Yesterday, the Church celebrated a plethora of saintly feast days. Two of those saints were Anne and Joachim, the humble parents of Christ’s Blessed Mother. In honor of their great feast day, I would like to reflect upon the couple’s role as parents, and examine the influence of another holy couple upon a more modern-day Saint.
There is little historical fact surrounding Sts. Anne and Joachim, but the Church’s gift of Tradition shines through concerning their lives. According to Catholic Online, the apocryphal “Gospel of James” tells the story of how barren Anne’s and Joachim’s prayers for a child were answered, and how, in an act of thanksgiving, they promised to dedicate their future child to God. New Advent relates that this child was named Miriam, or Mary, and in fulfillment of their promise, Anne and Joachim brought her to the Temple at age three, offering up their daughter’s life to God’s service.
The story of their meeting after being told separately of their promised child is beautiful. In the back of this month’s Magnificat, one reads that the devout couple ran to find each other, and, as they met in front of Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, they fell into into each other’s arms in ecstasy.
After Mary’s birth, the couple spent three years with her, preparing her to be God’s faithful servant, teaching her to read the Scriptures, and helping her cultivate virtue and grace in her life. When the time came to leave their daughter at the Temple, the couple “…suffered great sorrow, but at the same time, experienced great joy for fulfilling the vows they had made to the Lord,” writes Jacob at his blog a year of prayer: 365 Rosaries. The great virtues of this couple’s life were patience, love, and obedience.
Centuries after Anne and Joachim raised Mary, a young couple in France took on the challenge of teaching their daughter how to live for God first . As is recounted in J. Linus Ryan’s articles, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin were the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, and played a crucial role in shaping St. Therese into the beloved Carmelite that Catholics know today. Both of the Martins had thought they were called to the religious life before they met, and separately pursued the convent and the monastery. But, complications on both sides proved to be signs from God. When Zelie first saw Louis walking by on the street, she felt an interior voice tell her that this man was her future husband.
Three months after their first meeting, the two were married. But their marriage was not consummated for ten months as the two of them continued to cling to their desires to be consecrated religious. Yet, after a priest suggested that they consider serving God through parenthood, the two embraced married life and their first daughter was born on February 22, 1860. They went on to have eight more children, though four of them did not survive childhood.
Louis’s devotion to Mary was a huge part of his life. He and Zelie agreed to name all of their children after Our Lady, though their first daughter was the only one to go by her Marian name. The couple had great faith, and any time they had a righteous desire to do something for the glory of God, they prayed to Mary and St. Joseph, and then trusted that God’s will would be done.
Both parents worked hard to raise wholesome and righteous children. Louis was firm, but lavished love upon all of his daughters. Zelie used encouragement and patience to help her daughters learn to pray and make sacrifices for others from the very beginning. And always, their lives were entirely in God’s hands. The family suffered many losses, many deaths and hardships, yet through it all their faith in God never wavered.
St. Therese was only 4 1/2 when Zelie died. And yet she never forgot this woman whose entire life was spent discerning and doing God’s will. It is no wonder that little Therese grew up to be such a beautiful flower for God, for she was surrounded by faith and love from the moment of her birth. This couple’s shining virtues were love, obedience, faith, and reckless abandonment to the will of God.
As these two accounts show, the lives, habits, and religious tendencies of parents play a huge role in the spiritual formation of their children. Studies show that people who attend church as children are almost three times more likely to attend church regularly as adults. These same studies point to the importance of forming a child’s spiritual habits and inclinations very early on, in order to increase his chances of remaining religious throughout his life. As a child grows, he watches his parents to see what is right, what is wrong. He tests them to see how far is “too far” and to find the lines he should not cross. What parents expose their children to, what they allow their children to see, hear, watch, and say will affect the formation of their children forever. If parents join together, striving to live for God first, and teach their children together the importance of placing God at the center of their lives, their children will learn to do the same. This will extend to every area of their lives.
May the beautiful and holy lives of Saints Anne and Joachim, and Blessed Louis and Zelie , inspire parents everywhere to be the inspiration for their children. Saints Anne and Joachim, Blessed Louis and Zelie, pray for us!
I dedicate this post to my own parents, who have raised me in a home full of love, faith, and virtue, and thus inspired me to dedicate my life to doing God’s will. May they continue to trust in God to guide them. May He bless them for the incredible job they continue to do raising their four children to be saints in a fallen world.