There is no strict formula to being the parents of saints, but there are things one can do to ameliorate the process, as I tried to point out in some inchoate way in the reflection on the Benedict Option yesterday. All parents can really do is provide the example, the exhortation and the environment in which sanctity may flourish – all that it means to be truly human and Christ-like – but one can never discount the mystery of free will; each person must choose that path of life which will lead to life, or, tragically, not.
That said, the home-life, the ecclesia domestica, that Louis and Zelie built up certainly did wonders: they were the parents of Sainte Thérèse, along with her sisters, all of them entering the religious life, five in total, (they had four other children who died in infancy). Sure enough, Louis and Zelie had to forego the joys of seeing their children’s children, but their happy Jerusalem lay beyond this world.
So not only is it possible to be married and a saint, but marriage is almost a sure and certain path to sanctity if lived well, in a spirit of sacrifice and charity, in the midst of the pots and pans, the minivans and mortgages, the messy dinners and diapers, maintaining patience and kindness, deeply immersed in prayer and the liturgy, receiving what grace one can from the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
Both Louis and Zelie originally wanted to enter religious life, but Louis was rejected from the Benedictine novitiate as he could not learn Latin (so have hope, those who struggle with declensions! You may be called to conjugate!), and Zelie, due to respiratory problems.
God had other plans for them, not only their own mutual sanctification, but also that their union would bring forth the Little Flower, whose vocation would bear world-changing fruit. They lived the ‘Benedict Option’ well before that term became vogue, with Louis structuring his day around work and prayer, setting up a little oratory in his attic, where he would retire to contemplate, allowing his children to enter if they too wanted to pray, or ask spiritual advice.
Louis and Zelie formed their daughters well, in a way that would be quite different from what we now consider ‘education’, with all its focus on a ‘job’, practicality, money, success, life-long comfort and early retirement; one can only wonder what they would have thought of the current debacle that is the de-formation of children today. The married couple, united in life and now in heaven, were together beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on October 19, 2008, and canonized by Pope Francis on October 18, 2015.
As Christ says, and I paraphrase, in whatever path we are called, focus on the higher and most important things, even the ‘one thing necessary’, and all else will fall into place.
Saints Louis and Zelie, Sainte Thérèse and all the Martins, orate pro nobis!