Three years ago today Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux were canonized by Pope Francis. The couple was the first to be canonized together as husband and wife, giving testimony to their “extraordinary witness of conjugal and familial spirituality,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
Saints Louis and Marie Zélie Guerin Martin were married in 1858. The couple had nine children, but four of them died in infancy or early childhood. All five of the surviving children, including St. Therese, entered religious life, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. Zélie Martin died of cancer in 1877, at the age of 45; Louis died when he was 70 in 1894.
Fr. Antonio Sangalli, vice postulator for the cause for the canonization of the couple, said, “Louis and Zélie demonstrated through their lives that conjugal love is an instrument of holiness, a way to holiness consummated by the two persons together.” He noted that this aspect today is “the most important aspect to value in the family. There is an enormous need for a simple spirituality lived out in daily life.”
Zélie and Louis are saints not so much for the methods they chose for evangelization, rather they are saints because they lived and imparted the faith to their family in a concerted and committed way. They evangelized their children by their example as a couple, living their faith in works and instruction in the heart of the family. Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), stresses that the family is the place where children are evangelized and then the family becomes the evangelizer of other families:
At different moments in the Church’s history and also in the Second Vatican Council, the family has well deserved the beautiful name of “domestic Church.” This means that there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church. Furthermore, the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.
In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them.
And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms part. Evangelii Nuntiandi, §71
As the exemplars of holy family life, Louis and Zélie Martin are the patron Saints of the Calling Couples to Christ Apostolate. Pray for us, Louis and Zélie that we may be an instrument of hope and healing to families as they strive to live out their vocation to marriage and family life well.