The family of Louis and Zelie – Letter #30
October 13, 2019
Appointed rector of the sanctuary of the Martin family in Alençon in September, I have read with admiration the letters of the 13th written by Guy Fournier, who has served as administrator during the past year. I know how much you appreciate them. I even think that some of you find yourselves meditating over them. Eager to learn, I have written this 30th letter, relying only on your indulgence. As Guy remains at the Shrine, I will try to take advantage of his advice!
The Desires for a Child
“As for me, I’m crazy about children, I was born to have them, but it will soon be time for that to be over. I’ll be forty-one years old the twenty-third of this month, old enough to be a grandmother.” Zélie to her sister-in-law, Mme Guérin, December 15, 1872, CF 83
In this month of October when we celebrate the feast of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, how can we not rethink this reflection of her mother a fortnight before her birth? After having given birth to eight children and having lost four, one can be impressed by this love of life that Zélie shows and her desires for a child.
She is not naïve, however, and fears the gastroenteritis that at the time afflicts infants who cannot be fed by their mother. Not benefiting from strong immune defenses, they are vulnerable to cow’s milk, which is not yet pasteurized. It will continue to be so until the decade following the birth of Thérèse. Zélie may dream to feed her child, but she knows that since the birth of Marie-Helene she cannot do it anymore. Thérèse was born on January 2, appearing « very strong and very healthy, » and so Zélie remains hopeful.
But two months later, to save the child’s life, Louis and Zélie Martin, at the advice of Dr. Belloc, turn for assistance to Rose Taillé, a nurse whom they appreciate but who previously could not prevent the death of Joseph-Louis, the eldest of their boys. The test of this couple is not sterility but the difficulty, at the time, to raise their children at a young age.
With Psalm 139, let us give thanks for the wonder that we are
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” Ps 139 (138), 13-14. The believer gives thanks for the wonder that is man and the creative activity of God. But he is aware of the fragility of existence and the need for real solidarity in order for life to flourish and develop. The family alone, on certain days, cannot suffice. Thérèse will remain for 13 months in the care of the nanny, outside of her home, before being able to return.
Let us give ourselves the time…
- to remember, in our personal circumstances and that of those around us, the people and events that have allowed for the flourishing of life.
- and to welcome these testimonials given to us which contribute to building us up internally.
Personally, by evoking today the desire for a child so strongly expressed by Zélie, I think back to this couple that belonged to the parish of which I was the priest until these last days. Walking to Mont-Saint-Michel, and before returning to the road in the morning, they told me the intention that made them make this pilgrimage.
“We have been married for ten years, and we have been unable to have children. What we ask the Lord, through the intercession of St. Michael, is to have the happiness to welcome this or if this is not the case, to discover what will be the fertility of our union.”
To discover what can be the fruitfulness of our lives …
In the debates that consume our society in these days, does not this deep desire for fruitfulness express itself? Even sometimes in a radical way? Let’s take this to prayer.
To pray, we can repeat these words that conclude the encyclical of St. John Paul II, Evangelium vitae. They are addressed to the Virgin Mary.
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospelas a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.
You can count on the prayers from the sanctuary of Louis and Zélie in Alençon.
Fr Thierry Hénault-Morel,
Rector of the Shrine of Louis et Zélie in Alençon
Thank you for your missionary spirit by distributing this letter and by sending us addresses of people you think will appreciate receiving it. This letter can be distributed on paper, recommended to your friends and relatives, and your parish priest …