If you’ve been reading along and following the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge, then you know that I’ve been sharing what I’m reading for each category throughout the year. It helps keep me on track, and I hope it helps inspire you toward your reading goals for 2017!
Category: A Catholic Memoir or Autobiography
My Pick: The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur
I’m going to tell you from the get-go that this might be the most impactful book on my spiritual life that I read this year, perhaps in the last few years. So, here’s the plug that made me want to read it in the first place: Elisabeth was the devoted wife of Felix Leseur, who was an adamant aetheist for their entire marriage. After her death, he discovered all of her journals (the contents of this book). In reading them, not only did he convert to Catholicism, but he became a Catholic priest! After his conversion, he compiled Elisabeth’s journals and various correspondence into this book, travelled around sharing her story, and had her cause opened for canonization.
I read this book with a group of ladies from my parish this summer, and I think we would all say that we were profoundly impacted by Elisabeth’s humble spirituality, profound love, and immense wisdom. There is so much that I could say about her writings, but I am just going to highlight for you some of the major themes along with corresponding quotes from her journals.
“Suffering creates life; it transforms all it touches, all it strikes.”
Elisabeth suffered greatly in her life, primarily from her many health issues that plagued her at various points. Ultimately she died of cancer. There were many periods when she couldn’t leave her home due to her physical condition. She also suffered emotionally from the inability to have children, though she was a dedicated spiritual mother to all of her neices and nephews. But there was another suffering that she experienced — the pain of loneliness in her Catholic faith. Her husband, and many of their good friends, were antagonistic or indifferent to her religous beliefs; and this weighed heavily on her heart, particularly in the case of her husband.
Yet, she embraced all of this suffering with willingness. She truely believed that suffering was redemptive and powerful in the Christian life. Here’s what she says:
“Sorrows of life — trials, illness, and painful infirmities: dear companions who have been so faithful to me, I do not reject you; I love you, because you are other aspects of the one true Love; because united to the holy Cross, you become good workers for the salvation and conversion of souls and for my own expiation; because, thanks to you, I can sometimes show my tender gratitude to Him who has done so much, who has done everything for me.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to call my sorrows (be they great or small) “dear companions” yet; may God’s grace get us there on this side of heaven.
“To know how to be silent is often wisdom and an act of virtue.”
Another theme of her diaries, which she emphasizes over and over in various ways, is the call to silence in regard to the interior life. This woman was so wise in recognizing when in our lives we should speak and when we should be silent. Generally speaking, she advocated for keeping quiet about the lights given in the interior times of prayer with God. To her these moments of one-on-one communion with God were not for sharing with everyone else, they were for savoring as the intimate treasures of the interior life that they were.
“Silence is the safe guardian of humility. Never to be silent, on the other hand, when it is a question of others’ pain, or generous praise of one’s neighbor, or of doing good.”
“Prayer is the higher form of activity; through it we act directly upon God, while the outward act is directed solely to our fellow human beings. We are sure of our prayer; we can doubt that of our actions — unless their supernatural intention makes them another form of prayer.”
I think most of us think — I know I have — that we need to fit prayer into the “activities” of our day. We may even say that those activities will be benefited by the time in prayer; and they will. But before meditating on the writings in this journal, I would say that I didn’t approach prayer as the primary action of my life, and therefore of my day. What is the resulting state of ours hearts when the primary work of our life is prayer? Elisabeth says:
“Unalterable calm, true humility, profound charity: the three foundations of all strong and intense interior life.”
Love of Souls
You cannot read Elisabeth’s journals without being moved by her love for people — all people. She sees each person as a soul, despite their annoying behaviors or hurtful remarks. She doesn’t view them as “other.” She sees the sameness to herself; and therefore she sees the mutual need for love, instead of the magnification of their faults. I tend, more than I like, to see the faults. I tend to separate myself as different from the people that frustrate or hurt me. Elisabeth highlights one reason for this tendency:
“But when we look at others, we are generally short-sighted or far-sighted, and so we either scrutinize their errors at excessively close range, or we exaggerate their faults from afar. Only charity gives a correct view of men and things.”
Yes, charity. The greatest of virtues is truely love. May Elisabeth’s goal be ours:
“The love of souls for and through Jesus Christ, without a single personal motive and without anything that could feed pride or egotism.”
The Resume of Life
I have one final thought to share, and that is how Elisabeth Leseur so beautifully articulates the path to living an intentional Christian life. She says, “We should make each day a resume of our whole life by filling it with prayer, work, and charity.” A resume of our whole life. If someone took a snapshot of my day, would it look the way I want my whole life to look? The truth is, if my day isn’t the picture I want to be remembered for, then my life isn’t going to be either. Why? Because we only have today, this moment. Our daily living is what makes up a lifetime. If we want lives marked by prayer, good works, and love of souls, then those are the things that should mark our daily living. May our days represent the lives to which God has called us.
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