In the days and weeks leading up to my now 6-month-old goddaughter’s birth and subsequent baptism, I often found myself repeatedly explaining her name. “Zelie . . . she is named after a newly-canonized saint who was a wife and the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux.” That simple statement has paved the way for several conversations about what exactly it was that made Marie-Azélie, lovingly called “Zelie,” a saint.
On this day, July 12th, the Church celebrates (for the first time!) Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin. At first glance, they led ordinary lives. However, it was precisely in the ordinary nature of their lives that they allowed God to do something extraordinary through them. Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin would attend early morning Mass regularly, persevered in faith after the tragic deaths of four of their nine children, and allowed their work to be an opportunity for their sanctification.
During their canonization homily, Pope Francis 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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.” He continued, “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.” By saying yes to God in the mundaneness of our daily life and work, as Sts. Louis and Zelie did, we pave the way for courageously saying yes in life’s bigger or more difficult moments.
Upon getting married and starting a family, Sts. Louis and Zelie had no idea that they would lose four of their children or that their youngest child would become a great Doctor of the Church. What they did know – and what remains true for us today – is that hoping and trusting in God’s plan will never leave us disappointed. The witness of Sts. Louis and Zelie shows us that by being faithful to God in life’s seemingly small moments, we can show the world that there is a plan greater than anything we can begin to comprehend.
So what exactly made Zelie and Louis Martin saints? They repeatedly chose to thank God for His many gifts, serve Him in their vocation to marriage and family life, and glorify Him in work. The saints are people who did ordinary things in extraordinary ways, and this is certainly true of Sts. Zelie and Louis. By their witness, we are inspired to live the “extraordinary ordinary” well and one day join them in our heavenly home.
Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!
“Wow, you got your hands full.”
If you’re a parent, it’s possible that you have heard this statement thrown in your direction before. My wife and I, as we approach our seventh wedding anniversary, have three children. I find it amazing when people say “you got your hands full” when I am only holding one of my children. Imagine if they saw me when all three were climbing on me at the same time, or when they’re hungry and in a seemingly rehearsed chorus they ask for different foods in harmony.
With the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops set to meet this Fall, Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will be discussing issues related to marriage and family life. I believe that the Catholic Church’s vision for married life offers a fresh and engaging perspective for our contemporary world. St. John Paul II declares, “The communion of love between God and people, a fundamental part of the Revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established between a man and a woman” (Familiaris Consortio 12). The approaching synod has caused me to reflect on how I live my vocation to married life.
In his book Divine Likeness, Cardinal Marc Ouellet suggests that since Vatican II and St. John Paul II, “the theology of marriage has been developed in terms of ‘gift’…” (Ouellet 150-151). Men and women are created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). One of the great theological insights of Vatican II was the idea that “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). Only through a gift of self can people find their true purpose and meaning in life. This is because a total self gift both participates in and manifests the divine life to which we’re invited.
Many of us are familiar with St. John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences which have become what we call the “Theology of the Body.” The giving of oneself in marriage, including in the conjugal act, is discussed in terms of a total gift of oneself. In a marriage covenant, husband and wife can manifest Trinitarian love, and the communion to which all people are drawn. For a husband or wife to hold back anything would be a betrayal of the communion which they’re guided by the Holy Spirit to manifest.
Cardinal Angelo Scola in The Nuptial Mystery draws from St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and describes how the perichoresis of the Triune God is based on total self-giving. This is described beautifully in the following:
Communio personarum exists in its perfection in the Three in One, because the Father gives himself completely to the Son without keeping anything of his divine essence for himself… The Son himself gives back the same, perennial divine essence. This exchange of love between the two is so perfect as to be fruitful in a pure state: it gives rise to another person, the Holy Spirit (donum doni) (Scola, 131).
