Therese Martin was blessed to grow up in a loving family which practiced its faith regularly and lived a middle class life in France. Surely it was a comfortable, pain-free childhood that led her to become such a saintly young woman, right?
Wrong. Therese’s family, like every family, knew tragedy first-hand.
Four of the nine Martin children died very young. Two sons died before reaching their first birthdays. One daughter lived only a few months, and another daughter died at the age of five. One can only imagine how painful each loss was for Louis and Zelie, Therese’s parents.
Therese’s mother Zelie died of breast cancer when Zelie was only forty-five years old. Although Therese was only four years old at the time, she remembered her mother’s passing so vividly that she was able to describe seeing her mother’s coffin in her autobiography. All the daughters were devastated at the loss of their mother, but Therese, as the youngest, was particularly affected and became a very sensitive child for many years.
Near the end of his life, Louis suffered strokes as well as some sort of mental breakdown. The five Martin sisters suffered great pain and grief at the sight of their beloved father being physically and mentally incapacitated.
Yet all of these sufferings, like every cross we choose to bear in union with our suffering Lord, bore spiritual fruit. In her autobiography, Therese describes praying for help from her little brothers and sisters who had already passed on to Heaven. They gave her hope when she too was facing her final illness. Although Therese lost her mother when she was very young, one of her older sisters became her second mother, caring for her with great tenderness and care. Zelie’s devout faith not only lived on in Therese’s memory but in the actions of the older sisters who raised her. Although watching a parent’s decline is always heartbreaking, all of the Martin sisters were comforted by the fact that Louis had recognized his oncoming illness and told them he was offering his suffering for others—before he lost his ability to communicate that fact during his final years.
Saint Therese, show me how to bear spiritual fruit in my suffering.