"The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother."
Recently I posted that I was under the weather and reading a fascinating book comprised of the letters of our beloved Therese's mother and father from St. Pauls/Alba House. I wrote that I was disappointed that the book was coming to an end, because the stories of the Martin family were so amusing and heartfelt.
Let me be very clear: I rarely gush over books, but if you have a devotion to St. Therese or her holy parents, beatified in 2008, you must read this book. I adore Therese, but I also find her mother quite loveable and inspiring. The more I read her letters to her daughters Marie and Pauline at boarding school, her brother Isidore, and his wife Celine, the more I got to know this wonderful mother of the Little Flower. Her letters made me laugh, made me cry, and made me shake my head in awe at the disciplined, sorrowful, joyful, and holy life she led. I also found, if I may be so bold, that out we have a few things in common, Blessed Zelie and me. We share the always awesome, sometimes challenging, and always holy apostolate of motherhood. We have the excitement of running our own businesses: she the owner of a successful business dedicated to Alencon lace, and me a Catholic publishing company. We both felt divinely inspired to start these businesses, hearing a distinct Voice urging us on our paths. "See to the making of Alencon lace," God told Bl. Zelie. "You could do that," God told me inside a bookstore.
Oh, and then there are the frogs! I laughed so hard when she wrote the following amusing story to Marie and Pauline, which I will share here from page 142:
"And now I must tell you something else, although the end of the story isn't very nice and testifies to a very bad attitude among the people.
So, recently something peculiar happened to a woman whose carriage was parked across from our house in front of the Prefecture. The coachman was dressed in magnificent livery, completely trimmed with fur. A badly dressed man carrying a cloth bag in his hand happened to be passing by. He stopped a moment to look at the coachman, then the woman in the coach. He headed for the open door of the coach, untied his bag and emptied the contents onto the woman's lap.
Immediately, she began to let out terrible screams. The coachman quickly came to help her, and passersby came running. They saw this woman doubled over in a panic and, on top of her, about twenty frogs. She even had them on her head. In other words, she was covered with them!
The malicious man watched her struggle. When the police commissioner came and asked him why he would do such a thing, he said calmly, 'I just caught these frogs to sell, but seeing this aristocrat with her coachman all covered in fur, I preferred to give her a good fright rather than sell my frogs.' They took him to jail, and he certainly deserved it!
I'm sure you're going to say, 'If anyone did such a thing to Mama, she would die!' That very well could be because you know my irrational fear of frogs!"
I had quite a chuckle over that, I must tell you. For I, too, have an irrational fear of frogs! I could have given Bl. Zelie a big hug at that moment.
And that's how I felt the entire time I read this book of her heartfelt letters to her family. For, through her joys and sorrows (and she had many sorrows as she lost her children to death, as well as the ups and downs of her business and finally, her horrible yet brave struggle with breast cancer) she kept her sense of humor and her faith in God, and wrote more than once that she wanted what God wanted for her during these devastating trials.
"Don't worry about me. I'm not worrying at all, and I'm putting everything in God's hands."
In this, Bl. Zelie has a powerful, loving message for all of us.
The graces she showed while suffering, the forgiveness she offered freely, the love she poured out on her husband, children, and neighbors—these things are all shown abundantly in her letters, and they are a true treasure to read.
I also enjoyed the little anecdotes of Little Therese, who she wrote "gets emotional very easily," and says, "This dear little one makes our happiness. She'll be good, and we can already see the seed. She speaks of nothing but God and wouldn't miss saying her prayers for anything. I wish you could see her recite her little stories. I've never seen anything so cute."
But lest we think Little Therese was a perfect angel, her mother is here to assure us that she, too, had her ups and downs. In a letter to Therese's older sister Pauline, she writes on page 245:
"Therese is still the same little imp. She often speaks of Pauline and says she's very annoyed not to see her returning from Le Mans. This evening she thought that we were going to wait for you at the station because your father went out to take Marie to Mademoiselle Pauline's house. She put up a struggle 'to go get Pauline, too.' "
Also, there are the tired sighs of a good mother at the end of a long day with her active children (page 304):
"I think I'm going to have to abandon my letter until this evening, when they've all gone to bed, since one can't have a moment's rest here. I'm sure that all of the boarding school students at the Visitation Monastery combined couldn't make as much noise. It's a good thing I have the ears for it!"
The book also includes fourteen letters from Bl. Louis, the doting, adoring husband and father, who was funny, loving, and holy in his correspondence to his daughters.
"Give, give always and make some people happy," he wrote to them, as well as, ""The thought of your mother follows me constantly."
Everyone with a devotion to St. Therese should read these most intimate thoughts of her parents. We are so blessed to have these letters available to welcome us into the home life of the Martin family. Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin have much wisdom to share. These are people who were entirely devoted to God, the Church, their family, and their community.
Even while dying, the selflessness and thoughts of others were on Bl. Zelie's heart: "The Poor Clares are also going to start a novena," she wrote on page 280, "but I don't like asking for prayers for myself because it would be better for me if it was for the intentions of others."
A Call to a Deeper Love is a call to all of us to accept whatever God brings in our lives with complete trust and confidence in Him. What greater role models than these two extraordinary human beings, the parents of great saint and Doctor of the Church St. Therese? In this intimate book of letters, we see firsthand what Bl. Louis called "the intimate happiness of the family, and it's this beauty that brings us closer to Him."
A Call To A Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus 1863-1885
translated by Ann C. Hess
Guy Gaucher, Auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux and the Sisters of Lisieux (preface, notes, and overall presentation of the text)
ISBN-10 0-8189-1321-5 464 pages $29.95
For more information and to order the book, visit http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/