These words from St. Therese's mother offer insight into what it must have been like to be a member of the Martin family.
Every great saint has parents. Some of those parents were wonderful, while others struggled or were entirely absent. Some assisted their children’s growth in faith, while others opposed their spiritual progress. Some saints, it turns out, had parents who are also saints. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, is one such fortunate child. Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, were declared saints in 2015. Their feast day is July 12.
These two seemingly ordinary Catholics found sainthood not through spectacular martyrdom, miracle-working, or influence in the Church. They made their way to holiness by a more humble path – devotion, marriage, and parenting – which are all, in their own way, quite heroic. Louis and Zelie created a warm, loving Catholic family, a little domestic church alive with opportunities to build virtue.
Therese was only one of five Martin daughters to survive to adulthood. Every single one of them became a nun. Later, Therese realized her vocation within the religious life, writing, “In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be Love!” I cannot help but feel that this love she expressed so powerfully was first learned back home when she was a little girl learning to pray with her parents.
The Martin family was a normal family, just like any other, with their own little quirks, their own trouble-maker – who happened to be Therese, the future saint – and plenty of opportunities to learn to love each other even as they lived in close proximity.
The letters of Zelie, in particular, offer a colorful insight into what it must have been like to be a member of this family.
Here are 10 of her quotes from the book, Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.
How living well is connected with dying well
“You well know that life is not long. You and I will soon be at the end, and we’ll be very grateful that we lived in a manner that doesn’t make our last hour too bitter.” – Zelie to her brother, Isidore
How difficulty in this life points the way to true happiness
“At certain times in my life, when I said I was happy, I couldn’t think of it without trembling because it’s certain and proven by experience that happiness is not on earth. No, happiness can’t be found here below, and it’s a bad sign when all goes well. In His wisdom, God wanted it this way to make us remember that the world is not our true home.” – Zelie to Isidore
True riches aren’t always what we think
“But very often I admire Louis’ scruples, and I say to myself, ‘Here’s a man who never tried to make a fortune. When he set up his business, his confessor told him to open his jewelry store on Sunday until noon. He didn’t want to accept permission to do so, preferring to pass up good sales. And nevertheless, he’s rich.’” – Zelie to Marie, her sister-in-law
Encouraging words and a challenge for her daughter
“I’m very satisfied with you because you’re a good little girl, very affectionate and very sweet. In other words, you’re everything that we would want, but still not pious enough.” -Zelie to her daughter, Pauline
Reacting to the untimely death of her daughter
“It was eleven years ago, yesterday, that little Helene was born, and I thought about her a lot. I’ll be very happy to see her again in the next world.” – Zelie to Pauline, regarding her late daughter.
Kids says the strangest things
“The baby [Therese] is an absolute imp. She comes to caress me while wishing me dead, ‘Oh! How I wish you would die, my poor little Mother!’ We scold her and she says, ‘But it’s so you’ll go to Heaven, since you say that we have to die to go there.’ She wishes for the death of her father, as well, when she’s in the middle of her outpourings for love for him.” – Zelie to Pauline
Supporting her daughter’s vocation
“One night, quite recently, while saying my prayers after having read Madame de Chantal, I suddenly thought that Marie would be a nun. But I didn’t focus on it because I’ve noticed that the opposite of what I predict always happens. Don’t say anything about this to her because she’ll imagine this is what I want, and, truly, I only want it if it’s God’s will. As long as she follows the vocation He gives her, I’ll be happy.” – Zelie to Pauline regarding her oldest daughter, Marie
The strength of a mother
“‘If I’m not good, then I’ll go to hell? But no, I know what I’ll do. I would fly off to be with you who’d be in Heaven. Then you would hold me very tightly in your arms. How would God be able to take me?’ I saw in her expression that she was convinced God could do nothing to her if she was in the arms of her mother.” – An excerpt of a conversation with Therese written by Zelie to her second eldest, Pauline
The bond of sisterhood in Zelie’s daughters
“Sunday, Therese took it upon herself to leave her little bed to go sleep with Celine. The maid was looking for her to dress her. She finally found her, and the little one said to her, while hugging her sister tightly, ‘Leave us alone, my poor Louise, you can see that we’re both like the little white hens; we can’t be separated!’” – Zelie to Pauline