THE PARENTS OF ST THERESE – National Novena 2016

National Novena to St. Thérèse – Patroness of the Missions 2016

Day 7: Thursday 29 September 2016 – Fr. Tim Cullinane SMA – Homily:

“God has given me a father and a mother, more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

Sts Zelie and Louis Martin with St. St. Therese

Sts Zelie and Louis Martin with St. St. Therese

The names of the parents of St Theresa were Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. Theresa came from a middle class French family. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother had a lace business which employed a number of people. They were married in their parish church in Alencon on 13 July 1858. Louis was 35 and Zelie 27. Nine children were born to them, seven girls and two boys, but at a time when infant mortality was high only 5 of the children survived.

The couple were canonised by Pope Francis during the Synod on the Family in October 2015, the first married couple to be canonised in the history of the Church. In canonising them, Pope Francis puts them before married couples as models for Christian parents and family life.

You might ask what does a married couple who lived 150 years ago in France have to say to married couples in the Ireland of today with its different culture, different views on marriage and sexuality. However, there are certain truths about marriage and family life that are true for all times and these are shown very clearly in the married life of Louis and Zelie Martin. So what does Louis and Zelie Martin show us that is valuable for married couples today?

First of all, there was their deep love for and faithfulness to each other during their 19 years of marriage. They were deeply in love of each other. In a letter to Louis, Zelie wrote, “I follow you in spirit all day long: and I say to myself, He’s doing this right now. I long to be close to you, my dear Louis, I love you with all my heart and I feel my affection doubled by being deprived of your presence: I could not live without you.” And Louis replied, “I am your husband and friend who loves you for life.” Louis could have spoken these words in the first reading, “Many women have done admirable things but you surpass them all.”

George Hook, who has a programme on Newstalk often speaks of his wife as the “lovely Ingrid” to whom he has been married for 47 years in a marriage that saw many turbulent times. In one programme he was asked, “What is love?” “Love,” he said, “is more than nice feelings; it is where you are prepared to stand in front of your wife if there is an oncoming train coming at her. That’s love. I care more for Ingrid than life itself.”

I am sure Louis Martin would say yes to that. Pope Francis said something similar “You can’t base a marriage on feelings that come and go. Bur rather on the rock of true love, the love that comes from God.”  Marriage is a decision not a feeling,” is a phrase used in Marriage Encounter.

Secondly God was very much part of their family life as they prayed together and went to Mass together. If you go to the Cathedral in Lisieux today they will point out to you where Therese and her father sat together on the right hand side of the High altar which Louis himself had given as a donation to the church.

Most important of all Louis and Zellie Martin were living examples to their children of what Christian life should be like. Family prayer was very much part of Irish family life in the past. The slogan of Fr Peyton, who in the Ireland of the 50s held rosary rallies which were attended by thousands of people, is still true “The family that prays together stays together.”

In Nigeria, where I worked for many years, family prayer is very much part of family life” and I was always amazed how families got up in the morning and sang psalms, read parts of the bible and said various prayers of petition asking for God’s blessing before going to work or to school. Maybe we can learn something from them. If the people in Ireland can give an average of three hours to TV each day, there must be some way of giving time to God as well.

Pope Francis recently gave couples some advice on prayer based on the ‘Our Father’ prayer. “When we pray the ‘Our Father’ we say: Give us this day our daily Bread. When it comes to marriage, we can say: Give us this day, our daily love.” 

Thirdly they had time for each other and for their children, which because of the demands of work and other demands is a big challenge for families today. In her autobiography, Theresa speaks lovingly of her father. Her mother died when she was four. Herself and her father seemed to have spent endless time together, with long walks in the country, fishing trips and holidays together including a pilgrimage to Rome. Louis saw his children as gifts from God and was prepared to give them back to God. When Theresa told him that she wanted to join the convent like her three sisters before her he thought for a moment and pointed out that she was very young to be making such a decision but when he saw that her desire was from God himself, he said that God was giving him a great honour to ask him for his children in this way. How many parents would say this today?

I once met a young man who had just completed his leaving certificate and wanted to join the SMA,  but when we met his mother she said, “ I think my son can do better than that.” St Theresa wrote of her family life, “God was pleased all through my life to surround me with love, and the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and the tenderest caresses.” “God”, she wrote a few months before her death “gave me a father and a mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

Fourthly they had to go through difficult times in their marriage. In Theresa’s family, as in all our families, there were times of darkness and difficulty. When they were just nine years married, Zelie contracted breast cancer. The news must have been devastating for them.  Then there was the death of four children at a very young age and Louis himself at the end of his life having to struggle with mental illness and spend time in a psychiatric hospital. In it all they saw the hand of God and bore all these trials patiently abandoning themselves to God’s will with faith and confidence and in so doing are a model for all of us.

Today we live in a secularised world which has views on sexuality, marriage, divorce, abortion, the 8th amendment, many at variance with the values of Christ and the values lived out by the parents of St Therese. To live married life in the world of today according to Christian values is not easy as shown by the number of divorces in this country – 87,700 since divorce was legalized in Ireland in 2011. And there were 3,735 women with Irish addresses travelling to Great Britain for abortions in 2015.

St Paul says something that is very important for all of us, married or single, living as we do in a secularised world: “The wisdom of this world,” – and we get this wisdom in newspapers, radio , television and some people we live with and work with and even within our own families – “is foolishness to God.”

He also says, “Do not conform to the image of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” or in other words, do not live by the values of the world but by the values of Christ and the values lived out by Louis and Zelie Martin.

The repeal of the 8th amendment is very much a live issue at the moment but don’t listen only to what you hear in the media but also to what Christ might be saying on the issue. Otherwise we can be led like the children the Pied Piper of Hamelin to our doom and there are many Pied Pipers in the world of today.

Pope Francis acknowledges that to live sexuality and married life according to Christian values is not always easy but also stresses that God is a compassionate God who knows and understands these difficulties. Since he has been made Pope, Pope Francis has been saying that the Church needs to have more compassion and concern for those having difficulties in their marriages. “The baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried” he says, “need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities. Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. The Eucharist is not a prize for the just but a medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

With the example of Theresa’s family and these words of Pope Francis, I would like to invite you to join with me in saying after me this prayer to Saints Louis and Zelie Martin for all our families and for the families joining in the Novena.

Prayer for the Family

Father in Heaven You called Louis and Zelie Martin to holiness through their married life. You gave them as Mother and Father to St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Through their intercession, we ask you to bless the married couples of our country, and those who are preparing for Marriage. Bless our children and our grandchildren. Guide us by your Holy Spirit to bear witness in our lives, to the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage. Guide us as citizens to make the kind of decisions that will support family life, protect marriage and respect the dignity of children. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Proverbs 31:10-31     A good wife

Ephesians 5: 25-33     Husbands love your wives

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