Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Louis and Azelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, at the conclusion of the Synod of the Family this October. For devotees of St. Therese and married couples looking for models within the Church Triumphant, this is exciting news.
Blessed Louis Martin was born on August 22, 1823 to Pierre-Francois Martin and Marie-Anne-Fanie Boureau. He was the third of five children, and all of his siblings died before they reached the age of 30. Louis wished to become a monk within the Augustinian Monastery of St. Bernard, but was rejected because he did not know Latin. He instead became a watchmaker.
Blessed Azelie Martin was born on December 23, 1831 to Isidore Guerin and Louise-Jeanne Mace. She was the middle of three children and wished to become a nun with the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Azelie was rejected because of respiratory difficulties and frequent headaches. Instead of giving up hope, she prayed to God asking Him to give her children and that they would be consecrated to Him. Azelie decided to open a lacemaking business.
In 1858, Louis and Azelie met, fell in love, and were married three months later. During the first year of their marriage, the Martins were continent. After this period, they discerned with the help of their priest that they should have children. In all, they had nine children, though only five daughters would survive childhood and become nuns. The Martins ensured that their four children who died had received a holy baptism, and so they considered these four children to be saints, asking for their intercession in their daily prayers.
Louis and Azelie were well-established. Azelie’s lacemaking business was so successful that Louis quit his job and took over the book-keeping and sales. Azelie read the newspaper and followed the stock market, an activity that is not what one ordinarily pictures from the lives of saints. Even though the Martins were financially successful, they were faithful to God and lived a pious life. The Martins went to daily Mass early each morning and took all of their children with them. They taught the children to live pious lives; they were encouraged to make sacrifices by giving up something every day, to say their prayers at the appointed times, and to give alms to the poor. In the evenings the family would get together and have religious instruction. This was a daily commitment, and they were faithful to it. Though their faith was strong, their marriage was not free from trials and tribulations.
After Azelie’s two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-week-old baby girl had died within a three-year period, Azelie was left emotionally numb. Azelie lamented “I haven’t a penny’s worth of courage.” Writing to her sister-in-law who had just lost an infant son, she wrote:
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through….People said to me, ‘It would have been better never to have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above.”
During this period of incredible tragedy, the Martins’ Catholic faith and fidelity to each other kept them going. While pregnant with Therese, Azelie was physically assaulted by Satan. Her shoulder was shoved from behind. Upon this attack, Azelie called out to God for deliverance, and the assault immediately ceased. After Therese was born, there was a question as to whether she would even survive infancy, but though Therese would die young, it was not until she had accomplished the task God had set out for her.
Azelie faced her own illness, and later died of breast cancer in 1877. Shortly thereafter, each of her surviving daughters became nuns. Four of them joined the Carmelites at Lisieux while the other joined the Visitandines at Caen. Louis suffered two strokes in 1889 and was subsequently hospitalized for three years. He was released in 1892. He traveled back to the church where he had married Azelie and he knelt down before God and offered himself up as a victim soul. From that point on, he continued having strokes as his health declined further. During this time, two of his daughters took over his care until his death two years later.
Louis and Azelie Martin’s marriage was built upon and grounded in their love of God and their mutual desire to keep His commandments. They adored Our Lord with all of their hearts and all of their souls. Some today would call their piety obsessive, but with several members of the family canonized or in the process of becoming so, their sanctity was unquestionably pleasing to God. They are a shining witness of holiness in the married life in an era where so many marriages fail, let alone lead the spouses to Heaven.
Though there have been other married couples raised to the altar, this canonization will mark the first time in Church history in which a husband and wife will be canonized together. This is a profound statement of the possibilities of marriage as a path to eternal salvation. And the message this sends is incredibly important – as an institution, marriage has historically suffered from a relative dearth of canonizations, despite being the most common state of life of the Faithful.
The timing of the canonization, however, is more puzzling. It is scheduled to take place immediately after the Synod. We know that there exist forces at the Synod of the Family who will be agitating against the Church’s long-held and infallible understanding of the Sixth Commandment and its particular application to Holy Matrimony. Would not the Church be better served by the witness and intercession of these married saints who could be invoked to watch over the Synod, pleading before God that His will be accomplished in its work?
We have heard a great deal about how those living in adulterous marriages or homosexual relationships — and who are unwilling, for various reasons, to amend their lives and avoid future sin –need mercy. But this is not the Catholic understanding of mercy. Rather, it is a false ‘mercy’, one that will give sinners a sense of permission to present themselves for Holy Communion unrepentantly. St. Paul’s teaching shows why allowing such things is not merciful at all; the consequences are terrifying:
“Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
Admonishing a sinner and preventing them from committing the sin of sacrilege is an actual spiritual work of mercy. It is not merciful to allow a person to “eat and drink judgment to himself”; true mercy would seek to prevent a soul from receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Similarly, it is not “Pharisaical” to deny Communion to those who are publicly living in mortal sin, but loving, so as to prevent them further judgment.
Unfortunately, it appears the Synod will not be discussing how we as Catholics can live authentically Catholic lives rooted in the traditions and teachings of the Church, nor will it be focusing on the example of saints like Bl. Louis and Azelie Martin, who would have been mortified to see such abuses of their Eucharistic Lord. Now more than ever, Catholics need to be reminded and inspired to live the sanctity of marriage and understand the importance of the traditional family. They need models of courage, fidelity, and virtue in the face of hardship, not a free pass to live however they want with no thought towards the consequences.
Gaining these two saints is a great blessing for the Church and for all married couples. But to delay their elevation and the invocation of their intercession ignores the urgent need for their example and influence during the Synod proceedings, where it is so desperately needed. Whatever the official date of their canonizations, Catholics should make confident recourse to Bl. Louis and Azelie as the Synod approaches. We may invoke their intervention, even if the Synod fathers do not, confident that God will hear our prayers, presented to Him by their pleading.
Bl. Louis and Azelie, please pray for us, for the Synod, and for all families!