When I heard the relics of Louis and Zelie Martin were coming to the UK I immediately knew I had to go visit them. Their youngest daughter – St Therese of Lisieux was the one who guided me into Carmel. She has become one of my best friends (yes – some of my best friends are actually dead 😉 ) and to be able to ‘meet’ her parents was a very special honour for me as a secular Carmelite. They had 9 children, 4 of whom tragically died in childhood. They were married for 19 years until Zelie died from breast cancer when little Therese was just 4 years old.
Their relics were on display at Portsmouth cathedral UK. Bishop Egan said Mass and gave a superb homily reminding us all that no man has the authority to change Christ’s teaching on marriage.
There was also time for quiet reflection. And I found myself praying the only prayer I could think of: “Please help me with my marriage…”
Next week Nick and I will have been married for 15 years. The last 18 months have been really, really hard. Nick was diagnosed with CFS when our 3rd child was just 4 months old, and has not been at work since then. We have no idea when or if he will recover. We do not have an income. I now take the kids on holiday on my own. I didn’t chose this and neither did he. I cannot stand to watch him suffer.
But it’s not all bad…
How many fathers do you know who get to spend everyday with their baby? How many fathers do you know who are their for their kids everyday when they get home from school, eat dinner together everyday, read bedtime stories everyday? (I must just add that as husband and wife, being together in close proximity 24/7 has its um… challenges – like refraining from killing each other 😉 )
“Please help me with my marriage…” I would like to think that after 15 years of wife-ing, I was getting pretty good at it. But I’m afraid I still struggle with my vocation every single day. And so does he. It’s not always a bed of roses.
How it is possible for us to have got married age 20 with 1 days preparation, and then keep that marriage together through thick and thin in every possible scenario for 15 years I just don’t know. I can only put it down to the fact that Jesus is present in our sacrament of marriage. We have tried to split up a few times but we just couldn’t do it 🙂
On one occasion I remember desperately wanting to leave but wrestling with the fact that if I left, I would have to deny Christ – and I just couldn’t do it 🙂 In the end it wasn’t feelings towards my husband that kept me in my marriage, it wasn’t even the fact that I believe children need to grow up with their mother and father present, but it was the fact that Jesus had given His whole life for me on the cross, and now He was asking me to give my whole life for Him by staying obediently in my marriage vows. It was at that moment about 8 years ago that Christ became first place in my marriage.
Louis and Zelie were terrific examples of this. They had Christ in first place in their marriage from the very start. They obviously adored each other, but crucially they did not idolise each other. Christ came first.
Gosh! What a lesson this is for us today! How many people idolise their spouse, putting them above God? Many, I would say. And it’s not fair, because when you put your spouse first (above God) you are burdening them with a role they can not possibly ever live up to. Your spouse will NEVER be able to fill that God shaped hole in your heart. And it is completely unrealistic and unfair to expect them to. And when you begin to realise that your spouse is not ‘fulfilling’ you like you would like then you actually begin to blame them for it! Crazy isn’t it?!
Personally I’m convinced that this is the reason that so many marriages are failing now. People are expecting their spouse to fulfil the parts of them that only God can fulfil.
By putting Christ first in their marriage, Louis and Zelie kept their marriage holy, and also set the example for their 5 surviving daughters who all went on to become Carmelite nuns. What an amazing couple. What an outstanding example.
Dear Louis and Zelie, please help me with my marriage.