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Do not deprive each other ~1 Corinthians 7:5

During the coming Synod of Bishops on the family in the Vatican from 4 to 25 October 2015, Pope Francis will canonize on 18 October Louis Martin and Marie Zelie Guerin, and declare them saints of the Catholic Church only 7 years after they were beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 October 2008. 

Louis and Zelie were married in 1858 after having known each other for only 3 months. They had 9 children, but 4 of them died in infancy. All the five daughters who survived entered religious life, including their youngest child, Marie Francoise Therese Martin, who later became known as St. Therese of Lisieux. 

Louis was a watchmaker while Zelie had a highly successful lace-making business so that later Louis would give up watch-making to assist in his wife’s business. Before they met, both tried to enter the religious life but were rejected. Zelie was turned away by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul due to respiratory difficulties and recurrent headaches and Louis by the Augustinians because he had difficulty learning Latin. 

Their successful business endowed them with some wealth and they lived comfortable lives. They remained generous with their finances and used them to raise their children and give them good education. But their family was not spared from trials and tragedies. Their two sons and a daughter died before they were a year old and another daughter when she was just five. Then just 44 years old, Zellie found that an old growth in her breast returned. Discovered too late, the cancer was inoperable and Zellie died in 1877 at an early age of 45 leaving Louis alone to raise five daughters. In 1889 Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes followed by cerebral arteriosclerosis. He died in 1894 at the age of 70. 

Many of us in the community can relate to Louis and Zelie. We know a couple where, before their marriage, the wife tried to enter religious life to become a nun but was rejected several times and the husband served as an altar boy and also considered entering the priesthood. We also know a couple who lost their son while they were on mission abroad. We also know that many in our community have their own businesses and, like Louis and Zelie, the wife’s business or the wife’s profession has become so successful that the husband works full time or “all the time” for the community, abandoning or paying little attention to their own businesses or professions. And how many wives in our community have died of or are suffering from late stage breast cancer? How many husbands have had strokes or heart by-pass surgeries, or are suffering from hypertension and other related ailments?

From the beginning, Louis and Zelie dedicated their marriage to God to the extent that they decided to remain celibate even after they were married. But at the advice of a priest friend, on the 10th month of their marriage, they understood God’s will for married persons. They changed their mind and decided to have as many children as God would give them, raise and educate them, and offer all of them to the Lord. The good priest must have advised them that God’s will for married persons was that taught by St. Paul: The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward his husband. A wife does not have authority over her body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:3-5). 

Pope John Paul II in Familiaris consortio emphasizes that “the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person.” Similarly, the greatest Church theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Catechetical Instructions writes: “There are some who say that intercourse between married persons is not devoid of sin. But this is heretical, for the Apostles say: ‘Let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled’. Not only is it devoid of sin, but for those in the state of grace it is meritorious for eternal life. When it is had with the intention of bringing forth offspring, it is an act of virtue. When it is had with the intent of rendering mutual comfort, it is an act of justice.” 

Marriage is our Christian vocation. It is also a sacrament. As such it is a memorial, actuation and prophecy. As a memorial, it is intended to preserve the memory of God’s creative power, his covenant with mankind, and the history of salvation which culminated and found fulfillment on the Cross. As an actuation, it puts into action the love that exists between God and his Son, Jesus, and between Christ and his Church through the love between husband and wife where two bodies become one, just as the Church is Christ’s Body and the Father and the Son are one. As prophecy, it bears witness to God’s promise of salvation and is itself a proclamation of the word of God, making Christian married couples missionaries, in the true and proper sense of the word, of love and life. 

Thus the great Catholic theologian Tertullian describes his feelings about marriage in Ad Uxorem: “How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.”

The married life is our vocation. It is our path to holiness. It is our means to enter heaven. If we follow God’s will and live according to the unitive and procreative purposes of our vocation, if we do not deprive each other but generously welcome as God’s gift the children that our loving embrace will bring, raise, educate and offer them to God, then we too, with God’s grace, may be honored like Louis and Zelie one October day. (Reflections of Jun and Jean Uriarte)

Added on Wednesday, September 30, 2015


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