|Interview on the Beatification of Thérèse
By Miriam Díez i Bosch
ROME, 25 NOV. 2008 (ZENIT)
As if to emphasize that marriage is a
vocation to holiness, the Church will commemorate the feast of Blesseds
Louis Martin and Marie-Zélie Guérin, St. Thérèse's parents, on their
The Martins were beatified last month in Lisieux, the second married
couple the Church has raised together to the altar.
ZENIT spoke with Eva Carlota Rava, a consecrated virgin and spiritual
theology professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, about the
beatification and what it means for married couples around the world.
Q: What is the meaning of the beatification of the parents of a young
Rava: We must first clarify
as has been done on several occasions
that the basis of Thérèse's parents' beatification is not their
daughter's holiness but the heroic virtues they lived in their lives as
spouses and parents.
However, the beatification of the Martin spouses manifests the
importance of the family environment and the concrete education given,
for the formation of the children
an integral education sealed by the life of faith, undoubtedly
transmitted with words, but above all by daily example. If, as Pius XI
said, Thérèse is "the greatest saint of modern times," this is explained
in part by the extraordinary father and mother she had.
Q: You were in Lisieux on the day of the beatification. What can you
tell us about that festive moment as compared to other beatifications
you have attended?
Rava: I was given the grace of being able to go to Lisieux for the
beatification and I think the joy of that day will remain forever in
those who were present. Although I have participated in other
beatifications, it was always in Rome. This was the first time I could
attend one in the blessed's place of origin, and that made it more
What impressed me most was the family atmosphere of that day: There were
people from very different places and continents, not only from Europe
but also from Africa and Asia
all united by their common devotion to Thérèse and her parents, as well
as many young people and married couples with their children. It seemed
to be the celebration of one great family. Added to this is the fact it
was a brilliant day, mild, really spring-like, as Thérèse would have
Q: Why are there few lay and married saints?
Rava: During the first centuries of the Church there were laypeople,
young people of different professions, families recognized as saints
such as St. Cecilia, her husband Valerian and her brother-in-law; or St.
Vitalis and his wife St. Valeria and their sons, Gervase and Protase,
However, in the course of the centuries, though holiness was always a
universal vocation, in pastoral practice withdrawal from the world was
favored, and the practice of the evangelical counsels of chastity,
poverty and obedience, and the profession of these as the state of
The layman, to the degree that he is immersed in the world and has
obligations of a temporal character, seemed relegated to a less exacting
and committed Christianity.
In the history of spirituality, it is only with St. Francis of Sales
and later St. Thérèse herself that in the pastoral order, holiness was
increasingly a universal call addressed to all and accessible to all.
This is the "novelty" of Vatican II.
Beginning with Pope John Paul II's pontificate, the Church became
increasingly interested in promoting the causes of laypeople who lived
their Christian faith by assuming all their temporal commitments in a
I believe this explains in part the small number of [lay] saints and
Q: What positive influence might the model of the Martin spouses
Rava: In general, blesseds and saints are remembered in the liturgy
on the day of their death. With the beatification of the Martin spouses,
the Church has established for the first time that the commemoration of
these spouses not be the day of their death, but of their marriage. With
this I understand that the Church wishes to point out the importance of
marital union as a way of sanctification and source of elevation of
Although the Martins lived in a historic time and circumstances that
are very different from our own, their experience is an example for us
in many aspects.
Above all, they teach us the truth of Jesus' words: "Seek first the
Kingdom of God and his justice and all the rest will be given unto you."
Indeed, they experienced the happiness of profound and generous spousal
and family Christian love and had the fortitude necessary to face all
the sacrifices. Although they suffered the loss of four small children,
the difficulties and demands of indispensable work to support the
family, and serious illnesses
she died of cancer at 46 and her husband, then widowed, suffered from
love, trust and gratitude among them and toward God always prevailed.
Also an example for us is the way they were able to reconcile and
face the demands of often exhausting work with the family, educating
each one of their children with loving and firm dedication in religious
practice to overcome all obstacles.
Moreover, the Martin spouses show that the family is not an ambit
closed in on itself but open to others. They showed solicitude and help
to all those who entered into contact with them; women laborers who
worked for the family business, the domestic servants, the city's poor.
In addition, they gave witness of their Christian spirit by living the
harsh moments of the Franco-German war when it affected Alencon and its
surroundings, with patriotism and compassion, free of hatred.
Louis Martin and Marie-Zélie Guérin can give light and strength to
Christian spouses and parents to make their marital life a source of joy
and a way of holiness. They give witness to the fact that, when the
Christian family is animated by reciprocal love it is the ambit where
parents and children
can grow and develop to the point of attaining holiness and thus make an
irreplaceable contribution to society and the Church.