This was my kind of wilderness. Snug upstairs in a cozy loft of a simply enormous chalet, I sipped coffee on a couch that had been upholstered in a woodsy fabric and watched with great contentment as the autumn leaves outside fluttered lazily in the breeze. The baby was asleep in a huge, also woodsy bedroom, while my husband had taken the older two to the woodsy waterpark. Thank you, God, for having prepared this piece of wilderness heaven just for me.
I glanced at my maroon copy of The Mother of the Little Flower by Celine Martin, TAN Books and smiled at St. Therese’s mom Zelie and her sister Celine on the cover—now my dear friends and confidantes—and opened to section two in the book on the Martins’ family life.
Zelie and Louis Martin were married on July 13, 1858, ages 27 and 36, and lived in Alencon, France. Zelie noted in written correspondence that prior to getting married she had been completely unaware of the nature of marital relations and had been “troubled to tears” upon finding it out. Her most faithful and pious Louis took the opportunity to suggest that they instead live as brother and sister. Zelie agreed, despite her earlier desire for children, and they lived this way for several months, even taking a needy boy into their home during this time. Later, however, upon the counsel of their confessor, they both agreed instead to have many children and offer them to God. Celine writes, “It is right, then that our saintly Therese, when writing the story of her life, should render thanks to the Lord, who allowed her to see the light in a holy soil fragrant with the odor of purity”.
I thought about that for a minute—about how parents’ holiness has a real effect on their children, even if their actions aren’t seen by them. A realization that had been years in formation finally hit home: I could not shield my children from the damaging effects of my sins by simply doing them in secret. If I decide to greedily finish the brownies in the pan when I’m supposed to be doing the dishes after dinner [even if a.) it wouldn’t be good for the children to have any more that night or b.) no one likes them anyway—including me—because they’re gluten-free or c.) they’re in a pan that needs to be washed immediately in order to free up more counter space or d.) finishing them off would help sustain me through the next day’s Friday fast, which would actually make me holier…the next day, anyway], crouching behind the counter in the kitchen as I do so, making sure to stand next to the running dishwasher so that no one hears the chewing, stills hurts my kids, even if I can’t see the negative effects. I pictured myself hiding in the kitchen. Yes, very unZelie-like: must be stopped immediately. I wondered if I’d see an uptick in general holiness in the family by cutting out the dessert-sneaking. It was worth a try. I settled back with the Martins again.
Someone who most definitely did not eat excessive amounts of brownies in the shadows of his kitchen was Louis Martin, a profoundly faithful and devout man, who held equally Zelie’s love and admiration. Zelie “allowed him to exercise an authority which was really patriarchal”. Celine writes, “My sisters have affirmed many times that their union was never clouded by any misunderstanding; my mother’s correspondence is filled with this testimony.”
This is one detail of Zelie’s life that I have found myself thinking about time and again. After having had nine children together, Zelie and Louis—as attested to by their girls—never once had a true misunderstanding. The first time I had read this, I had felt the air get knocked out of my lungs. How was that even possible, I thought. And, yet, the beauty and fruit of their union was so abundant, I knew it had to be the truth, and it’s been a good reminder to me to better focus on, respect, and protect the true union I have with my husband.
Celine notes that her mother often signed letters to Louis, “Your wife who loves you more than her own life.” And Canon Dumaine, Vicar General of Seez who baptised Therese in Alencon, once said of the Martins, “In their family life, the union was remarkable, both between the husband and wife, and between the parents and the children.”
Awesome. What a couple, what a family. Blessed Louis and Zelie, pray for all us married couples, that our unions become strong like yours so that our married love might be clear reflections of our heavenly Father’s unending love for and fidelity to His children, for His Glory forever. Oh, and please pray for me, especially by the dishwasher. Amen.
“The good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth.” –St. Therese