They were fathers and became saints

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: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA