Hope of Heaven makes Saints on Earth

This is part two of a two-part post on Louis and Zélie Martin.

Because they had their eyes set on their eternal happiness with God in Heaven, nothing on earth could disturb Louis and Zélie, neither fortune nor suffering.

They were able to amass a small fortune through the family lace-making business, however, they continued to live simply, knowing that money and things could not give them happiness. Zélie explains, “I imagine that if I was in a magnificent chateau surrounded by all that someone could want on earth, the emptiness would be greater than if I were by myself alone in a small attic, forgetting the world or being forgotten by it” (p. 75). She says this not because she is pessimistic and not because she never enjoyed the good things of the earth (she did!) but because she knew that we all have an emptiness that can only be filled by God.

Just as good fortune did not distract the Martins from their goal, neither did seemingly unbearable suffering. The Martins lost four of their nine children to untimely deaths. Three of them died as babies in the care of wet nurses (Zélie could no longer nurse her babies due to her breast cancer), and one of them died unexpectedly at the age of five. Their suffering was extreme. Zélie writes of putting Helene, the five-year-old, in her casket: “I was the one who dressed her and put her in the casket. I thought I would die doing it, but I did not want others touching her...I will grieve all my life over little Helene!” (p. 87).  She blamed herself for Helene’s death and the worry she felt over caring for her other children led her to write: “I’m afraid of not giving the child what is needed. It is a continual death for me. Someone would have to walk that path to know what torment really is. I do not know if purgatory is worse than this” (p. 87).

How did they press on in the midst of such pain? Their continual gaze toward heaven encouraged them. Zélie writes: “God is the Master, and he did not have to ask my permission [to take her children to himself]” (p. 89). And above all, they were happy to know that their little ones were in heaven. Zélie was annoyed when people told her it would have been better if her children (who died young) had not been born. She writes: “I didn’t think that the sorrows and worries could ever be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children” (p. 90). It is only by trusting that their supreme happiness would be found in heaven with God that Zélie was able to say, “There is always joy alongside the pain” (p. 91).

St. Thérèse was born as the ninth and last child of the Martins. Although by the time of her birth her family had suffered immensely, she was welcomed with joy and brought up in a home filled with a lively faith and hope of heaven. All five of the Martin’s children who lived entered religious life and one of them became known as “the greatest saint of modern times.”

Louis and Zélie give witness to great sanctity as lay, married people. They enjoyed and endured the joys and difficulties of marriage and family life, familiar to so many of us. Perhaps we wonder, how are we supposed to become saints when we live in the midst of work, children, health problems, and various other worries, duties and distractions? Louis and Zélie show us the way--to live in the world but completely for God. Let us ask for their intercession, that we may begin to see and evaluate everything in our lives in terms of the eternal life God has prepared for us. Sts. Louis and Zélie, pray for us!

This is part two of a two-part post on Louis and Zélie Martin.

All citations are taken from The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse by Helene Mongin, translated by Marsha Daigle-Williamson.

Note: Most quotes are from Zélie rather than Louis because Louis did not enjoy writing, and Zélie did most of the family correspondence.

Be a witness, share this story: