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December, 2018 – Special guest writer: Patricia Conroy

Patricia Conroy is resident of New Kensington, Pennsylvania U.S.A.  She is a practicing Catholic and has been married for 39 blessed years. Patricia is a health care professional working as a cytotechnologist for 40 years. She is also a certified yoga instructor.

“We will bring to Jesus, at the same time so great and so little, all our weaknesses, our difficulties, our feelings, as well as our love and good will.  What a great joy, my friend, to remember that on this holy night the angelic messenger sent by God promised the rewards of peace not only to the saints but to people of “good will.” We’re not saints, by any means, but our Christmas gift to our all-loving Friend will be our total, joyous good will.”                        

Elisabeth Leseur Selected Writings, Paulist Press,  Janet Ruffing

As I reflect on the timeless words of Elisabeth dated December 15, 1911, I am reminded of the meaning of Christmas.  Decorating, cooking, baking, shopping for gifts, family and social gatherings all happen in December in preparation for Christmas.  So often, we overcommit and become overwhelmed with self imposed demands and unrealistic expectations for the holiday season. It is all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas; the celebration of God’s greatest gift to us – the birth of Jesus our Savior.

The writings of Elisabeth inspire me to slow down, breathe, relax, pray and be present in the moment with a willingness to be a person of “good will.”  What does it mean to be a person of “good will”?  When I ponder that question, many things come to mind. That may mean to provide a listening ear to someone struggling with an illness or a serious issue.  Take time to call or visit someone you haven’t seen in a while instead of sending a text message or card. Use kind words and a smile when you greet or converse with a friend or a stranger.  A smile is a window to your heart. Visit a friend or a loved one in a hospital or nursing home. Offer a helping hand or a hug to someone in need. Buy a cup of coffee for an elderly person sitting alone and spread the joy of companionship by spending a few minutes with them. Perhaps give money or food to a homeless person without being judgmental.  These are examples of simple but meaningful acts of kindness that may inspire us to be a person of “good will”.  By showing love and kindness to others we keep Jesus in our heart. It is important to consider how we may extend our acts of “good will” beyond the Christmas Season.

So sing loudly during your Christmas celebration: “Glory! Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace to people of good will!”

May your hearts and the hearts of people you touch be filled with peace, love and joy!

Merry Christmas!

November, 2018

Joe and I had written the November reflection a few days ago, but given the horrific event in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 26th, we felt we needed to save those thoughts for another time. Our hearts and prayers continue to be focused on the victims and their families. I drive by the Tree of Life Synagogue just about every day as I pick up Joe on my way home from work, as the university where he teaches is just around the corner. Joe has taught many students from the Pittsburgh Jewish Community over the years. Squirrel Hill is part of our everyday lives, including our favorite movie theatre and a shop we have grown to love where we can buy our favorite wine from Israel. We are glad that the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish Communities in Pittsburgh has been good, especially with our current Bishop David Zubik. We were glad to hear Bishop Zubik be so vocal in his support of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community within hours of the tragedy. Our hearts continue to be very heavy.
I was confident that I would find some words from Elisabeth to think about during this time.  Jennifer

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November 28, 1901

“Talked to [Emile Alcan] and his wife yesterday about the unjust and un-Christian treatment of Jews in certain circles. My God, will you not give to poor human beings a spirit of intelligence and wisdom, which is the gift of your eternal Spirit? Will you not awaken soon in them the spirit of charity that you came to bring to the world, and which you said contained “the law and the prophets?” I wish I could organize a holy crusade against hate and promote justice and love among men and women. At any rate, in this garden God has given me to cultivate, I want to plead by my attitude, my words, and my actions before everyone I meet the great cause of charity. Will I not thus be defending the cause of God? My God help us; send a ray of light and love into our midst.”Elisabeth Leseur Selected Writings, Janet Ruffing, Paulist Press

October, 2018 – Special guest writer: Bernadette Chovelon

Bernadette is a Doctor of Letters and former teacher of French as a foreign language, mother of five children, grandmother and great-grandmother, and the author of several books on married spirituality, including the bestseller “Aventure du mariage chrétien : Guide pratique et spirituel” co-written with her husband Bernard in 2002. She wrote about Elisabeth and Felix Leseur in her 2015 book, “Élisabeth et Félix Leseur: Itinéraire spirituel d’un couple”. Bernadette has also given many interviews on Christian marriage, including a recent 2015 interview, “The Spiritual Adventure of Christian Marriage” available on YouTube at the following link.

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Elisabeth Leseur faces the death of a loved one

Elisabeth had a dear younger sister, Juliet, who died of tuberculosis. She was near her until her last day, April 13, 1905. Before that, she had prayed often for her healing. The Lord did not answer her.

I chose this beautiful text full of hope and Faith because one day all of us are, or will be, crushed by the death of a loved one.  Elisabeth shows us a path of prayer and positive acceptance.

