Of her parents, St. Therese of Lisieux once said: “God gave me a mother and father more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
The lives of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin are seen as an inspiration for Christian families the world over. With yesterday’s announcement of Pope Francis’ recognition of the miraculous healing of a girl from Spain, the saintly couple will be canonized. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has said that their canonization will take place in October this year, which coincides with the Synod of Bishops.
The timeliness of their canonization during a period in which the Church is reflecting on the current challenges faced by families to be models of Christian virtue in a secularized society is not by chance. Fr. Antonio Sangalli, postulator of the cause of canonization for Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, believes that the story of their marital life is exactly what Christians need to be encouraged to live their faith without fear.
Fr. Sangalli spoke to ZENIT on the significance of their canonization, the miracle that paved the way for it and how St. Therese’s parents can inspire Christian families today.
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ZENIT: As postulator of the Cause of Canonization of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, what was your first reaction to Pope Francis’ recognition of the miracle?
Fr. Sangalli: I had a great joy in my heart and a strong gratitude to the Lord, to the Holy Father and to all who have worked for this ‘case’, who were many… I wanted to truly thank God because it is He who is the source and origin of all holiness. In this case, a holiness that grows in the first cell of society, that is the family. I think it is extraordinary to see that within this human story of the Martin Spouses, there is a great history of God with them, with humanity. They give witness that the conjugal and marital experience is not an obstacle to holiness, but rather that two spouses who love each other can become saints.
ZENIT: What meaning does Louis and Zelie’s canonization take on, in light of the Synod in October, dedicated to the theme of the family?
Fr. Sangalli: It testifies that holiness permeates all stages of life and that there are no difficulties that cannot be overcome. The Martin Spouses have lived a conjugal life for 19 years, until Louis lost his wife to breast cancer and remained a widower. Already this enduring marriage was a sign, because the couple lived in France in a time that was very different from ours, but where you could already obtain a divorce, civil unions already existed…Thus, Louis and Zelie made a Christian choice they carried out consistently, despite the difficulties of work, of the education of children, even the difficulties they faced among themselves, in their relationship. Nevertheless, they always put God in first place! This is the example they transmit today: the Martin family – who today the Church sanctifies – have faced all under God’s gaze, placing Jesus Christ in the first place of every situation, both of joy and anguish, always certain of this great embrace of the Lord and that with His help would be able to do anything, and overcome any difficulty. After all, this is what happens when God is active, when God lives inside a family, when He is received and when there is an aspect of obedience, of discipleship.
ZENIT: What can you tell us about the miracle approved by the Pope yesterday?
Fr. Sangalli: It is the healing of a child born prematurely and that, sometime after, suffered a 4th degree brain hemorrhage. This, together with other infectious complications that occurred earlier, predicted the unfortunate outcome of this birth. The parents were already preparing the funeral celebrations. The doctors were all negative, even in the case in which the girl would be saved, because they said that she would suffer grave psychological and neurological consequences. The father and mother of this girl then entrusted themselves to St. Therese’s parents, at the suggestions of some nuns who they turned to. Even the nuns prayed to the Martin’s for the healing of this little one, and they all surrounded her with their love. Then the miracle happened! After having begun a time of constant prayer, the situation was resolved in a short period of time. The doctors were totally amazed…Not only that: 5-6 years after her healing, the girl has not suffered any of the consequences that the doctors feared, she is completely healthy like all girls of her age.
ZENIT: Louis and Zelie are the first couple ever in history to be raised together to the honor of the altars. What does this event represent for the Church and also for today’s world?
Fr. Sangalli: It means that in today’s Church, marriage is elevated to a great dignity. Already Christ elevated the love between a man and a woman as a sacrament, which is sign of love for the Church. As Saint Paul says: the mystery that exists between the union of man and woman is the pround image of the love between Christ and His Church. And the same Church, now canonizing these spouses, shows that marriage has the dignity of a vocation, of a calling. The spouses are invested with the authority from God to start a family, they become “rich” in Christ. It is therefore a very strong message, especially for today’s youth, in a moment in which marriage is undermined in its essence and in its understanding. The Church reaffirms the integrity of marriage, the great vocation, the great sign that is marriage. Therefore, it show that there is a “work of couples”, first as a engaged, then as newlyweds and finally as parents, step by step. Everything is a path to holiness, not simply a human path, a human achievement, but a grandiose project that God has entrusted to spouses. In which, from the time of engagement they walk together and together they must care one for the other, of the sanctity of both. Hopefully, the canonization of this first couple, will bring forth others…