Cheryl Thompson, organizer of the Sanctifying Families conference, spoke on the example of Louis and Zélie Martin at a conference that honoured newly canonized saints Zélie and Louis Martin Photo by Deborah Gyapong

New saints role models to family

  • October 22, 2015

OTTAWA - On the eve of Zélie and Louis Martin’s canonization Oct. 18, Ottawa parents, some already devoted to the new saints, took part in a conference on sanctifying families.

“There are innumerable attacks on the family as God designed it, and our times and marriages cry out for examples of holiness, to help us to sanctify our own families,” Cheryl Thompson, one of the Oct. 16-17 conference organizers, told the approximately 200 people, mostly young families, present. “I love that Pope Francis is canonizing a married couple,” Thompson said in a talk describing the lives of the Martins, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower” and Doctor of the Church. The Martins are the first married couple to be canonized together. “Although I am sincerely grateful for the holiness and example of many great saints, if the Church canonized only popes, or Mother Teresas, who among us could relate, in our day-to-day lives?” Thompson asked.“Louis and Zélie were normal people, as normal as you or me, and they were by no means perfect,” she said. “Yet in the normalcy of daily life, they found ways to attain personal holiness, to overcome trials and suffering, and to lead their children to holiness as well.”

Thompson outlined how Louis and Zélie both worked in addition to raising their family, he as a watchmaker and she as a producer of fine lace. They also experienced much suffering, especially through the loss of four children, three in infancy, one daughter at age five. Zélie died of breast cancer at the young age of 45, leaving Louis alone to raise their remaining five daughters, all of whom entered cloistered life, a huge sacrifice for their father.

The Martins “lived out the Church’s teaching heroically,” Thompson said, noting with their canonization, “they will become universal examples of how to be a Christian husband and wife, father and mother.”

David and Theresa McPike shared their personal witness of “Flowers from the Martin Family.” Married for 10 years, the parents of five, their “world was turned upside down” when their eldest child Naomi Therese died an accidental death at age five.

“It was the worst and most grace-filled moment of my life,” said Theresa.

A week or two before Naomi’s death, Thompson had given her a book, A Call to a Deeper Love, featuring the correspondence of the Martin family. The Martins had suffered the loss the McPike’s were experiencing four times, Theresa said. Like the Martins, though sorrowing, they abandoned themselves “to God’s holy will.”

“Our loss and pain didn’t hurt our family; it made it even stronger,” she said. “As heartbreaking as it is, it gives me a true goal — Heaven.”

She admitted perhaps she will be “more excited to see Naomi than Jesus” in Heaven. Through their suffering, their children’s suffering at losing a sister, and they “accept” it, even if they wish it had never happened.

“This soul-wracking experience” deepened their understanding of themselves as children of God and of the Catholic Church, David said.

“The Church is the place to foster the birth and growth of saints,” he said, “to prepare them to be filled with God, loving mercy, justice and love.”

Keynote speakers Rita and Gerard McCarthy, founders of the St. John’s, Nfld.-based Marriages for Mary apostolate, spoke on God’s divine plan for marriage and on families’ mission to love.

So many confuse love with a feeling, on “what you are getting, not what we’re giving,” said Rita. Jesus calls us to love one another “as I have loved you.”

The McCarthy’s said they have tried to intentionally live out unconditional, merciful and sacrificial love in their marriage.

God gives us a love that is undeserved, Rita said.

“Real love knows how to love those who don’t deserve it at the time. At times I don’t deserve to be loved by this man.”

She pointed out Jesus was merciful; “He forgave and He would forget.”

“Mercy is critical in marriage, day in and day out,” she said. “Family life offers so many opportunities for mercy.”

“We must never give up on one another,” said Gerard. “Even if she burns the roast or shrinks up your shirt.”

The message of “No matter what, we are together,” sends a message of the indissolubility of marriage, he said.

As for sacrificial love, to follow Jesus’ example, “we literally have to love each other to the point of death, letting go of our own agendas to love sacrificially,” Rita said. “Letting go of our own agendas to love sacrificially, being intentional on this is really hard.”

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It was truly a blessed event!! It was very faith building to hear about Zelie and Louis Martin and to hear some witness stories from Canadian Couples. Thanks for reporting on this.

Claudia Francis
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