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According to pop culture’s definition of ‘soulmates’, I didn’t marry mine.
When my husband and I met, our eyes didn’t simultaneously gaze across a crowded room to find each other, with a swelling orchestra crescendo for a backdrop. He didn’t propose aboard a rose-strewn yacht offering to travel the oceans of life with me. On our wedding day, the earth didn’t shake a 3.0 magnitude on the Richter scale and we didn’t pledge ourselves to each other with self-made vows about the stars and our silken hair. To this day, I can’t stand watching football games with him or tinkering with vintage cars about as much as he resists sitting through musicals or reading books beside me. By golly, he can’t read my thoughts like I wish he would and I have to work at communicating feelings outside the honey-do list. He likes things tidy and organized; I like things tidy and organized too so long as I’m not the one who has to do it.
My husband has every reason to complain that he got the short end of the bridal stick and I have every right to demand a refund from the coordinators of the romance lottery. If we followed pop culture trend, we would have been divorced ten years ago or one or both of us would be active clients of the Ashley Madison adultery website in search of someone more submissive, sensitive, prettier, richer, quieter, skinnier, healthier, etc…
The answer to the syndrome of dissatisfaction that plagues every marriage past the newlywed stage is the recent canonization of Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin. By holding up two holy spouses together, the Catholic Church inspires us to re-evaluate pre-conceived expectations and our own real marriages in the light of the Martin’s short but significant union.
Louis was a watchmaker; Zelie owned a lace-making business. They were introduced at the intuition of his mother. Zelie once passed Louis randomly in the street, and the still small voice of the Holy Spirit nudged her that she was going to marry him someday. Together, they had nine children, four of whom died young and five girls who entered the religious life. Zelie died at forty six years old, leaving Louis a widow, in a tragedy that Hollywood would never consider a happy ending. Yet their youngest, St. Therese of Liseux, is hailed by Pope Pius X as the “greatest saint of modern times,” and they are the first couple to be canonized together in the Catholic Church’s 2000 year history.
Louis and Zelie shared one essential passion: a love for Christ, which blossomed into desire to bring up their children serving His Church. They assisted daily Mass frequently. Leading by example, they offered up small sacrifices like refusing butter on toast, or big ones like prolonged illnesses. Their home was inclusive to invite the homeless to dine with them. They corrected faults and encouraged the virtues of their children, often speaking to them of their ultimate and eternal destination.
The Martin saints teach us that love involves much more than two imperfect persons. Love began with infinite goodness and this source is the only one that can fully satisfy a heart’s deepest longings. To find union with that love is the goal of every soul. If a soul pursues that love, that love consumes him so that he can freely give to his spouse, and from them flows a natural love for their family. A soul that focuses on a perfect God knows that a gnawing discontent is not the fault of his spouse but the consequence of his own search for true love, which can be found only in His Creator.
Such a love doesn’t end when sickness, poverty or death threaten it. Love is supposed to challenge our souls to the apex of sanctification. Love expands, multiplies and encompasses not only its offspring, but also in-laws and the suffering world around us. Love is inevitably sacrificial and once embedded in the Church, it can have everlasting repercussions generation after generation, centuries after our human bodies have been laid to rest.
Marital love is beyond temporal romance, cosmic connection or comfortable companionship. It is an indissoluble union that doesn’t always sail through seamless blue waters, but anchored on Christ’s cross, survives blizzard blows and echoing discontent to navigate its way home.
My marriage far from the example set by the Martins. But in studying them, I realize we have more in common than we do with pop culture. Like Louis and Zelie, our mothers-in-law were involved in our meeting each other. (My mother prayed a novena to St. Expeditus; my mother-in-law invoked St. Therese). After being married in the Catholic Church with traditional vows, my husband and I were blessed with girls and grieved through several miscarriages. We have a devotion to the daily Eucharist and the rosary, work for the Church and stay close to our parish. We sin, (of course!) but with God's grace, can forgive each other's weaknesses, just as we seek God's mercy in the Sacrament of Confession for our own. We accept that our trade, profession and hobbies are always going to be polar opposites.
From Louis and Zelie, I’ve learned that a true soul’s mate is someone who shares my dream of becoming a saint, of making me a saint and helping me raise a kingdom of saints. St. Louis and Zelie, pray for us.