Paradoxically, Louis and Zelie Martin each at first believed themselves called to the consecrated life, then entered into a marriage that was extraordinarily fruitful for souls, next gave birth to five daughters, all of whom embraced the consecrated life, and finally, thanks be to God, gave the world their youngest daughter, St. Therese of Lisieux, the consecrated virgin who has inspired countless women and men in every state of life "to love Jesus and to make Him loved."
As the Year for Consecrated Life begins today, note that, while Louis and Zelie entered wholeheartedly into their lives as lay persons, they continued to esteem the religious life highly. Zelie retained a keen affection for her sister Marie-Louise, a nun of the Visitation, and had a close friendship with the Poor Clares in Alencon. She belonged to an association of Christian mothers that met at their monastery, met with the secular Franciscans there, and confided in the nuns when she and her family needed prayers for a special intention: when her brother needed to pass the test for his pharmacist's license, or when one of her children was ill. Zelie also worked closely with the nuns of the Refuge and the local priests to free little Armandine V. from an abusive situation.
Louis held priests in such high regard that he would not presume to socialize with them casually, but he entertained his parish priest formally once a year and gave a dinner for the clergy when one of his daughters received the habit or made her religious vows. Priests were often his companions when he went on pilgrimage, and, when he went fishing, he usually gave his catch to one of the local communities of nuns.
In addition to showing their respect for religious and offering their friendship, Louis and Zelie supported various congregations generously. Louis (followed later by his brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin) was the chief benefactor of the Lisieux Carmel, offering his daughters with generous dowries, giving large sums of money at other times, giving food, flowers, fish, religious artefacts . . . It is evident that the life of the Martin family was enriched by the relationships Louis and Zelie maintained with priests and religious, and that the religious communities, too, were enriched. Pope Francis's Letter for the Year of Consecrated Life makes an appeal to the whole church that reminds me of the gift Louis and Zelie were to religious:
So I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women. I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church. Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.
In the Western world especially, where the numbers of women and men in religious life have diminished and the population of religious is aging, religious communities are in speical need of the partnership of the lay persons they have served. Thinking, on the First Sunday of Advent, of how we can imitate Blessed Louis and Zelie in the friendship, confidence, and generosity they showed to the religious of their time, it struck me that, when purchasing gifts (and items for ourselves), we can select items that support religious communities in the contemplative witness of their lives of prayer and in their service to the poor. If the Spirit leads you to explore that option, please see my page of gifts that support religious communities.
Please also see "How Can Louis and Zelie Martin Help Us in Our Prayer for Vocations Today?" - a conference by Mgr Jacques Habert, bishop of Seez, the diocese in which Louis and Zelie spent their marriage.