Louis & Zelie remind us sainthood marriage’s goal

| March 12, 2015 | 0 Comments
Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin. CNS

Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin. CNS

Envision the family portrait. The husband and wife stand in Victorian dress with their five adult daughters, all in habits. It’s nothing I’ve seen on any Christmas card, but it’s an icon Catholics should expect this coming year in preparation for the canonization of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese the Little Flower. The couple, married in 1858, had nine children — seven daughters and two sons — but only five girls survived infancy. All five joined the convent; one became a Visitation sister, and the others Carmelites in Lisieux.

Beatified in 2008, the Martins are expected to be canonized during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in October, and reportedly will be the first couple canonized together. They were the second to be beatified together; Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi were the first, in 2001.

There is a handful of married saints — including St. Thomas More, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and, of course, Mary and Joseph — but most saints were priests or religious. Last month, the observation led one Catholic to ask via CNN.com whether it would be possible — theoretically — for he and his wife to be named saints as a couple.

“Unfortunately, the odds for us married folk seem terrible,” wrote Chris Lowney, Catholic Health Initiatives’ board chairman. “Of more than 10,000 formally recognized saints, only about 500 have been married, even though billions of married people have roamed the Earth over the centuries.”

Those that have been named saints, he claimed, aren’t very relatable. The most recent — the Spanish farmers Ss. Isidore and Maria — may have lived celibately, and in the 12th century.

Not what you’d expect from a Church that exalts marriage, he said.

Actually, he put it like this: “Really? My Church has been unable to find any couples from the last nine centuries who have together ‘practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace,’ as our Catechism defines sanctity?” he asked. “I would humbly ask the Holy Father to fix our skewed saint-making process by offering dozens more exemplars of fun, blissful, holy, married love.”

With to-be Ss. Louis and Zelie, I think Lowney has gotten his answer, but I agree that the Church needs to hold up more couples as models of holiness. As a wife, I try to relate to Mary, but sometimes it’s hard to imagine her heading to work as Joseph takes Jesus to daycare. Her model of virtue is clear, but for the modern family, the day-to-day roadmap for getting there is not.

I think that’s why so many of my Catholic friends have sought the intercession of St. Gianna, a wife, physician and mother who died in 1962 at age 39. She, they say, understood the travails of the contemporary family, and found a way to navigate them. “One cannot love without suffering, or suffer without loving,” she said.

As societal strain on the family increases and the number of intact families decreases, the Church would serve her flock well by providing more known exemplars and intercessors from our own times.

Meanwhile, married couples should ardently embrace the ones we have as reminders that our ultimate goal is also to join them as saints.

Months from sainthood, St. Therese’s parents already patrons for a local Catholic family

Pope plans to canonize St. Therese’s parents during family synod

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Category: Editorials