In his Angelus address on Sunday, December 28, 2014, the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis spoke of how, when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple, Jesus brought them together with the elderly Simeon and Anna, both of whom had the prophetic gift of recognizing Jesus as Messiah. He continued:
In a time and a culture when the rapid evolution of technology often makes me feel distant from those of younger generations, I am happy to be reminded that Jesusbrings the generations together and happy to hear the Pope speaking of how important the grandparents and the elderly, and good relationships between the young and the old, are for families and for society. By learning wisdom from the experienced, the young are saved from making several lifetimes worth of mistakes; by finding that the young want to accompany them and learn from them, elders are saved from being discarded as useless.
Brother Mickey McGrath's icon above of the "Extended Holy Family" captures this truth in art; it is a beautiful way to honor one's own grandparents and to remember that Jesus, like us, was not the fruit solely of a nuclear family but of generations of life and faith.
Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin lived powerfully in the context of their extended family. Louis Martin's four siblings all died before his 30th birthday. Louis shared a home with his parents and, together with them, adopted his nephew, Adolphe Leriche, when Mme. Leriche, Louis's sister, died. From the day of their marriage in 1858 Louis and Zelie shared a home with Louis's parents on the Rue Pont-Neuf (each couple having their own space in the house). In 1865, Zelie's widowed father was living in a house near them. He thought of leaving that house to move back to Zelie's girlhood home on the rue Saint-Blaise (the house where Therese was later born), but Zelie, convinced that he needed her care, tactfully persuaded him to stay in the same neighborhood with her. "I pointed out that I couldn't do without him and that he was a great help to me. in other words, I begged him to stay. My husband joined me." Later, when she could no longer find him good servants, she asked her brother Isidore to help her persuade their father to move into the Martin home:
A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, 1863-1885. Staten Island, New York: Society of St. Paul, pp. 24-25.
When, after Zelie's death, Louis moved with his daughters to Lisieux, his mother preferred not to leave Alencon, so he entrusted her to Rose Taille, the country woman who had been Therese's wet nurse, but he returned to Alencon to visit her every three months until her death in 1883. Zelie's letters also show the lifelong love she and Louis showed in word and in deed to her sister, a Visitation nun, and to her brother and sister-in-law, with whom they spent vacations. Without ever thinking themselves out of the ordinary, Louis and Zelie sustained their relationships with every member of their extended family. They offer us a powerful example of a life, a family, and a society enriched by taking personal responsibility for the extended family. May we be inspired by them not to allow our own society to degenerate into a mass of alienated individuals but to give ourselves generously to sustaining our families and, as Louis and Zelie did, to reach out to the members of the larger human family who surround us.