The Father completely gives everything He is to the Son; the Son completely gives Himself back in totality to the Father. Their self-giving love is so total and so perfect that it is fruitful and a third Person arises, the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Scola makes the connection between this Trinitarian relationship and the relationship between husband and wife. A husband and wife can give a total gift of self, offering all that they are, and in the context of the conjugal act, it is possible that a new person can be created. But Cardinal Ouellet also mentions that whether or not a new child is conceived, the love of the spouses is fruitful in that they are manifesting the Trinitarian gift of self (cf. Ouellet 172).
There is an element of sacrifice involved here. The spouses freely commit to each other, accepting the new life if God should bless them with a child. However, if a couple experiences difficulty in conceiving, they also accept the sacrifice associated with not being able to bear children. In both cases, the spouses who completely give of themselves in love have the opportunity to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord (cf. Romans 12:1) and to participate in the economy of salvation by manifesting Trinitarian love through a gift of self.
So my response to my interlocutors should be “Yes, I have my hands full: they’re full with my gift of self to the Lord. I give Him all that I am in loving surrender in an act of self-emptying gift-giving aimed at being drawn deeper into the mystery of the Trinitarian communio personarum, and this participation in the divine life penetrates who I am, giving me the grace and love to offer myself as a self gift to my wife.” Do you think that would get their attention?
Either way, what is essential to remember is that God invites us to participate in His very own divine life and we can experience true love through sincere acts of self gift.
Edward Trendowski is Coordinator for Catechetical Resources for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
If you haven’t heard by now, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. The very mention of this day solicits cheers and jeers from so many. Our culture reminds us that this is the day to show love to your friends and family. If you walk into any retail store I’m sure you’ll be bombarded with Valentine’s Day sales, candies, cards, flowers, etc. There is no lack of a reminder that love (and several shades of red) is supposed to be celebrated on this particular day.
I’m not here to give you the history of the day or the particular saint (or non-saint) it may be based on. If you want to read more about the Catholic history of the day, feel free to click here. I’m here to remind you of something that I feel very strongly about. Love is meant to be shown every day, to be celebrated every day, not just one day a year.
Often times the “valentines” that are exchanged contain the term “Will you be mine?” We should remember that no one is ever alone on Valentine’s Day. Everyone has a valentine. Jesus Christ is the single most important valentine that we have and I guarantee you, he doesn’t get many cards - but perhaps people just think he’s allergic to chocolate.
We should take comfort in the fact, however, that we are taking time out of our usually hectic lives to acknowledge that we all share love with someone. My only piece of advice is to not let it end when the chocolates are gone, or after the cards are exchanged. We should continue to express the affection we have to the people in our lives who are always there for us, who know us best, and often times feel the same way about us, every day. Let us not also forget that Jesus shows us his love everyday as well, we should follow his example.
All this being said, however, I hope that you do take the time tomorrow to express some love. Call your parents, your grandparents, your husband or wife, friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time - reach out and remind them that you love them today, and every day.
Chris Pierno is the Media and Marketing Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center
When I was four years old, my parents decided they wanted to put me in some type of pre-school before I entered kindergarten the next year. Being the oldest child, there was no precedent for where to go. My parents spent weeks looking at different preschools and settled on a small Lutheran school just up the street from our house. The appeal was its location and small class size. Knowing they would be enrolling me at the local Catholic school after preschool, my parents were not too concerned about sending me to a Lutheran preschool.
I started my first day in a class with 8 other children. There were seven little boys with a habit of biting, and then one other girl. Naturally, this girl and I became best friends. We really had no other choice. Even though we only went to school together for one year, we remain friends to this day and I look forward to attending her wedding next year. I am her token Catholic friend and she is my token Lutheran friend. We have grown together and share our faiths with each other.
Later this week is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) and it has made me think a lot about my “token Lutheran friend.” I remember a conversation we had when we were ten years old, after a friend of hers had asked her why we were still friends since I was Catholic. Sitting in her kitchen, we talked about how to us, it didn’t matter at all. We were defined by more than our individual faiths and united in a shared belief of Christ as the one through whom we can achieve salvation. Today, it surprises me how theologically intense some of our discussions got, even at young ages.
