How St. Zélie Taught Me How to Be a Mother

st. Zélia catholic mother

It started, as life changes often do, with an ugly-cry-in-the-shower session.

My son was three months old and we had just returned from spending Christmas with my family on the other side of the country. My mom and I were having a tough time navigating her new role as a grandmother and mine as a mother. I lost track of how many times I spoke harshly to her. I felt isolated from my three younger siblings who were nowhere close to this wildly different season of life I was now in. Recently, I had gone back at work after maternity leave and it was not going well. I hadn’t seen any of my friends since our meal train ended.

Worst of all, I was convinced God had made a terrible mistake by giving me this beautiful child because I was far too weak, unworthy, and selfish to be a good mother. Those lies pounded in my heart day in and day out. This massive responsibility of raising a child on top of all the other things I hoped to do well (used to do well) was too much. I couldn’t do it.

Saints as Mentors and Role Models

In the shower that day, where I had run for ten minutes of uninterrupted tears, God gently pointed me in the right direction. You’re not the first person who has had to figure this out, He whispered to my heart. Look to My daughters who have done it well.

Like so many Catholic women, I had long loved St. Therese of Lisieux. Her parents, St. Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin and St. Louis Martin, had come to my attention a few times since their canonization in October 2015, but I knew next to nothing else about them. When I pondered Saints who were mothers though, St. Zélie, as she is known, was the first who came to my mind.

Over the next few days, as I poured over The Mother of the Little Flower on the Kindle app during middle-of-the-night nursing sessions, I got to know the woman I now consider one of my dearest friends in Heaven, as well as one of my greatest intercessors.

In His wisdom, God has arranged things in a way to remind us that this earth is not our true home.

Who Was St. Zélie?

At first glance, St. Zélie is a little intimidating. She’s the type of person I would look at on Instagram today and wonder, “How does she do it all?”

She was a devoted wife and treasured friend to her husband, Louis. They were madly in love and supported, encouraged, and prayed for one another faithfully.

She was a loving daughter, caring for her difficult father selflessly until his death. She corresponded regularly with her beloved sister, a Visitation nun, to whom many of St. Zélie’s 200+ saved letters were sent.

She was a talented Alençon lace maker who ran her own thriving business. It was so thriving, in fact, that Louis ultimately sold his watchmaking business to work with her full-time. And she was a mother of nine, four who passed away in infancy, and five who ultimately became nuns (and Saints).

She had many important roles, and she fulfilled them all beautifully. How? As I read her letters and the memories her daughters shared in this book, that answer began to take shape.

Why Zélie is a Saint

St. Zélie knew that her tasks and obligations didn’t, and wouldn’t, fulfill her. Time and time again, her letters echoed the truth that was so deeply embedded in her heart: the goal of her existence was Heaven. Nothing in the world, no matter how joyful or how much success or prestige it brought her, could make her truly happy. Her confidence in the hope of Heaven completely freed her from societal pressure here on Earth.

This woman, who carried so many responsibilities, rested in the knowledge that the only responsibility that truly mattered was pursuing sainthood, and encouraging her husband and children to do the same.

The simplest and the wisest thing in all cases is to submit to God’s will, and to prepare in advance to bear one’s cross as bravely as possible.

St. Zélie's confidence in the hope of Heaven completely freed her from societal pressure here on Earth. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

Trust in the Midst of Extreme Suffering

St. Zélie was no stranger to disappointment, sorrow, heartbreak, or pain. But time and time again, she affirmed her faith in God’s love and His plan for her. She knew there were no accidents. God was with her when running her business felt overwhelming, when her children were being difficult (turns out even Saints misbehave as children—comforting, right?), when she left Lourdes without being healed of the breast cancer that ultimately took her life, and every time God called one of her precious babies to Heaven.

While the little things of life did sometimes worry her, as she readily admitted, when it came to the big things, the faith she worked hard to cultivate daily paid off. In every case, she trusted God fully. She placed her life totally in His hands. She believed that if she died, He had a perfect plan for the family she would leave behind.

In a word, always active, always devoted, constantly smiling, our mother never appeared to be doing anything extraordinary, but with remarkable simplicity and humility, she tirelessly spent herself for others, and lived always for the good God.

With remarkable simplicity and humility, she tirelessly spent herself for others, and lived always for the good God. (Celine Martin on her mom, St. Zélie) #BISblog // Click To Tweet

St. Zélie Taught Me How to Be a Mom

I always expected that when I had a baby, I would simply add “mother” to the list of identifiers I used for myself: Catholic, wife, daughter, sister, friend, writer. What I didn’t realize was that becoming a mama would dramatically impact every facet of who I am. St. Zélie showed me through her beautiful life that this was actually a very good thing.

Motherhood doesn’t wipe out those other parts of me; rather, it enhances them. It turns me to the Lord in humility and reliance every single day. It deepens my love for my husband and strengthens our relationship. Motherhood increases my gratitude for and understanding of my own mother. It helps me to love my siblings and friends more tangibly, and to turn to them for prayer and encouragement more freely. It gives new purpose and inspiration to my writing.

Motherhood is the vocation God chose for me, in His wisdom and infinite love, in order to draw me closer to Him and to sanctify me. Motherhood was St. Zélie’s path to sainthood. Maybe it can be mine, too.

Any other moms out there? Has St. Zélie encouraged you in your vocation?

How St. Zélie Taught Me How to Be a Mother #BISblog // Click To Tweet

Lisa Kirk is a wife, mama, and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. She loves city life, Sunday brunch, and the beauty she uncovers (almost) daily in her vocation. In between snuggling with her toddler and dating her handsome husband, she blogs about family, faith, and feminine style on Something Pretty.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    June 9, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    I connected with Louis and Zelie at an exposition of relics. As I stood in front of their reliquary, I was suddenly moved to tears as I felt they understood exactly what it had been like for me to lose a child. Since then they’ve become special friends, to whom I can pray in the midst of a thrilling and demanding vocation of marriage and motherhood to our six children.

    Saints Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

    (Our sixth baby, born after I “met” them that day, has Zelie as her middle name.)

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