Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Louis Martin

Louis Martin

          St. Therese of Liseux, the Little Flower, died just over a century ago.  The most contemporary of the Doctors of the Church, she is a very well-known and well-loved Saint.  But there are many lessons that can be learned from the lives of her parents, Louis and Zeille Martin, whose causes for canonization are also open.
          I recently read a short book, written by Therese’s sister Celine, titled The Father of the Little Flower, in which the life of Louis Martin is shared in detail.  Of the many things I could say about this holy man there was one phrase used to describe him that I have grasped on to, as it seems like the perfect motto to strive to make my own.  Celine said of her father that he was a man of “uncompromising faith and overflowing charity.”
          Uncompromising faith.  Louis Martin was a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ and faithful son of the Church.  Living in modern France he found himself in a society in many ways like our own.  His was a Catholic nation that had become very secularized.  France, of course, had suffered through a bloody revolution during which the Faith was forcefully purged.  In Louis’s time being a faithful Christian did not mean signing up for martyrdom, but it certainly meant being counter-cultural.
          And yet he was a man of uncompromising faith.  He refused to compromise with the spirit of the age, to go along to get along.  He did not stand preaching on street corners, but he displayed throughout his life the Christian virtues, including those scorned by society, with an unapologetic constancy.
          How that constancy and faithfulness is needed in our own day!  During our time, when the culture has pulled so far away from Christ, we are charged with being unapologetically counter-cultural.  Yet if we are, we will be attacked.  We will be falsely accused of being judgmental, hypocritical, bigoted and closed-minded.  So be it.  There are worse crosses to bear.
          A story is told of a time on a train when Louis wanted to shield his young daughter from immoderate conversation and was accused of being a Pharisee.  What was he to do?  He was willing to accept being falsely accused of judgmentalism rather than compromise his duty as a father.
          I recall a similar situation from my own life.  Bringing my kids to a large gathering at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant an extended family member suggested I pretend my three year-old was only two so I wouldn’t have to pay for him.  What was I to do?  Certainly I could not lie and defraud the restaurant.  So of course I paid for my son only to be accused of being “holier than thou” since I clearly, by not following the relative’s advice, was passing judgment on him.
          Or with the battle we currently face over the administration’s immoral HHS mandate.  As Catholics we can not simply “go with the flow.”  We must follow the lead of our shepherds and push back against the flow.  If in the eyes of the secular society it makes us unreasonable or closed minded, so be it.
          Is that, then, how we will define ourselves now as Christians in this age?  No, because of the second part of Celine’s description of her father, that he was a man of overflowing charity.  Despite Louis’s uncompromising faith he was a man who was respected and beloved by those who knew him, Catholic or not, because of his great love. 
          What our culture needs more than anything else, perhaps, is the witness of people who are uncompromising in their faithfulness to Christ, and who are also images of His beautiful, loving Face.  Mother Teresa never compromised with the spirit of the age and yet she was widely acclaimed when she died as one of the greatest women of her time because of her great love.
          Louis Martin’s heart always belonged to the Lord and his spirit exuded the Love of Christ.  So he was able to touch the hearts of many other people.
          We do not win souls by dumbing down the Faith, by compromising so it seems easy or accommodating.  We win souls by authentic love, by “speaking the truth in love,” as the Scripture says. 
As a man who has very much the same vocation as Louis Martin, that of husband, father and lay witness in my culture, I often come back to that goal of being a man of “uncompromising faith and overflowing charity.”  If I can do that in an authentic way, I can live my vocation to a saintly degree as did Louis Martin whose beautiful example gave the world one of its most beautiful Flowers.