The family of Louis and Zelie – Letter #39
July 13, 2020
I intend to make sure you have a good vacation
“My dear Pauline[…]The beautiful days are here, and that makes us want to roam. Even I feel the need for it and often say to myself that if I didn’t have the Alençon (Alençon lace made by the Martin family) lace holding me back, I’d go to the countryside every day with my children. I intend to make sure you have a good Easter vacation. Often we’ll go for walks, which will do you good. You’ll need a lot of exercise.” Zelie, CF 157, March 26, 1876
You need a lot of exercise
If the athleticism of Louis Martin is well known, these lines from Zélie reveal to us his wife’s desire for exercise. In the absence of jogging, walking was a common practice at that time. For example, you had to walk 16 km round trip to visit Thérèse at her nurse’s home. But more than merely walking, it is going on excursions with others that St. Zelie desires.
The quarantine has deepened in us also such a desire to find ourselves and a need to open our eyes to what surrounds us in the year of the fifth anniversary of the encyclical Laudato si, which encourages us to contemplate our relationship with the universe in which we live.
 “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good.”
The “places whose memories do us a lot of good” are very important, as in the case of the Martin family, the countryside and the forests around Alençon. Thérèse praises these places in her autobiographical manuscript, The Story of a Soul: “I can still feel the deep and poetic impressions that were born in my soul at the sight of fields of wheat covered with blueberries and country flowers.” (Ms A 11v °)
These are the impressions that the « Impressionists » knew how to render on their canvases at that time, such as Claude Monet’s painting Les Coquelicots [Poppies Blooming], 1873.
The places whose memory makes us feel good – St. Zélie evokes them in her correspondence on the occasion of Pauline’s return from boarding school, mentioning to her that they will be going “on several outings to the country, among others, to the forest” (CF 214 July 15, 1877) or taking “this shady path that mom loves so much” (says Marie) and which was very often the way that the family took on their Sunday walk.
Not to walk around but to be with you
To her brother who worries that she will not be completely available to organize outings for her sister who visits her, Zélie replies: “My intention is not to walk; if there was only that motive, I wouldn’t be celebrating as much; it is to be with you.” (CF 22, May 3, 1867). This primacy of a relationship over leisure is expressed from time to time in her correspondence. More often than not, rather than opposing one another, leisure is at the service of a relationship.
What about us, members of « the family of Louis and Zélie »?
In the countries where the quarantine has been lifted, the invitation to go on holiday to a certain location can provide a taste of simple joys … or going perhaps to enjoy the “green holiday” that this year is being offered at the Sanctuary of Alençon.
But throughout this summer, we cannot forget all those who will read this letter in countries still very much affected by the virus. Before they possess complete freedom of movement, they can be assured of our communion in heart and prayer.
Evangelical mediation taken from Laudato si: the gaze of Jesus (number 97)
The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder. As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things: “Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (Jn 4:35). “The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but once it has grown, it is the greatest of plants” (Mt 13:31-32).
Paths for our meditation and prayer, personal or with others
- What place, including in our spiritual life, do we have for the contemplation of nature?
- In our concern to reorder our lives in the aftermath of the quarantine, what primacy do we give to relationships?
To nourish our personal or communal prayer
We can take up The Canticle of the Sun that St. Louis Martin particularly liked or else meditate on this extract from the final prayer in Laudato Si.
A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
You can count on the prayers of the sanctuary of Louis and Zélie in Alençon.
Fr. Thierry Hénault-Morel, rector of the sanctuary