit, ever ready to help with parish activities.”
Takeaway three: That promise of love, lived in the heart of the family, is a good for the Church and the world. Upon it, a free and just society is built. The canonization of the Martins offers us a model for the love of family, and so it gives us an example to imitate along the pathway toward the renewal of society. Soon-to-be Sts. Louis and Marie Zelie remind us that the vocations to marriage and the family are for the good of the Church and the world.
One of the English language small groups stated in a written report released Wednesday that “In Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s revelation, the family uncovers its calling within the universal call to holiness.” That group, moderated by Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, added that “We are called to communion and we are called for mission.” As such, “We must recognize that the family itself also has a vocation” and “The Church’s vision of the vocation of the family captures the beauty of God’s self-giving love.”
In their love for one another, and their dutiful care for their family and neighbors, the Martins show forth this radiant beauty and hold up for us an image of the Gospel of the Family for the hope of the world.