2014 St Therese Novena, Cork – Day 6

Sister Eileen Healy OLA shared a reflection on the parents of St Therese – Louis & Zelie Martin – on the 6th evening of the National Novena in honour of the Little Flower at St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork – the National Shrine to the Patroness of the Missions.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Louis and Zelie Martin were declared by the Church in 2008. Perhaps it is appropriate, as we move towards the last few days of our Novena, to reflect on the beginning of the life of Therese, on her parents, and to reflect on our own beginnings too. “The end of all our journeys is to return to where we started and know it for the first time.” [T S Eliot]

Therese is often known as the Little Flower, so her parents could rightly be called the seeds and roots of that Flower. Beautiful flowers come from healthy seeds and strong roots, and Zelie and Louis most certainly were strong and healthy in faith and in personality, though not in physical health. He was a matchmaker and she was a lace maker. The impression, from reading of their lives, was their great faith, their love for their children, their capacity for selfless love and their lifelong support of missionaries and their work.

Like all young married couples these two were very much in love. They were full of enthusiasm, plans and dreams for their marriage, their children and for one another. We all have similar hopes and dreams for those we love, and we want the very best for them. However, we also know that dreams and plans don’t always work out as we hoped – not because we are bad, selfish or lazy – but because we are human and fragile, living in a world where the unexpected and the unpredictable can happen. Suffering, sickness, loss and death are part of all our lives, even of good saintly lives like the parents of Therese. They / we are like a candle, which gives warmth and light and in so doing uses itself up, doing what it was created to do.

These parents wanted many children and their first four were girls. They longed for a boy to be a priest and their next two babies were indeed boys, the first dying at one year old and the second at three months.There followed the birth of two more girls, both dying as babies. For these parents, so much heartache, pain and sadness, burying four children in ten years as well as comforting their older girls grieving their loss. Zelie was determined to have one more child and Therese was born, a fragile, sickly child, who had a lot of difficulties in her early years. Zelie herself was unwell and died of cancer when Therese was only four years old. Louis later died of dementia.

These parents lived good lives, loved selflessly, were generous and loved life. They were midwives of new life, who gave their bodies, minds, skills and intellect to cherish and nurture their children and to give them hope, courage and trust. Our task also is to be midwives of New Life, to bring to birth with our lives: new hope, beauty and encouragement to those we meet on our journey. When we meet with, or hear of, violence, wars, conflicts or suffering let us not add to the pain and negativity [critical and judgemental] but, instead, meet it with a loving word, a gift of kindness, a practical loving gesture and in that way let Christ’s energy flow through our words and actions. When we do this we, like Zelie and Louis, are hearing and speaking God’s Word in a new way; we are suffering His passion in a new way and continuing to do Christ’s work in our 21st century world. When we give another person courage and confidence to be their best in education, sport or life, when we help others on their struggle or journey of success or failure, that is being Good News in our home, school, workplace or parish. When we open our hearts to each others, when we let life touch us deeply, we lighten each other’s burdens and ease the isolation of a bad day for someone.

Surrendering in love to God and to what we cannot change or understand is a lesson we can learn from Louis and Zelie, not allowing the inevitable dark side of life the ability to deprive us of enjoying the rest of life. I think Therese’s parents teach us that holiness and happiness are not dependant so much on what happens to us, but on how we adapt to it and hear what God is saying through it. ‘This is the word of the Lord.’

All that happens is part of the tapestry of our lives which we weave from birth to death, and like Louis and Zelie we weave into our personal life tapestry all the colours of our lives – the joys and sorrows, successes and failures. And each of us are all vibrant colours in each other’s tapestries.

Gold of love; reds of anger; black of depression; greens of hope…

In spite of many difficulties, love never seems to have wavered, and strong faith and trust in God enabled Zelie and Louis to hold those painful experiences as part of their precious lives, and not allow them to diminish them as people or make them harsh or bitter.

They were ordinary people like you and me, who did each small task of life in a loving, generous and trusting way. Life comes to us in very small pieces, little gems called NOW and if we live each moment with as much genuine, attentive Love as we can, we will be living fully and allowing God to use our humanity to reach and touch others. Louis and Zelie’s lives are telling a very important story to us and to the world. Maybe we might consider the following questions as we approach the end of our of our Novena is:

– what story is my life telling to my family, children and to the world?
– how can I make that styory the very best it can be?
– what do I remember from my parents that gives me strength and courage today
– and what can I give the next generation that will help them on their hjourney through life and into Life?

We rememebr and thank our parents, whether living or dead, we ask God to bless all parents here, all those who are soon going to be parents, all those who long to be parents but cannot, and those who choose, for whatever erasons not to be parents.

May the example and prayers of Zelie and Louis Martin sustain us all. Amen.