Timely Models for Marriage

EDITORIAL: May we all be inspired by Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin and the faithful couples in our midst to bear that joyful witness to the Gospel in a world that sorely needs it.

 Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin canonization portrait
Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin canonization portrait (photo: Martha Calderon/CNA)

The mostly hidden lives of faithful married couples finally got the world’s attention when Pope Francis canonized Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The Martins’ Oct. 18 canonization secured a new landmark for the Church: It was the first time a married couple with children were canonized in the same ceremony.

Pope Francis, in his homily for the canonization, celebrated the Martins’ practice of “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 St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”

“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,” the Holy Father said. “May they now watch over us and sustain us by their powerful intercession.”

Every canonization offers inspiration to Catholics who struggle to be more committed, generous and wise in their marriages and in family life. But the Martins’ canonization seems especially well-timed because it specifically celebrates the heroism of Catholic spouses, who quietly accept responsibilities and hardships that can seem overwhelming or even unjust.

The Martins’ own story of suffering is staggering, with the couple facing the deaths of four of their nine children before the age of 6. We need not sugarcoat their trials, but we should allow their faith and fortitude to inspire our own marriages and to remind the Church and the world that the beauty of their witness should be shared, not ignored.

Why should we ponder and celebrate their example? Because our world appears inclined to shrug off, even dismiss, the priceless gift such couples offer their own families, the wider community and the Church. “These wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times, in the Church,” noted Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in an Oct.12 column he published while serving as a delegate at the recently concluded Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. “I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.” These couples, noted Cardinal Dolan, are among the 50% of cradle Catholics who still “enter the sacrament of matrimony.” They are the faithful who “have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children.”

Cardinal Dolan’s comments highlight another pivotal moment in our culture and a particular challenge for the Church. On social media, Americans collectively have developed a taste for shaming the people they view as hypocrites — those who set high standards and then fail to live up to them. Many gush over celebrities and try to follow the ever-shifting etiquette of the politically correct. But many seem bored with the husbands and wives who have never lost sight of their marriage vows and are committed to raising children who believe in the transcendence of the good, the true and the beautiful and allow that to inform their engagement with society.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ call for a missionary Church that serves as a field hospital for alienated Catholics has stirred hopes that our parishes will be more welcoming, while at the same time affirming the faithful. But to meet that goal, we need an array of missionaries, including faithful married couples who are capable of advancing the Church’s mission in their homes, parishes, workplaces and communities. Cardinal Dolan reminds Church leaders, pastors and catechists to recognize, encourage and solicit the help of Catholics who humbly receive their faith as a priceless gift from God and are eager to share it with others. Each of these couples are saints in the making. At the synod, the fathers discussed how the Church should meet and strengthen families, whether they are active in parish life or still on the fringes, as well as how to sow the seeds for stronger formation of future spouses. In small groups, they considered whether to drop marriage-preparation programs in favor of a lengthier marriage catechumenate that supports young couples during the transition from single to married life (see front page). They weighed introducing a chastity curriculum while Catholics are still young and less formed, rather than waiting until they are poised to tie the knot. Faithful Catholic spouses need pastoral accompaniment that fosters a burning desire for the Lord. That support will fortify their efforts to share the Gospel and embrace the universal call to holiness, even as the world dismisses this work as laughably unrealistic. “In Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s revelation, the family uncovers its calling within the universal call to holiness,” stated the report released by one English-language group at the ordinary synod moderated by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. “We are called to communion, and we are called for mission.”

The synod fathers debated the best model for pastoral accompaniment of families, with some emphasizing the need to listen to those on the margins, while others, including Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, pressed for a more robust and confident call to conversion. Referencing Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the road to Emmaus, Cardinal Collins noted the Lord’s distinctive and unambiguous path of “accompaniment.”

“Jesus drew near and accompanied his downcast disciples as they walked in the wrong direction, into the night. He started by asking questions about their present disposition and by listening to them, but he did not stop there. Instead, he challenged them with the word of God: ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’ (Luke 24:25). His presentation of the objective vision of Scripture broke through their subjective self-absorption and, along with his loving presence, brought them to conversion,” noted the cardinal.

“The disciples of Emmaus accepted the word of God that challenged them, and … they changed direction and, with burning hearts, raced through the night to Jerusalem to bear joyful witness to the community gathered there.” May we all be inspired by Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin and the faithful couples in our midst to bear that joyful witness to the Gospel in a world that sorely needs it.