They were fathers and became saints

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Fatherhood is undoubtedly a sure path to holiness. Being a faithful husband, educating one’s children in the faith and having Jesus at the center are all concrete ways of living according to the vocation of married life. Being a father is also a mission of educating one’s children and being a light in the world that illuminates the earthly realities and takes God to the ends of the earth though example and testimony.

To celebrate Father’s Day, we have highlighted the lives of some men who, in their vocation as fathers, reached holiness.

St. Louis Martin (1823-1894)

Martin is the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and was canonized with his wife by Pope Francis in 2015. He was born in Bordeaux, France and was known for being a pious man and having a good heart. His father was a soldier. He loved literature, drawing and painting. As a young man, he thought he was called to the religious life and tried to join St. Bernard Abbey, but he was turned down for not knowing Latin. He devoted himself to learning the language but fell ill during that time and thus realized that God was calling him to holiness through marriage. At age 35, he married Zélie Guerin, with whom he had nine children, four of whom died at birth. The five daughters that lived embraced the religious life. In his family, virtue was nurtured through daily Mass, personal and communal prayer, frequent confession and participation in parish life. They were a middle-class family but lived a simple life. Louis loved to go on pilgrimage and visit the sick with his daughters. His wife died of cancer in 1877. His oldest daughter, Marie-Louise, undertook her mother’s responsibilities at age 17. St. Thérèse was only four years old. His daughters joined the convent: Pauline in 1882, Marie-Louise in 1886, Thérèse in 1888 at age 15 – for which she had to obtain a dispensation from Pope Leo XIII – and Leonine in 1899. “It is a great honor that the Lord wants to take all of my daughters,” Louis once said. He had a stroke in 1887 and lost his memory, the ability to talk, began to suffer from hallucinations and desired to embrace the monastic life. He died in September 1894, after which Celine, who had been taking care of him, also entered the Carmelite convent.

St. Thomas Moore (1478 – 1535)

Thomas Moore was born in Cheapside, England. At age 13, he moved to the house of the Archbishop of Canterbury to work as a messenger, and when the prelate became aware of the intellectual potential of the young Moore, he sent him to Oxford University. He obtained his doctorate in law at age 22. Moore thought he was called to be a Carthusian and moved to a monastery. Four years later, he realized this was not his vocation. He married Jane Colt in 1505 and had four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily and John. His obligations often required him to be away from his family, yet he articulated his love to his children and his constant concern for them. His wife died six years after their wedding. Moore married a widowed woman Alice Middleton. In 1529, he was named High Chancellor of England. Two years later, King Henry VIII divorced his wife and asked the Holy See to accept a second marriage to Ana Bolena. But since the pope denied his request, the king declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, giving rise to Anglicanism. The King then began to persecute those who did not accept the new order. Among those who opposed was Moore, who was apprehended for rejection the law. “I must obey my conscience and think of my soul’s salvation. That is much more important than anything the world can offer,” he said while imprisoned. He was sentenced to death and was beheaded in July 1535.

St. Manuel Morales (1898-1926)

Morales is one of the martyr saints of the 20th century Mexican Cristero War. Born in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, he moved to Chalchihuites, Zacatecas at a young age. He entered the Seminary of Durango but had to leave to help provide for his family. As the owner of a bakery, he married Consuelo Loera in 1921 and had three children. He was known for being a working man, a layman committed to the apostolates in his parish and for having an intense spiritual life nurtured by the Eucharist.

He also stands out for being nurturing toward his wife and children. He was a member of the Circle of Catholic Workers and of the Catholic Action for Mexican Youth movements. He was also the leader of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty. In an address, Morales radically defended religious liberty and was denounced for it, along with his parish priest Father Luis Batis. The soldiers offered to release him if he accepted the antireligious law of President Plutarco Elías Calles, which he denied. At the point of death, he, like many of his countrymen, said, “¡Viva Cristo Rey! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” (“Long live Christ the King! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!”) Morales was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000.

St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270)

He was son of King Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile. His mother instilled in him the love of the faith and horror of sin. After his father’s death, he was crowned king in 1226 and married Margaret of Provence in 1234, having 11 children, nine of whom reached adulthood. He nurtured his wife and cultivated a life of prayer of her, which included Mass, prayer of the Divine Office and frequent confession. He was especially attentive to his children’s education and wrote to them, saying that it was better to undergo martyrdom than to commit a mortal sin. He also urged them to accept any tribulation with gratitude and instilled in them the value of comforting the poor. During his reign, St. Louis condemned usury and sanctioned those who had charged high interest to return the money to those in need. He also sent an army to the Holy Land in 1247 to defend it from the Muslim invasion. He founded hospitals and would invite beggars for meals at his home. He died Aug. 25, 1270. On his death bed, he said, “Lord, I am happy because I will go to your heavenly home to adore you and love you forever.”

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.