The saints, we hear their stories, we admire their virtue, and are left in awe of their heroism. We often put them on a pedestal of unattainable holiness and think of their lives as very different from ours. Having the perception that we must be a priest or religious to even have a chance at being counted among the most holy. When the reality is the saints encountered, endured, and carried many of the same crosses we each face today.
Earlier this week we celebrated the feast day of an exemplary married couple, Saints Louis and Zelie Martin. Many of us know them as the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. In addition to being the parents of nine children, Louis was a successful watchmaker and Zelie a seamstress. They are the first married couple to be canonized together, on October 18, 2015, by Pope Francis.
They are a couple who experienced the everyday ordinary in their daily walk, very similar to our own lives. In the mundane tasks: the laundry, making dinner, going to work, fixing the broken door, changing diapers, and putting children to bed, they were sanctified. It may seem at first glance that they were handed an easy path, with five of their daughters all becoming nuns. In the joy of seeing their daughters choose such an honorable and noble vocation, they also walked an unimaginable journey of suffering.
The Martins buried four of their children within a four-year period. Their first son died when he was five months old. Their fourth child passed away at the age of five. They said goodbye to their sixth child when he was eight months old, and they buried their eighth child when she was just seven weeks old. Immense sorrow, grief, and heartache. Incredible loss and pain. Pain that could cause one to lose their faith, question God’s goodness and walk away from the cross.
Instead in their moments of loss, moments which they could not understand Saints Louis and Zelie turned their eyes to Christ, clinging to the cross and holding onto the promise of the resurrection. In a letter, St. Zelie penned to her brother she stated.
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems that I had endured for them. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. We will see them again in heaven.” (Nursery of Heaven: Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss in the Lives of the Saints and Today’s Parents)
A short four years after St. Therese was born, St. Zelie passed away from breast cancer. A loss that left St. Louis inconsolable and a widow with five daughters to raise.
In our own losses and grief, heartaches and hardships we can look to the example of virtue modeled by Saints Louis and Zelie. Great faith, hope, and trust in God’s Providence. In times of our loss, times where we may feel as if God has abandoned us; we have the promise of eternal life. A holy couple to ask to intercede for marriages, parents, families, and child loss.
Saints Louis and Zelie, pray for us!