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My Dear Spiritual Family,

This week we encounter not one Saint but a family of Saints. Thérèse of Lisieux, that powerful Doctor of the Church who reframed our spirituality by her doctrine of humble confidence and comes from a family of holy folk. Her parents, Louie and Zelie Martin were canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis. The same year the process began to discern the canonization of one of her elder sisters, Léonie Martin, now a Servant of God.

Pauline was the first sister to enter the Carmel of Lisieux. Three sisters followed: Louise, Thérèse and Celine. By contrast, Leonie sought out religious life several times but never remained in the convent. She finally gained the confidence to enter with the Visitation Sisters in 1899, two years after Therese had passed. She took the name Françoise-Thérèse, in memory of her baby sister Therese, who had taught her through letters the way of confidence and love. Léonie is sometimes known as the “difficult sister” but does not mean that folks with challenging personalities are not called to be saints.

Louie dreamed of becoming a monk but struggled to learn Latin and ended up as a watchmaker. Zelie wanted to become a nun as well, but health issues prevented her acceptance, so she became a lacemaker. They fell in love and were married only three months later. From the beginning they also sought to consecrate their family to God and to raise up holy children that would serve Him. Bringing nine children into the world, only five reached adulthood. Louie and Zelie knew tragedy and struggle. Louie kept his desire for prayer and meditation strong; he even made a little prayer room for himself high up in the attic. His daughters could enter only if they wished to discuss spiritual matters and self-examination. Zelie Martin died young, in 1877, at the age of 45 of breast cancer. Louie lived to 70 and passed in 1894. In his final years, he suffered from strokes and needed regular medical attention.

Thérèse proved uniquely fertile ground for the graces of God. She blossomed early under the warm rays of God’s abundant graces, entering Carmel at the age of 15. Now she belongs to a unique cadre of Saints, the 36 Doctors of the Church. Thérèse defined sanctity thus: “A disposition of the heart which makes us humble and small in the arms of God, conscious of our weakness, and confident to the point of audacity in the goodness of our Father.” That is a beginning we can all embrace.

In this short sketch, we only catch a glimpse. But we appreciate the hand of God at work in each of their lives, and yet it is never the same. Our Good God blesses, guides, encourages and admonishes each of us as He sees fit. Each creation is a unique instrument chosen and blessed for a particular mission here on earth. Our first task is to be open to his transformative grace, to throw ourselves confidently into the arms of God.

We can be certain that Thérèse learned that lesson first from her dear Papa Louie, who was such a good and trustworthy man who sacrificed for his family. And let’s not forget Zelie, who wrote once: “I want to become a saint; it will not be easy at all. I have a lot of wood to chop and it is as hard as stone. I should have started sooner, while it was not so difficult; but in any case ‘better late than never.’” And with Léonie we can concur: better late than never. Today can be the beginning of a great adventure!

Yours in the Holy Family,
Fr. Wilson

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