Blessed Zelie Martin: An Inspiration for Us All


A friend told me a true story:

Her mother was in her car, stopped at an intersection near the freeway in Detroit. Standing on the corner was a man holding a sign. It said, “I’m hungry.”

In the next lane over, a well-dressed woman in a nice car waited for the light to turn green. She noticed the man holding the sign, rolled down her car window, and yelled nastily to him, “WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB?”

The man said nothing in response. My friend’s mother was horrified.

When I heard this story, my first response was revulsion at such an act. If this woman could only see herself from the outside: a well-to-do woman with beautiful jewelry and a fancy car, YELLING at this homeless man.

Sheesh, isn’t he down on his luck enough, without having to hear the nasty wrath of this woman, who doesn’t even know him? Who yells at anyone without truly knowing his or her story, the circumstances of a stranger on the street? Can we really think we know someone just by looking at him or her? And is it necessary to hatefully yell your opinion to someone you’ve never met, risking hurting their feelings?

My second reaction was this: How have I been uncharitable, perhaps not in the same way as the lady above, but in my own selfish way?

It’s something to think about. We may pat ourselves on the backs, saying we’d never yell at a stranger like the rude lady in the car, but that doesn’t make some of our own selfish actions any more noble.

I’ve been reading a book about simplifying our lives and doing good for others by donating items we don’t need. Sounds simple enough, but what really got me thinking was when the author challenged me to think about how much is enough, and giving until it hurts.

Really, how much of our possessions IS enough? Sure, most of us donate clothes and food to the needy throughout the year. We put items in the bag that we’ve outgrown, that have gone out of style, that no longer fit us. That’s not really all that painless, though, is it?

For my part, I’ve been holding onto too many winter coats than I would ever need. Some women like shoes, some like purses. My downfall happens to be coats. But there are women out there who are cold, a cold I have never known, who could use some of the coats in my closet. Giving when it hurts is a true sacrifice, is true charity. After reading this book, it seems uncharitable now to hang onto them when others are in need.

Whatever we have, whatever we think we own, is not really even ours anyway. It all belongs to God. In His mercy, He has given us what we have and we should be grateful, never taking it for granted, never being so cocky as to think it will always be there, will always be ours. Every day is a gift, and everything we own is a gift, not to be taken lightly. And when we prepare to meet Him after we leave this earth, we can’t carry a tote bag or a leather trunk with our material goods along with us. We are all human, we are all God’s children; yes, even if we haven’t bathed and don’t have homes.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the mother of my special friend in Heaven, the Little Flower. Her mother was Zelie Martin. Beatified along with her husband Louis in 2008, she was a loving example on earth of Christ’s love for humanity: an unselfish woman who practiced charity toward her neighbor, love for the Church, a life of hard work, and lived her short life with a spirit of faith and sacrifice.

She wasn’t tremendously wealthy, but the money she did earn from her successful lace-making business in Alencon was never taken for granted, and never shamefully wasted. Instead, Zelie helped out her poor neighbors all of the time, sending them money and homemade stew.

She also taught her daughters (our dear St. Therese among them) charity for the suffering poor and also to show them respect.

The following paragraphs are taken from the book The Mother of the Little Flower, which is written by Therese’s older sister Celine, and is now published by TAN books:

One day while traveling, she reproved another lady in the railway carriage who showed displeasure at the arrival of a poor woman with her two babies. When they reached Alencon, Mother helped the woman with her children and parcels to get her home. Father, who had been waiting at the station, also helped; and it was midnight before they reached their own home.

For Leonie’s First Communion, Mother selected a poor girl in her class, had her dressed in white also for her First Communion, and invited her to the place of honour at the festive dinner for the occasion.

I marvel at the difference between the woman in the car and Zelie Martin. One chose to spew hatred; the other chose to treat people with dignity and respect.

It was never an inconvenience for Zelie to think of others’ needs before her own, even when it was late and she was tired from traveling. Zelie never asked questions of the people, asking if they had jobs, were lazy, etc. She never yelled at them or put them down, trying to decide for herself if they were truly worthy of a hot meal.

She put everything in God’s hands, and did her part without complaint. She was Christlike, sacrificing and giving even when it was not convenient or especially enjoyable. I know there must have been a few times when she was tired or ill and did not feel like giving. She did it anyway.

Blessed Zelie Martin is an inspiration to us all. She is integrity, character, goodness, and love. Ask for her intercession in your life during this new year, as well as in the life of the woman in the car, so that our hearts may soften and we all may learn what it is to be truly charitable in 2014.

For my part, I think I’ll go through my hall closet and look for some coats to give away. Is there anything in your closet that you could give away, even when it hurts?

Copyright 2014 Nancy Carabio Belanger


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  1. Thank you for such a beautiful reminder! It’s always great to have someone like Zelie to imitate. In my prayers, I’ll remember the lucky women who will be wearing your coats! Blessings on your day!

  2. What a terrific post! I know a couple who are expecting a child any day (really, any minute!) and if the baby is a girl she will be named Zelie. I sent them this post and they loved it, too!

    For my part, I have several nice suits from my former professional working days that I’m going to sort through and donate. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. I’m so glad I read this! My god-daughter’s name is Zelie so I like to read about her life whenever I can.I didn’t know Celine write a book, too. I’ll have to read it sometime.
    Zelie is a very good role model not just for the domestic life but for living and serving God wherever she went.

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