The week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a reminder to all of us that the Christian faith, while made up of many different denominations, is still universal. There are differences that divide the different Christian faiths, but this coming week is a time to focus on the things that unite us. The idea of New Evangelization reminds us as Catholics to share our faith and spread the Gospel. I leave you with this scripture passage, selected as the biblical text for the 2014 Prayer for Christian Unity. St. Paul reminds us that we are all united in our faith in Christ, and I challenge you to use this week as a time to reflect on how we as a Catholic community can grow in faith with our Christian brothers and sisters.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
Check out the Catholic Apostolate Center’s resources on Christian unity here.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
Growing up in a stereotypical American Catholic family, my parents always kept our faith at the center of family life. While we didn’t go so far as nightly recitations of the rosary together, I did have a very faith-centered childhood. My weeks generally pivoted around two regular Church activities: Sunday morning Mass and Tuesday night Religious Ed. We always ate dinner together as a family and prayed before the meal no matter what. When my sister and I were young, they read us stories out of our children’s Bible, and as we got older, they encouraged us to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and continue our faith journey as adults when we each went to college. Overall, I daresay they were successful: my sister and I still attend Sunday Mass on our own, and I’ve maintained further involvement in Church through the Knights of Columbus.
While my mom and dad had very different approaches to sharing the faith with us, they consistently worked as a team to make sure we had a Christ-centered upbringing. The reason for this, as I look back, is obvious: they have always had a Christ-centered marriage. Both came from Catholic families of 5 or more (Dad was one of 12!) and have always relied on their relationships with God to guide them through life’s difficulties and joys. There is always a Bible on hand, and numerous crucifixes and pictures of Mary are scattered throughout their home. The presence of God in our daily lives is something regularly acknowledged in everything we do as a family.
I don’t know what kind of marriage prep they went through before their wedding, but it is clear that they understand marriage for what it is: a Vocation, a calling from God. Everything my parents do, they do for each other. Whether it was Dad helping with the laundry on Sunday mornings, Mom keeping a plate warm when Dad worked late or had a Scout meeting, or giving each other breaks from me and my sister, their lives have always been focused in on our life as a family. I once heard that the home should be like a “miniature Church”. My parents have gone above and beyond in making that a reality for our family, whether any of us realized it or not.
In the Church, we always make a point of praying for Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but I believe we’re often forgetting the other all-important Vocation to married life. That is not to say that we don’t need to pray for more holy priests, brothers, and sisters; we do! But I propose that we pray just as hard for true, faith-formed Vocations to marriage. With all the broken families we see in our society, it almost seems a miracle to meet couples who have remained faithful and totally in love. Those are the couples who, whether religious or not, view their marriage as a higher calling to give themselves totally to one another.
In Gaudium et Spes (aka The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World), promulgated by Paul VI during Vatican II, we hear that “married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by His dying and His rising up to life again.” This speaks directly to the self-giving nature of a true Christian marriage; spouses are called to mimic the love between Christ and the Church, the bride which He died for. Any happily married couple can attest to the great deal of self-sacrifice needed to maintain a healthy marriage. What our world so desperately needs is right in front of our faces: with families splitting up left and right, marriage has been devalued to no more than a “feel good” reaction. The understanding of marriage as a calling to daily self-sacrifice must be emphasized if we are to reverse the trend of so many broken families and such a high divorce rate.
My parents, who celebrate 25 years of marriage today, are one of the millions of couples throughout the world who strive to answer their daily call to empty themselves for one another as Christ did for each of us. Please join us in praying that their collective example will inspire young couples to focus their intentions on creating that same kind of self-giving love.
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate of the Catholic Apostolate Center, in addition to his full-time career as a Civil Engineer in Baltimore, MD.