Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bl. Louis and Marie Martin, pray for us

Cindy Wooden of the Catholic New Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI has given the green light to the canonization of Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. Louis and Marie, as some of you may know, are the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. According to the CNS report, the Martins will be raised to the altar on 19 October, which is World Mission Sunday. The ceremony will take place in the Basilica dedicated to their daughter in Lisieux, France.

The Martins were declared blessed in 1994, during the feverish saint-making days of Pope John Paul II, the pace of which his successor has sought to slow down somewhat, including holding the canonization celebrations outside Rome, and not personally presiding at them. Even though JPII actively encouraged their full canonization, they were not declared saints because the miracle needed in order for their canonization to take place did not receive approval until July of this year.

Louis was born in 1823 and died in 1894. Marie was born in 1831 and died in 1877. Together they had nine children. Of this number, five joined religious orders. In my view the Martins' holiness is demonstrated in the first instance by having children and then by fostering vocations among them. By virtue of our baptism we all have a vocation, it is the job of parents to educate children about destiny, about the very reason for which they exist, for which God made them, and to let children know that their birth represents your cooperation with God and raising them is your vocation. Speaking to young men and women Don Giussani, in one of his characteristically frank moments, said:
"The dramatic thing is that 99 per cent of mothers no longer teach these things to their children. Because of this, they're no longer mothers. Mother can be a filly, if mother means to throw something out from your womb. She is a mother [only] if she educates in destiny" (Is It Possible to Live This Way, Vol 1, pg 113).
Please keep in mind that this is Giussani in a passionate moment speaking to Catholic people who are on the verge of becoming Memores Domini and so committing their lives to perpetual virginity and to living in community. My using it is not a cudgel with which to beat people up because I'd have to start with myself. As Suzanne aptly noted, even as parents we still need conversion. I use this quote to bring home the importance of the matter. Perhaps we did not find what corresponded to our hearts until later in life, maybe even after we had children and they were grown or nearly so. Rather than feel guilty, in the words of JPII, "Follow Christ!" Keep in mind the words of Jesus: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9,62).

It is worth noting that the success the Martins had in fulfilling their marital vocation got off to a rocky start. They originally planned to live together celibately, even though they were married. According to Fr. James Martin, SJ, writing over on America magazine's In All Things blog, it was a confessor who straightened them out about their confusion. So, I am elated to see the Martins raised to the altar precisely because they responded to the correction issued them by a wise priest, who helped them understand that destiny for them was to be achieved through marriage, which, according to the church, by its nature, includes children (can. 1055 §1)

Without a doubt their initial intention to live together celibately came from their true desire to serve God. However, such a manner of living is not Christian marriage. Rather, it represents confusion about vocation, about the state of life to which they were called. Looking at their confusion in light of what the church teaches, which is always the appropriate criterion by which to objectively evaluate our lives, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law (there was no singular code in effect during the Martins' lifetime, the so-called Pio-Benedictine code, the first unified code only being promulgated in 1917) a celibate marriage is not a valid, that is, not a sacramental marriage because such a marriage would never be consummated. In addition, their initial desire demonstrated a clear intention against children. So, their marriage was not only kept from being an abuse of the sacrament, it flowered into something beautiful for God. As a husband and a parent, I look forward to asking for their intercession.


  1. Hi Deacon Scott,

    I just have to insert a few words here in defense of the (roughly) 10% of Catholic couples world wide who suffer infertility. I can see that in *this couple's* case, having children was proof of their holiness (as they gave up on the celibate idea). But, caution please, on applying this or even speaking of it broadly. This could crush into the ground a couple who already has to feel "slimed" by many Catholics for suspicion of using birth control, when really they are going through agony to achieve what others achieve joyfully and easily.

  2. Thanks, Marie for your good reminder. In my own defense, I don't think what I wrote was written broadly, but quite narrowly and only directed against the mistaken notion of being married and voluntarily choosing to be celibate, not for a period of time, but perpetually. This is, objectively, a confusion about Christian state-of-life. The church's teaching on this matter arises not only from canon law, but scripture. St. Paul writes to couples, "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Cor 7,5).

    I would think infertile couples, more than most, would view as odd a married couple who are perfectly capable of having children but who choose to live celibate lives anyway. While celibacy for the kingdom is certainly of very great value, it is not normative to the married state. In addition to infertile couples, there are couples who after getting married have issues arise (paralysis in an accident, for instance) that make living in a celibate manner inevitable. Since this, too, is involuntary, it is does not represent any confusion or create a moral issue.

    Besides, infertility is no barrier to entering into a sacramentally valid marriage and never has been. In the vast majority of cases such couples desire, really desire, to have children. Their genuine desire to have children makes those of us, who, as you so delightfully state it, can "achieve [conception] joyfully and easily", grateful. Anyway, the inability to conceive represents no intention against children. Canonically it is the intention against having children, not the physical inability to conceive, that creates a problem.

  3. Yes. Indeed, I see and concur with everything you've written. And I didn't mean to imply that you'd actually made any offense or error of statement or judgment or anything like it in your post.

    I'm just unfortunately highly attuned to statements that, taken out of context (and that's key), could bring people to utter despair (call it an emotional reaction to words!).

    I suppose it isn't fair to your context to mention it! I just always feel compelled to speak up about infertility because especially in the Church it is such a voiceless pain. You wouldn't believe the things Catholic women beat themselves up about (I'm not really a woman, not really doing God's will if I don't have children, it's somehow my fault, if I could just do xyz, etc.)

    Anyway, please pray for my 300-something friends in my Catholic fertility-support group! And, as you say, Bl. Louis and Marie, pray for us!

  4. Dear Marie:

    I understand your concern. It is certainly a valid one. I do not see your comment as offensive in the least, but as an opportunity for needed clarification. So, I appreciate it. I will keep your group in my prayers.

    It is good for me to have to clarify and to be accountable. I updated the post last night in order to explain Giussani's comment about being a mother for a reason similar to the one you introduce.

    Bearing wrongs patiently is one of the spiritual works of mercy. For my money, it is the most difficult one and one that I have to repent of not practicing the most! It is precisely in this the lives of so many saints can be instructive and whose intercession can help us be more like Christ.

  5. Dear Deacon Scott,

    Thank you for writing about Louis and Zelie Martin. I should like to add that they were beatified, not canonized, in October 2008 in Lisieux. For more about them, please see http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/their-lives/

    At this page


    click on Fr. Antonio Sicari's article about them, which contains a sensitive treatment of the significance of the unusual first months of their marriage. with all good wishes,



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