The Story of a Family by Fr. Stephane-Joseph Piat O.F.M.

The Story of a Family; The Home of St Therese of Lisieux is about the parents and home life of St. Therese (The Little Flower).  I have to admit,  although I have read and enjoyed a number of saint biographies,  St. Therese was of no interest to me whatsoever.  To me she could not compare with St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Thomas Aquinas. You know, the smart ones. This book was “suggested” reading material for a class I am taking. And the book is fabulous. Might I even say, inspiring.

The story is mainly about Louis and Zelie Martin. Both of them came from respectable Catholic homes, though in Zelie’s case, it was rather cold and she did not get along with her mother. She loved her sister, who became a nun and wanted to follow her example. Both Louis and Zelie wanted to take religious orders and both were turned down. In disappointment, they each decided to live a chaste life, with Louis taking up clockmaking and Zelie learned the art of lace making.

After meeting and falling in love, Louis and Zelie were unsure as to how to proceed. They wanted to get married but still hold on to their individual promises of chastity. They decided to have a “chaste” marriage, which was not unheard of in that time. That lasted about ten months.  They ended up having nine children, four that died, including the only two boys.  The remaining  five girls all entered convents of their choice.  Louis and Zelie were devoted to the well-being of their children, provided over and above the current standards of education, and raised them to be honorable and charitable people.

They had many challenges in their life. Zelie battled breast cancer for almost twenty years before finally succumbing.  She could not nurse most of her children, including Therese. They also lived through the Franco-Prussian War when troops took over their town and they had to house and feed enemy soldiers.  Therese appeared quite late in the story as she was the youngest child and only four when her mother passed away.  Her father and older sisters brought her up.

This is a well written book and doesn’t get bogged down at any point. It has good flow. The tone  ran a little sentimental, which usually bugs me to no end. But this time it didn’t . Louis and Zelie were the real deal, parents devoted to their children, to each other, and to making their community a better place. While not perfect, they were decent, worthy, and caring people who’s example influenced the making of a saint. 

I wish I had read this book when just starting a family. Even though this is a different time with different value sets (like that unusual devotion to chastity) they can serve as examples because of who they were.  It made me realize with relief and gratitude that there really are people who live exemplary lives.

The Catholic Church is once again embroiled in scandal.  I don’t think this is the end of it, There are more rocks to overturn in my opinion. The reason this is happening is because the leaders of the church chose to protect their own positions and the “sanctity” of the church rather than protect its own people. When I read the news about Pope Benedict being immune in any trials I realize they are continuing this practice. It is appalling and distressing.

After reading The Story of a Family I understand that Catholics, like all faiths, are made up of individuals that, through their own lives can change  the world for the better.  I recommend this book especially to Catholics, but I hope that everyone will read an inspiring story about someone from their own faith tradition.  It really makes a difference.

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Complications by Atul Gawande

We are all, whatever we do, in the hands of flawed human beings. The fact is hard to stare in the face. But it is unescapable. Every doctor has things he or she ought to know but has yet to learn, capacities of judgment that will fail, a strength of character that can break.”

Gawande states this obvious yet somehow alarming fact in his essay entitled “When Good Doctors Go Bad”. Most people want to believe that doctors somehow exist above the mortal coil and are always wise, compassionate, and decisive. Yet Gawande, a surgeon and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, shows another side of the medical profession. That doctors make mistakes, experience burnout, and have to go along with bad decisions made by frightened patients.

Gawande not only has tremendous ability as a surgeon, but also incredible insight into his own profession that allows him to look at complex issues from many angles. Yet his descriptions are so good even nausea is fascinating to read about.

My favorite essays are A Queasy Feeling, the one about nausea. The Pain Perplex is a fascinating look at how the brain controls our pain centers. Whose Body is it, Anyway? is a look at the struggle to give patients their rights to treatment verses the doctor who often knows a better course of action. The Case of the Red Leg was about a certain intuition Gawande had about a case that turned out to be correct. Really good.
I haven’t read Better yet but it is waiting on my TBR shelf . I highly recommend Complications.