A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Marriage Leads to Heaven

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 wedding anniversary.

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 saint?

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 intimate.

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 liked.

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, martyrs.

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 perfection.

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 heroic way.

I believe this explains in part the small number of [lay] saints and blesseds.

Q: What positive influence might the model of the Martin spouses bring?

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 society.

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 cerebral arteriosclerosis 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 everyone parents and children can grow and develop to the point of attaining holiness and thus make an irreplaceable contribution to society and the Church.
 

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