She writes: “O my God, you did not grant the deepest prayer from my battered heart, or rather, you answered differently and better. All that I so ardently desired for my beloved, all the joys, health, and love that I hoped for her and all the life that I prayed for, even her final happiness, all these you have given to her in taking her to yourself. I cannot believe that my constant ardent prayers, and those of others for her, and all the sacrifices offered and so much suffering accepted could all be useless. I do not believe that all her sufferings and grief, ended by a holy death, could be without fruit. If she was denied earthly happiness, if she knew bitter and sad separations, and if in the end she was taken from us, it is because a better life awaited her on the other side. The God of love prepared for her a joy beyond her suffering, and God wanted her to enjoy all good and beauty and to give her his light; God… purified her and so she could approach the holiness of God.

[…] I suffer because she whom you took was my true friend and the gentle confidant of my faith and thoughts; because I spent some of the best hours of my life with her; because I loved her like a sister and like a beloved child at the same time; because we prayed, suffered, and loved together; and because her affection belonged to my life, my happiness, my heart.

[…] Felix’s love and my dear ones’ affection have been my share in human happiness, a share so great that I give thanks for it and accept my moral and physical trials […]”

Elisabeth Leseur – Selected Writings, July 4, 1905 – Paulist Press (pages 80-81)

September, 2018 – Special guest writer: Karen Feitl

Karen Feitl “met” Elisabeth in 2005 after a friend gave her The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest.   Since that time Karen has formed a deep devotion to Elisabeth, as she lives, loves, and struggles in her own sacramental marriage.  Her husband is a baptized Christian, albeit not practicing, and their communication, especially about faith and religion has been a very real challenge over the years.  She absolutely loves Our Lord and the fullness of truth found in the genius of Catholicism. For the joy set before her, she embraces her crosses and grows more in love each day for her husband and their six children.

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God drew Elisabeth to Himself and she loved Him with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength.  In the silence of these places she encountered Christ. Through her humility and meekness, His power was made perfect.   United with Christ, her love and prayers for Felix were so powerful as to bring about his conversion and ordination to the priesthood.  The publication of her writings, a work began by Felix, and the telling of her faith and trust in God, continue to transform the lives of people around the world.

Elisabeth’s life of love, peace, and suffering is one great circle from and back to God which continually deepens her interior life and reveals Christ’s love for all souls.  “And yet through all these trials and in spite of the lack of interior joy, there is in my soul some central place, which all these waves of sorrow cannot reach. In this place is hidden all my inner life; there I can feel how completely united I am to God, and I regain strength and serenity in the Heart of Christ.” (p. 37)

Even today, Elisabeth’s life and timeless writings continue to point us toward the Heart of Christ Himself.

To hear.  The origin of the word “obey” is “to listen, hear.”  Elisabeth heard the Word with the ears of her heart and she fully lived the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the second, to love your neighbor as yourself.  At her very core she was one, in love with God. Draw me after you; let us run! (Song of Solomon 1:4)

Family.  “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” –St. John Paul II.  Elisabeth was a perfect example of living the vows of her marriage—in good times and in bad. She and Felix, despite their differences, were blessed with an amazing love for each other, the two of them in their sacramental marriage.  It affected their friends, community, nation, and the world—one soul at a time. “I believe much more in individual effort, and in the good that may be done by addressing oneself not to the masses but to particular souls. The effect one can exert is thereby much deeper and more durable.” (p.8)

Confident trust!  Trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Hold Our Lady’s hand. Elisabeth is praying for us.  Like Elisabeth, we can offer praise and thanksgiving in all things—accepting that which the Lord gives.  As a loving Father, He absolutely adores us! He wants what is best for us; and He will give us or allow all things for our good and our holiness.

Silence.  In our busy, loud world, God whispers.  We encounter Him in the silence. Elisabeth will walk with us, pray for us, as we learn daily be with Christ in the silence.  She wrote, “Silence is sometimes an act of energy, and smiling too.” (p.166) Elisabeth’s Monthly Spiritual Retreat is a good guide to follow as we read her writings.  Each month focuses on a virtue to practice. Allowing her retreat reflections to resonate all day long while slowly working through her selected writings, is a great way to journey with Elisabeth to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

August, 2018 – Special guest writer: Jennifer Moorcroft

Jennifer Moorcroft lives in Wales with her husband David. They are both Third Order Carmelites. She has published many articles, Catholic Truth Society booklets and books, with a good portion of them on Carmelite spirituality and saints including St. Teresa of AvilaSt. John Bosco and St. Francis of Assisi.

