A family of saints: Pope Francis canonises Louis and Zélie Martin

Pope Francis called on people to replace their thirst for power with the joy of quiet and humble service, as he proclaimed four new saints, including the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux.

All of Christ’s disciples, especially its pastors, are called to model themselves after Jesus and “suppress our instinctive desire to exercise power over others, and instead exercise the virtue of humility”.

The pope said the new saints – a Spanish religious woman, an Italian priest and the first married couple with children to be canonised together – “unfailingly served their brothers and sisters with outstanding humility and charity in imitation of the divine master”.

On World Mission Sunday on 18 October in St Peter’s Square, during the Synod of Bishops on the family, the pope created the following new saints:

Louis Martin (1823-94) and Marie Zélie Guerin Martin (1831-77), the French parents of one of the greatest saints of the modern era, St Thérèse of Lisieux. They had nine children; four died in infancy while the five surviving daughters all entered religious life. In their 19-year marriage, the couple were known to attend Mass daily, pray and fast, respect the Sabbath, visit the elderly and the sick and welcome the poor into their home.

Zélie, a lacemaker, was 45 when she died in 1877 from breast cancer, leaving her husband to raise their daughters. Louis, a jeweller and watchmaker, died in 1894. St Thérèse, died three years after her father in 1897 at the age of 24. Despite her youth, her writings about her spiritual development and life as a Carmelite led to her being officially declared a Doctor of the Church. In two millennia of Christianity only 36 people have been declared Doctors – or gifted teachers of the Faith – three of them women.

Also canonised were: Italian Fr Vincenzo Grossi (1845-1917), founder of the Institute of the Daughters of the Oratory, and Spanish Sr Maria of the Immaculate Conception (1926-1998), a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Company of the Cross.

Some 65,000 people attended the Mass, including the more than 300 cardinals, bishops and others taking part in the 4-25 October synod on the family.

Louis and Zélie Martin were the first parents of a saint to be beatified, and the first spouses in the history of the Church to be proposed for canonisation together.

However, another modern Catholic married couple has also been beatified and is awaiting possible canonisation.

The cause of Italian couple Maria (died 1965) and Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi (died 1951) was opened in 1994. In 2001, then-Pope John Paul II beatified them.

The push for the canonisation of lay saints was given impetus by Pope John Paul II, who was keen to use their examples to teach the universal call to holiness called for by Vatican II throughout the entire Church.

While his homily pointed to the new saints as inspiring examples of joyful servants who completely trusted in God, Pope Francis dedicated the bulk of his reflection to the day’s readings and the Christian meaning of authority and hierarchy.

He said the prophet Isaiah said the servant of the Lord “is not someone of illustrious lineage; he is despised, shunned by all, a man of sorrows. He does not do great things or make memorable speeches; instead he fulfils God’s plan through his humble, quiet presence and his suffering”.

It was Jesus’ life and attitude of profound service that “were the cause of our salvation and the reconciliation of mankind with God”, the pope said.
Jesus invites everyone to follow him on this same path of love and service, he said, and to “reject the worldly temptation of seeking first place and commanding others.”

“Faced with people who seek power and success, the disciples are called to do the opposite,” the pope said.

Those who exercise “genuine authority” in the Church and the Christian community are those who serve others and “lack real prestige”. Jesus calls people “to pass from the thirst for power to the joy of quiet service”, the pope said.

His teaching and example clearly show there is “no compatibility between a worldly understanding of power and the humble service, which must characterise authority”.

“Ambition and careerism are incompatible with Christian discipleship; honour, success, fame and worldly triumphs are incompatible with the logic of Christ crucified.”

Because Jesus fully shares in the human condition, with the exception of sin, he can empathise with human weaknesses, the pope said. “The fact that he is without sin does not prevent him from understanding sinners.

“Jesus exercises a true priesthood of mercy and compassion” by loving and accepting God’s children; by sharing in their weakness; by offering them “the grace which heals and restores”; and by accompanying them “with infinite tenderness amid their tribulations”, he said.

Through baptism, all Christians must share in this ministry by opening one’s heart to God in order to receive his love and charity, which is to be received not only “for ourselves, but also for others”.

Pope Francis asked families to entrust their joys, dreams and difficulties to Sts Louis and Zélie Martin; that the example of St Vincenzo be an inspiration for people dedicated to offering young people a Christian education; and that St Maria of the Immaculate Conception “help us live in solidarity and in closeness with those most in need”.- cns