Prayer in the family
Speaking of prayer in the life of the Martin family is to highlight some features:
First of all prayer for them was a sharing experience. It was by watching their parents praying that Louis and Zélie learnt to pray and discovered God in their own way.
Zélie’s father, Captain Guérin, said to those who were surprised to see him praying: “Tell them that it’s because I believe”. His prayers were witness to a presence, so that those who were there thought: “There is someone else with him”.
Still on the Guérin side, Isidore writing to his sister Zélie in November 1866 after his honeymoon in Alençon, recalls that their father ”so happy to have such a charming little daughter-in-law, was so overcome with joy that he made them all go into church to thank God.” – An example of prayer as an integral and rich part of both happy and sad events in life.
Prayer is also something the family share.
For the Martin family, family prayers were very important. The family gathered In Marie and Pauline’s bedroom in front of the statue which came to be called the ‘Smiling Virgin’. Many requests were made to God and the Holy Virgin, and for a particularly important intention a novena of masses would be said. The festivals were observed. During the month of May the children thought that the decorations surrounding the Virgin rivalled those in the church of Notre-Dame!
But this communal prayer did not exclude private prayer. Zélie’s prayers were often to Mary; certainly by putting her trust in the Immaculate one, she received many blessings, as much in her professional life as in her life as mother of a family.
It seems that Louis’ prayer life was more contemplative. It was rooted in the way in which he was drawn to God and in his desire to give himself to Him, something which he felt from his earliest days to the end of his life. His notebooks mention the books which nourished this devotion.
His prayer life was also enriched by the retreats he made in monasteries, and by pilgrimages during which he would join with other Christians in discussing the great questions of his time. In Alençon he was a faithful member of Vital Romet’s group which grounded its social work firmly in the evening adoration of the Sacrament and the Sunday mass.
The Martins’ prayer life was rooted in the church.
They took inspiration from reading Don Guéranger’s Liturgical Year, which anticipated the liturgical reforms of the 20C and greater lay participation. A rather interesting fact is that in Lisieux, after the liturgy of the word and the homily, Louis Martin and his daughters would move to a chapel in the apse to be nearer the Eucharistic sacrifice which the priest was celebrating.
Even so, there was a reality in the Martins’ prayer life.
If through prayer they received many blessings, they also experienced ‘challenging prayer’, that is to say ’apparently not answered’.
When Zélie was ill with cancer or Louis with mental problems they had to stand firm in their faith. With the passing of time, as we look at their lives we can see that they were right to fight this battle and are encouraged to do the same, with the same trust.