The family of Louis and Zelie – Letter #32
December 13, 2019
“I can tell you that Thérèse, my little Queen, as I call her, for she’s a fine-looking girl I assure you, – is completely recovered; the numerous prayers finally took Heaven by storm and God in his goodness saw fit to give in.”
Louis Martin to Mr. François-Julien Nogrix, Lisieux, 1883
The saints, beings cut from the same cloth as we…
How many times during a visit to the sanctuary of the Martin family in Alençon, some pilgrims remark that “the saints are exceptional beings, that they are not like us.” Upon closer inspection, we discover them rather cut from the same cloth as we, especially with regard to the childhood wounds that scarred them, from which they had to be cured or from which they had to deal with gracefully.
This is especially true for Saint Zelie, who tells us that she suffered in her youth from her mother’s severity and her preference for her younger brother, Isidore, to the extent of her confessing that this time was for her “sad as a shroud.”
What is true for the mother is also true for Thérèse. Not that she experienced a lack of love, one could almost say that in her case it was the opposite. Rather her wound was losing family members she loved. She lost her mother, who passed away from cancer at the age of 46, and then her sister Pauline, for whom she displayed fond affection. This sister leaves her to enter Carmel, without having sufficiently prepared her for this departure, when Thérèse was only ten years old. And we know the consequences: Thérèse, hitherto very outgoing, closes in on herself and becomes sensitive to an excessive extent, particularly between Easter and Pentecost 1883 suffering from a “strange disease” (tremors, anxieties, hallucinations…) that doctors today call “posttraumatic stress disorder.” This situation reveals that Thérèse had not properly mourned her mother’s loss and instead kept within her this anxiety of being abandoned.
The first cure
The family prayed and prayed for her and put her in the Buissonnets room where they had a statue of the Virgin Mary. In her despair, Thérèse turns to Mary, praying to her with all her heart. All of a sudden, the Blessed Virgin seems so beautiful to her and her lovely smile, she confides, penetrates her to the depths of her soul. (Autobiographical manuscripts at 31r °)
The Christmas present
This was the beginning of a healing that took another three years before it was complete on Christmas Eve, 1886. Returning home tired from Midnight Mass, Mr. Martin makes it clear that it is time for Thérèse, now 13 years old, to stop her childish practice of putting shoes in the fireplace. “Fortunately, it’s the last year!” Thérèse, still hyper sensitive, goes up to her room but represses her tears as she quickly goes up the stairs having found, she says, at last the strength of soul that she had lost at 4 and a half years. “I felt the need to forget myself to please others and since then I was happy… .” “In that night when He became weak and suffered for my love, He made me strong and courageous.” (MA, A 45r °)
Recalling some time before her death what happened to her that night, she speaks of her conversion: “Today, I was thinking of my past life, about the courageous act I performed formerly at Christmas, and the praise directed to Judith came into my mind: ‘You have acted with virile courage, and your heart has been strengthened.’ Many souls say: I don’t have the strength to accomplish this sacrifice.’ Let them do, then, what I did: exert a great effort! God never refuses that first grace that gives one the courage to act; afterwards, the heart is strengthened and one advances from victory to victory.” (Last interviews-yellow notebook August 8, 1897)
Paths for our meditation and prayer, personal or with others:
- Address the wounds that mark our history and are sometimes transmitted from one generation to the next – the wounds we would like to have healed or with which we have to deal – what does it mean for us?
- For Thérèse, we see with her family that this healing is a slow process, that it is accomplished in stages. The first stage comes supernaturally through prayer, and the next surprisingly is a result of a phrase that she calls into question. How do we experience the judgments expressed by our family members, as well as by those in our professional and social environments? Do we know how to hear them? Do we give them time to bear fruit?
- Thérèse is aware that what happened at Christmas is a grace, a gift from Christ who assumes our weakness to give us strength … And at the same time, she does not hide that this grace required courage on her part. Christmas is coming. For what grace or conversion do we ask – both for ourselves and for those around us?
- Finally, to nourish our personal or communal prayer:
Let us meditate, for example, on the manner:
- in which the Feast of Christmas first reaches the poorest: Luke 2: 8-14
- which the Virgin Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart: Luke 2, 15-20
- or another passage of Scripture that comes to mind
And let prayer enfold us all!
You can count on the prayers of the sanctuary of Louis and Zélie in Alençon.
Fr Thierry Hénault-Morel,
Rector of the Shrine of Louis et Zélie in Alençon
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