The Family: A Treasure for Today
[A meditation on the home of the Martin family in Alençon]
translated by Gordon Henry of Vancouver, Canada
In a homily delivered in Nazareth on the 5th of January, 1965, Pope Paul VI explained what a great grace his trip to that city had been. He declared, "We are only passing through, but we shall not depart before we have gathered some lessons, in haste and, as it were, in secret." He pointed especially to the lesson of family life, of the communion of love that is the family, of its austere and simple beauty and its sacred and inviolable character; how precious and irreplaceable is the formation that we receive within the family.
No one who visits the family home of the Martins at Alençon comes away unmoved or unaffected. If we follow the itinerary proposed in the course of this visit, we too shall receive a true lesson in family life.
Communion Between Persons
In fact, one of the things that we sense from a visit to this home is the communion of love that reigned between the people who lived here, between the two spouses, Louis and Zélie (and their letters attest to this), among their daughters and between the children and their parents. This communion of family life in no way removed them from the social, professional, or parish life, in which they were fully engaged. In his homily Paul VI spoke of the family as a school of labor.
A Place of Education
Pope Paul VI also alluded to the family as a place of formation. We will have no difficulty appreciating how the environment of the family was for the young Therese the soil in which her magnificent vocation could blossom
Paul VI, however, was a realist, and called attention to the fact that we can be tempted to become children again in order to return to the school of Nazareth without really incorporating "the echo that reverberates in the souls of the people of the 20th Century." (We would say the 21st Century).
In the same way, we cannot dream of artificially reconstructing the environment of family life the Martin spouses and their children knew in the 19th century.
Don't Live in the Past
It is not a matter for us of living in a dream, in an imaginary world before our time, but of understanding that, in a given context with social and ecclesiastical conditions very different from our own, the Martins lived the reality of the family as the accomplishment of a true vocation.
Thus, in the 21st Century, which is in so many ways not conducive to the reality of the family, let us appreciate the true value of this treasure, of this humble and radiant symbol that has been entrusted to us - the home of the Martin family, the birthplace of St. Therese.
In our time, in our society, our contemporaries need to know that such a reality is possible today.
Let us seek to be the witnesses; the itinerary taken by our friends Louis and Zélie is a precious guide to help us.
+ Jacques Habert, bishop of Seez
This article appeared in French on the Web site of the Shrine at Alencon; I thank them for permission to translate and post it.