Recently at a weekday Mass the readings from first Kings was about King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel. It is a story of a weak willed King who married a foreigner and adopted her god, Baal. He let her have her way which defied all the laws of the God of Israel. She had ordered the murder of all the prophets of Israel in order to put the prophets of Baal in their place. She destroyed all of Israel’s holy places and in the next story we find her taunting her husband who has taken to his bed pouting about a conflict with a neighbor. He tried to make a trade with Naboth whose vineyard bordered the King’s land. It was Naboth’s ancestral land and he was unwilling to trade it for anything the King offered.
While in a funk, Jezebel tells her whining husband that she will take care of it and get the vineyard for the King. The short version of the story is that she sets Naboth up to be murdered and Ahab gets what he wants.
Elijah, the last of Israel’s prophets, tells Ahab that God is very angry with Ahab but surprisingly, Ahab repents. So God relents the punishment for Ahab and Jezebel but tells him that He will inflict it on his descendants, which God does.
Every time I read this story I feel that God is being unfair to the sons of Ahab. After all it was the sin of the parents, not theirs. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Children often become just like their parents which could be OK, but in this case what has this couple taught their sons? By word and example they showed that if you have power you can do anything you want. If you defy God’s laws, nothing will happen. Deceit and murder are useful tools to accomplish your goals. We could say that Ahab and Jezebel taught their boys to follow the voice of Satan.
Now let’s remember that with God there is no such thing as time, so He already knew what the future would reveal about the sons. We often say, “Like father like son.” “The sins of the father are visited upon the sons.” Sometimes that lasts for generations before someone down the line has a conversion and decides on a different course of action.
There is in this story a powerful message to parents. Everything a parent says or does is noticed by the children. They are a child’s strongest role model and they believe that mommy and daddy are never wrong! Drinking, smoking, drugging, cursing parents unconsciously tell their children it’s OK to do the same. Standing in the ticket line where the cutoff for the children’s price is 12 and a parent says, tell them you’re 11 has just taught that lying is fine.
On the other hand there is the exemplary story of Louis and Zelie Martin, a recently canonized couple.
They had five daughters, one you know as St. Therese of Liseaux. Two of her sisters are also being considered for canonization. All the Martin girls entered the Carmelite order of cloistered nuns. What an extreme contrast from Ahab and Jezebel!
Louis Martin was a simple clockmaker with a successful business. He had tried and failed to become a monk. Zelie had also considered religious life but had been turned away by the Vincentian sisters. One lovely day they passed each other crossing a bridge. He was shy and reserved. She heard an interior voice telling her that “this was the man I prepared for you.” They married in July of 1858. Louis decided to sell his business and join Zelie in her very prosperous business of making and selling Alencon lace. That was pretty modern thinking for the nineteenth century.
As children came along, Zelie hired more employees in order to free herself to spend more time in the care and education of her children. There was no consideration of entrusting their learning or their souls to a nanny or any one else. This was her job as a parent. Daily, the family prayed together, ate together, played together. More than that they went to daily Mass, read scripture and said the rosary.The did all the first Friday devotions and went to Vespers on Sunday. The children were taught to make little sacrifices and not to demand their own way, They were sternly corrected for faulty behavior. With five girls there must have been a lot of sharing as well as squabbling. Zelie reported that Therese was the most difficult of all her children for she was the most stubborn. Yet from her parents’ home and from the discipline of Carmel she learned to restrain her willfulness and do all for the love of God. She loved doing frequent, unobserved sacrifices so that only Jesus knew of her good deeds.
When Therese was only five her mother died of cancer. This was a devastating loss for the family. One by one Louis gave up his daughters to religious life. It was very painful for him to give God his youngest daughter but he let her go. He never stood in God’s way. The Martin family produced saints and there are more being considered for canonization.
What a contrast between the Martin family and that Royal family. All of King Ahab’s family met a violent end in the next generation. Ahab was a weak father who did not lead his family in the ways of the Lord and allowed his foreign wife to control their religious beliefs. Traditionally the Father is the spiritual head of the family. Ahab failed.
In contrast we see two middle class French peiple live their faith by word, example and teaching. Louis, along with his wife, who was the heart and soul of the home, worked with one voice, united. As a couple they have been raised to the alters of sanctity and enjoy the presence of their children among the saints as well. The feast day of this couple is their wedding date, July 12.
No matter what kind of home our own family of origin created, we have the free choice to make our own family like the Holy Family. It is never too late to repent and start on the road to holiness and bring our children along the same path. The Church needs holy families.
St. Louis and St. Zelie, pray for us.