Blessed Louis Martin, the "incomparable father" of St. Therese: a Father's Day meditation

Blessed Louis Martin, the "incomparable father" of St. Therese of Lisieux: A Father's Day Meditation


               At the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin, Cardinal Saraiva Martins, reading the Pope’s letter, described them as “laypersons, spouses, and parents.” Louis, spouse and parent, knew that the first duty of a good father is to be a good husband. Zelie wrote about him, “I am always very happy with him; he fills my life with tenderness and sweetness. My husband is a very holy man; I wish every woman had a husband like him . . . Our feelings were always in unison, and he was always my support and my consolation.” In the years of their marriage (1858-1877), Louis was a most generous husband and father. Seeing the success of Zélie’s lace business, he gave up the craft of watchmaking for which he had trained for many years, sold his business to his nephew for a modest price, and handled the traveling and business end of the lace-manufacturing business. After Zélie’s death, he left his friends in Alencon to give his daughters the advantage of the influence of their maternal uncle, aunt, and cousins at Lisieux. At a time when the father was usually “master of the house,” he gave his older daughters a free hand in running the household and teaching their little sisters. He spared nothing to develop their talents, procuring art lessons and supplies and giving them every advantage in his power.


Louis Martin was a brave man. As a boy, he belonged to a boys’ military club. Exercising regularly, he grew into a tall, vigorous man. He swam well enough to save a child from drowning, saved trapped persons from fires, and was so courageous on the streets that, if he was out later than usual, his daughters worried that he might be badly injured while trying to separate men who were fighting.


His feminine side was well developed. When he was left a single parent, he became both father and mother to his daughters, who said “our father’s affectionate heart was enriched with a truly maternal love.” Many days he escorted the girls to and from school, listening patiently to the accounts of their days. Every evening he joined them after supper in their little salon, making toys for them, singing to them, telling them stories, reciting poems, and playing games before family prayers.


He had a profound respect for the spiritual lives of his daughters; he not only gave them the greatest freedom to fulfill their vocations but actively supported them. When the vicar-general of the diocese failed to support Therese when she appealed to the Pope for permission to become a Carmelite at fifteen, Louis, meeting him several days later, said forthrightly: “You know very well that you had promised to help me.” When the family was visiting Alencon and Leonie abruptly and without asking permission entered the Poor Clares, he permitted her to remain there and supported her generously. He understood that his daughters belonged to God, Who entrusted him with their care, and joined generously with his wife in their joint task “to bring them up for heaven.” When he became paralyzed and had to accept being cared for in an institution and then by his family, he surrendered himself completely and was deeply touched by their devotion.


Blessed Louis Martin offers the fathers of today a new model of masculinity and fatherhood. Uniting his love for God with his love for his wife and his daughters, he understood the essence of fatherhood: that his role as co-creator of the souls of his children to glorify God did not end with their birth, but continued throughout his life. He was a father, as he often repeated, “all for God’s greater glory.”


St. Therese of Lisieux and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

On the vigil of the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 2009, I am happy to present the poem "To the Sacred Heart of Jesus." Therese wrote this poem either in June 1895 or in October 1895 at the request of her sister, Marie of the Sacred Heart. She does not understand the Heart of Jesus as demanding reparation, but as "burning with tenderness." In her daring climax, she chooses that Heart for her purgatory.


“To the Sacred Heart of Jesus”


At the holy sepulchre, Mary Magdalene,

Searching for her Jesus, stooped down in tears.

The angels wanted to console her sorrow,

But nothing could calm her grief.

Bright angels, it was not you

Whom this fervent soul came searching for.

She wanted to see the Lord of the Angels,

To take him in her arms, to carry him far away.


Close by the tomb, the last one to stay,

She had come well before dawn.

Her God also came, veiling his light.

Mary could not vanquish him in love!

Showing her at first his Blessed Face,

Soon just one word sprang from his Heart,

Whispering the sweet name of: Mary,

Jesus gave her back her peace, her happinesss.


O my God, one day, like Mary Magdalene,

I wanted to see you and come close to you.

I looked down over the immense plain

Where I sought the Master and King,

And I cried, seeing the pure wave,

The starry azure, the flower, and the bird.

“Bright nature, if I do not see God,

You are nothing to me but a vast tomb.”


I need a heart burning with tenderness

Who will be my support forever,

Who loves everything in me, even my weakness...

And who never leaves me day or night.”

I could find no creature

Who could always love me and never die.

I must have a God who takes on my nature

And becomes my brother and is able to suffer!


You heard me, only Friend whom I love.

To ravish my heart, you became man.

You shed your blood, what a supreme mystery!...

And you still live for me on the Altar.

If I cannot see the brilliance of your Face

Or hear your sweet voice,

O my God, I can live by your grace,

I can rest on your Sacred Heart!


O Heart of Jesus, treasure of tenderness,

You Yourself are my happiness, my only hope.

You who knew how to charm my tender youth,

Stay near me till the last night.

Lord, to you alone I’ve given my life,

And all my desires are well known to you.

It’s in your ever-infinite goodness

That I want to lose myself, O Heart of Jesus!


Ah! I know well all our righteousness

Is worthless in your sight.

To give value to my sacrifices,

I want to cast them into your Divine Heart.

You did not find your angels without blemish.

In the midst of lightning you gave your law!...

I hide myself in your Sacred Heart, Jesus.

I do not fear, my virtue is You!...


To be able to gaze on your glory,

I know we have to pass through fire.

So I, for my purgatory,

Choose your burning love, O heart of my God!

On leaving this life, my exiled soul

Would like to make an act of pure love,

And then, flying away to Heaven, its Homeland,

Enter straightaway into your Heart.


The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996, pp. 117-120. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

To read this and all of Therese's 54 poems, please order a copy of the book "The Poetry of Saint Therese" by clicking on the icon below. This edition is the only English translation from the critical and complete edition of Therese's manuscripts of her poetry. Even if you have read some other translation, I urge you to read this one, which includes the original French text and English notes rich in interest.