The sainted couple

This past Sunday Pope Francis canonized SS. Louis Martin and Marie Azélie Guérin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as well as a priest and a religious Sister. The canonization of the Martins was noteworthy because it was the first time that a married couple was canonized together (in the same ceremony).

You can read the Holy Father’s comments during his Angelus remarks about the new saints. During this homily, he focused more on the readings than on the new saints, but he did make some remarks about each of them. About the Martins he said, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day-by-day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”

The pope then added, commenting on all four new saints, “The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary. From Heaven may they now watch over us and sustain us by their powerful intercession.”

Back in October 2008 the Martins were beatified at a Mass in Lisieux celebrated by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins. Since the only purpose of that Mass was the beatification (while Pope Francis had to balance the presence of the Synod of Bishops at his Mass last Sunday), the Portuguese cardinal spoke more at length about the Martins (whom were no relation to the cardinal).

He quoted a letter St. Thérèse wrote to an abbot, in which she said that, “The good God gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth.”

The Portuguese cardinal invited the assembled congregation in Lisieux to think about their father and mother and to thank God “because He has created us and has made us Christians through the conjugal love of our parents. Receiving life is something marvelous, but, for us, it is even more admirable that our parents have brought us to the Church. No one can make themselves Christian by themselves.”

If it weren’t for the Martins, we probably would not be turning to St. Thérèse today for help in our everyday difficulties. If it weren’t for them, she most likely would not be helping missionaries around the world with her prayers (she is the co-patroness of the missions, even though she never went to a mission land. The power of her prayers, during her earthy life and from Heaven to help missionaries is why she was given this title).

Cardinal Martins said about this couple, “Louis and Azélie knew that they could sanctify themselves not in spite of Matrimony, but through, in and by Matrimony and that their union should be considered as the point of departure of the ascension of two people. The conjugal love of Louis and Azelie is a pure reflection of the love of Christ for His Church; it is also a pure reflection of the love which the Church loves her Spouse, Christ.”

Referring to the famous “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” quote (which is often misapplied), Cardinal Martins said, “For the Martin spouses, it was very clear ‘what is of Caesar and what is of God. The Lord God is the primary One to serve,’ Joan of Arc said (their daughter, St. Thérèse, is depicted in a famous photograph disguised as St. Joan for a monastery party). The Martin spouses converted this into the theme of their home: for them God always occupied the first place in their life. Mrs. Martin often said, ‘God is the Master. He does what He wants.’ Mr. Martin echoed those words, repeating, ‘The Lord God is the first One to be served.’ When a challenge arrived at their home, their spontaneous reaction was always acceptance of the Divine will. They served God in poverty, not just by a simple impulse of generosity nor of social justice, but simply because the poor man is Jesus. Serving the poor is serving Jesus; it is giving to God what is God’s.”

Azélie wrote to Louis, “I cannot live without you, dear Louis.” He wrote back, “I am your husband and friend who loves you for life.” 

Eventually Azélie died, leaving Louis a widower. Cardinal Martins preached, “Louis lived the loss of his spouse with faith and generosity, preferring the good of his daughters over personal attractions.”

The cardinal also noted that St. Thérèse and her sisters got their missionary Spirit from their parents. The Little Flower wrote, “My parents were very interested in the Salvation of souls. But our most known work of apostolate was the Propagation of the Faith, for which every year our parents gave a substantial donation. This same zeal for souls made them desire to have a missionary son and religious daughters.”

St. Thérèse wrote in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” about the simple joys she shared with her family: “What shall I say of the winter evenings at home, especially the Sunday evenings. Ah! How I loved, after the game of checkers was over, to sit with Celine on papa’s knees. He used to sing, in his beautiful voice, airs that filled the soul with profound thoughts, or else, rocking us gently, he recited poems that taught the eternal truths.” 

May we ask these two new saints to help all the married people we know to find the love and joy in each other, and in God, that the Martins experienced (and continue to experience now and forever). 

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