"Louis and Zélie Martin,
Patrons of the Synod on the Family?"
[translated from "Louis and Zélie Martin, patrons du synode sur la famille?" in Famille Chretienne, No. 1906 – July 26-August 1, 2014. www.famillechretienne.fr We thank the editors for their kind permission to translate and publish this article].
During his visit to Alençon and Lisieux (on July 12-13, 2014) for the feast of Louis and Zélie Martin, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops received a relic of the blessed parents of St. Thérèse.
The moment was solemn. On the evening of July 12th, the basilica of Notre Dame d'Alençon was full. At the invitation of the diocese of Séez, several dozen married couples were present to celebrate their wedding anniversaries in the very church where Louis and Zélie Martin, the blessed parents of St. Thérèse, were married in 1858.
A Relic to be honored in October
With the assembly present, all were attentive witnesses to an unexpected event: the surrender of a relic of Louis and Zélie Martin by Mgr Jacques Habert, bishop of Seez, to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. This gesture took on a very special significance less than three months before the opening, in Rome, of a synod dedicated to "the challenges facing the family, seen in the context of evangelization.” It was as though a torch had been passed and an appeal made to the Martins to aid the Church in her delicate mission toward the family.
It was the cardinal himself who "insisted very much on receiving the relic officially,” said Laurence de Valbray, the person in charge of the day and of the pilgrimage office for the Martin family at Alençon. The event reminds us that October 19th, the day the synod in Rome closes, will be the anniversary of the beatification of Louis and Zélie in 2008.
"Married and saints, why not us?"
In all probability, the relic that was received by the cardinal will be held in special honor at the synod, and it is possible that the extraordinary meeting of the synod, to be held from October 5th to 19th, 2014, will be placed under the patronage of Louis and Zélie. It would be a way to infuse a strongly spiritual atmosphere into the work of the synod, a need that is underlined by the Pope's prayer for the synod on the family. On July 13, at the foot of a big portrait of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin in the well-filled basilica at Lisieux, Cardinal Baldisseri had this prayer read out: "Holy Family of Nazareth, may the coming synod of bishops awaken in everyone the consciousness of the sacred and inviolable character of the family, its beauty in the plan of God.”
About the work of the synod, Cardinal Baldisseri slipped a few hints into his conference, "Married and saints, why not us?” delivered in good French by this prelate who spent several years in the nunciature in Paris. He began by reminding us that this synod on the family will unfold in two stages. The first (in October 2014) will “examine the many challenges that have put the family in danger.” The second (in 2015), “gathering the fruits of the first,” will “enlarge the scope of the debate” in order to “propose ways of thinking, and even solutions” to the Pope.
Broad discussions, in perspective
Of these challenges and dangers the cardinal then gave an impressive list, giving us an idea of the great range of the discussions that will take place at the Vatican among some 190 participants (presidents of episcopal conferences, members of religious orders, experts, etc.): the spread of couples living together outside marriage; unions between persons of the same sex, many of whom have been permitted to adopt children; marriages between persons of different faiths; single-parent families; polygamy; arranged marriages; caste systems; the culture of non-engagement; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; the phenomenon of migration; the reformulation of the very idea of marriage; relativistic pluralism in the concept of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in the concept of marriage and of family life; the currents of thought that inspire legislation that devalues the permanence and fidelity of the marriage bond; the phenomenon of surrogate mothers (“renting” wombs); new interpretations of human rights, or, still more, the weakening or the abandonment of faith in the sacramentality of marriage and in the therapeutic power of sacramental penance.
Absent from this list is the topic of divorced persons, notably those who have contracted a second, civil marriage. This topic, frequently portrayed in the media as being of prime importance to the synod, was deliberately "forgotten" by Cardinal Baldisseri. He explains this in the following way: "People talk a lot about this subject. Every time I give an interview, the first question concerns it, but, of the 195 points set forth in the Instrumentum Laboris (the preparatory document of the synod), only five or six relate to it. What about all the others?"
This is why the cardinal concludes by expressing the hope that everyone, notably the bishops, can help him to make a presentation of the synod on the family that is all-encompassing” and that reflects the diversity of challenges with which the family is confronted today. It is a demanding approach, for it entails “working on the whole of the issues,” some highly complex, and not merely presenting some simplistic ideas on the subjects sold by the media.
"On the bridge of Alençon"
On Saturday, July 12th, there were moments of emotion on the Bridge of Sarthe, in Alençon. Several dozen women of every age and every kind came from one side of the bridge, several dozen men from the other, and each found her or his mate . . . It was the last stage of a walk of several kilometers by husbands and wives, launched that same morning, at nine o’clock, near the house of the parents of Louis Martin, by Bishop Jacques Habert. The pilgrimage has taken place every year since 2008 on the feast of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin.
It was on this bridge that they met 156 years ago, on a beautiful spring day. Upon passing this thirty-four-year-old man, the young Zélie, 26, heard an inner voice: “This is the one I have prepared for you." Less than three months later, they were married in the basilica of Notre Dame d' Alençon. Today, the diocese of Séez and the Church of Alençon make the anniversary of the blessed couple's beatification in 2008 a privileged day for married couples, especially those who are celebrating their wedding anniversaries. It is an initiative that has enjoyed growing success, explains Laurence de Valbray, director of the pilgrimage office for the Martin family.
"The long roster of married saints"- an extract from Cardinal Baldisseri's conference at Alençon, July 12, 2014
"[There is] an impressive list of exemplary couples who were sanctified in marriage. They did not found religious orders; they did not depart as missionaries to distant lands; they did not withdraw from the world into the silence of some hermitage. They simply lived their married life as a path toward God, and, in so doing, became saints. The first couple of modern times to open this way of married sanctity was Maria and Luigi Beltrame Quattrochi [members of the comfortable middle-class who lived in Rome in the first half of the twentieth century]. Their beatification [in 2000 marked] a turning point, “historic,” so to speak, in our way of imagining sanctity. It is a path open to and achievable by all Christian couples. There are also other couples, whose causes are now open or in process, who will follow them. Men and women of prayer, they lived their Christian faith consistently. They gave themselves to the service of their neighbors, whoever they were . . . These servants of God are: Aristide Calvani and Adela Fontana; Eduardo Ortiz de Heredia and Laura Otaegui; Eugenio Balmori and Marina Francisca Cinta, to cite only a few. One holy couple, it is true, is a little more well-known, but more for their charitable works than for the saintliness of their lives, which was the lifeblood of their work: Raoul Follereau and Madeleine Boudou."
Translated by Gordon Henry of Vancouver and Maureen O’Riordan of Philadelphia. The English-language links we have added did not appear in the original article in Famille Chretienne.