Pope John Paul II set a record for canonising people: he named 110 new saints, more than all the other popes in the twentieth century put together. Pope Francis has only canonised 26 so far but he set another record two weeks ago when he canonised the first married couple: Louise and Zélie Martin, the parents of our own St Teresa of Lisieux.
He chose to do this during the Synod on the Family, to celebrate the goodness and holiness of family life, and this should be a great encouragement to us all: whatever the size, shape or experience of our family, it is the setting in which we are called to grow into the person God wants us to be.
Last week I reminded you how the Second Vatican Council stated very clearly that every baptised member of the Church is called to be holy and to share in the mission of Jesus to show God’s love to the world. That is sometimes called ‘the universal call to holiness’: it means we are all called to be saints.
Only a few people make it onto the official list of saints, but that doesn’t mean they are a different kind of person from the rest of us: it’s just that they are held up to us as examples. Louis and Zélie were an ordinary couple. Louis had his own small business as a jeweller and watchmaker, but he gave it up to help run Zélie’s business as a lacemaker, which was more successful. They had nine daughters, but four died in childhood, so they knew the terrible sadness of bereaved parents. They both had struggles against ill health and, in the end, like all of us, they passed from this life into the everlasting life of heaven. Within the ordinariness of their family life, they loved each other and their children, and they handed on the faith they had received.
Because Louis and Zélie have been canonised they will have their own feast day, July 12th, but today’s feast is for all the unsung heroes, living and dead, of the Christian family. It’s an opportunity to cherish the memory of those people who have been a positive influence in our lives and in the lives of others, all those who have loved us and showed us how to love others, those who handed on the faith to us. And it’s also a time to remember that we are all called to be saints too.