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For all her married life Elisabeth lived in an anti- Catholic and atheistic atmosphere which caused her great pain, especially from her atheist husband, Félix. We, too, mostly live in a similar milieu. Elisabeth has much to help us deal with such situations. She was deeply respectful of the beliefs of others, wanting to know and understand them without ever compromising her own Catholic faith. If she discerned an openness in another she discreetly did all she could to help. But mostly her response was a silence deeply rooted in prayer. Here are some of her thoughts:

“When we feel impotent against hostility and indifference, when it is impossible to speak of God or the spiritual life, when many hearts brush against ours without penetrating it, then we must enter peacefully into ourselves in the sweet company that our souls never lack; and to others we must give only prayers and the quiet example of our lives and the secret immolation that makes the most fruitful apostolate. All our explanations, words, and efforts are not worth the feeblest ray of the Holy Spirit in enlightening a soul, but they may obtain all of His light for this soul. ” (My Spirit Rejoices p. 146)

“The adored Guest of my soul must be guessed at rather than plainly seen; every part of me must speak of Him without my saying His name; I must be an influence, without ever being a profession of faith.”(Ibid p. 104)

“And in her relations with her husband: Let him see the fruit but not the sap, my life but not the faith that transforms it, the light that is in me but not a word of Him who brings it to my soul; let him see God without hearing His name.”   (Ibid p. 116)

July, 2018 – Special guest writer: Claude Menesguen

Elisabeth Leseur
Holiness

The Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad“) of Pope Francis is not intended as “a treatise on holiness”.  However, it gives a number of ways to evaluate
a person’s holiness.  This text can therefore be used as part of the canonization process of Elisabeth Leseur. Especially since she could belong to the “middle class of holiness” mentioned in point 7 of the papal document.

It is interesting to note that this concept was formulated almost in these terms by a forgotten writer, Joseph Malègue, who published in 1958  “Pierres Noires : Les Classes Moyennes du Salut” ( “Black Stones: The Middle Classes of Salvation”).  But his memory, erased in France, had been preserved in Buenos Aires, by The Archbishop of this city.  When he became Pope, he quoted this novelist very early on. He also quotes in the Exhortation the phrase of another original French thinker, Leon Bloy, “The only tragedy in life, is to not become a saint.”

Let’s examine in the papal document the points that reflect Elisabeth Leseur’s holiness.

[12] But I think too of all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.

[14] We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.

[16] This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.

[19] Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.

[22] What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.

[25] You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor.

[29] The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard.

[91] As a result, the Beatitudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed negatively, regarded with suspicion, and met with ridicule.

[112]  This source of inner strength enables us to persevere amid life’s ups and downs, but also to endure hostility, betrayal and failings on the part of others.  It is a sign of the fidelity born of love, for those who put their faith in God (pístis) can also be faithful to others (pistós).

[117] It is not good when we look down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and always trying to teach them lessons.

[118] If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness.

[141] In many holy marriages too, each spouse becomes a means used by Christ for the sanctification of the other.

[147] The saints are distinguished by a spirit of prayer and a need for communion with God.

[149] … some moments spent alone with God are also necessary …

[154] Intercessory prayer is an expression of our fraternal concern for others, since we are able to embrace their lives, their deepest troubles and their loftiest dreams.

I think that the quotations of the Apostolic Exhortation ” Gaudete et Exultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) apply perfectly to Elisabeth Leseur. There are two types of holiness: the holiness of the martyrs, the missionary adventurers of the faith, the founders of orders, theologians and, on the other hand, the holiness of ordinary people, the “middle class of holiness” to which Elisabeth belonged.

This holiness is founded on the perfection of everyday tasks, love of our neighbor, the quiet conversion of our will, and a place in our lives reserved for prayer.

Curiously, one has the impression that the apostolic exhortation was written while thinking of Elisabeth.

That’s why everyone should read it and meditate on it.

June, 2018 – Special guest writer: José Eduardo Câmara

José Eduardo Câmara holds a Law degree, and currently works as a translator. In the last years, he has worked on a project, with the cooperation of a monastery, translating and studying the “living theology of the saints”. He just published his first book called “Os Anjos na vida dos Santos” (The Angels in the Lives of the Saints).

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Elisabeth Leseur´s Secret

Elisabeth Leseur was an extraordinary woman who lived a most ordinary life. She was a mystic, living in profound union with God; not in a Monastery, but in her own home. She was an Apostle – as she asked Our Lord so many times – through prayer, through true love and friendship; but she preached the Gospel not from a pulpit, but with her own life. She didn’t have a perfect life – far from it – she had many crosses, spiritual and physical trials, but she found “the hidden Pearl”, she found the Love of God in her own life. She was truly a contemplative amid the noise of the world.

In her diary, she wrote: “While the angels fulfill their function of watchfulness at our sides, they never cease to contemplate God. This thought of Father Faber (1) struck me during my meditation and made me make a new resolution: to imitate, on earth, our friends the angels. Before all activities, even in the midst of them, to remain united to God, to dwell in his presence, and to offer him everything: words, charitable deeds, work.” (2)

(1)Father Frederick William Faber was an English Oratorian and contemporary writer during Elisabeth’s life.
(2) Elisabeth Leseur. Selected Writings, translated by Janet K. Ruffing, pg. 123

May, 2018 – Special guest writer: Claude Menesguen

Claude was Born in Bretagne (France). He is a Graduate of the HEC school (High Commercial Studies) and of an university degree of Law. His professional career was in the Finance industry, working at the Société Générale bank until 1994 and then the EIG (Economic Interest Group) of the Cartes Bancaires. He retired in 1998.  Since his retirement, he has spent his time conducting historical research about Bretagne and his city of Marly-le-Roi. It was during this research that he discovered Elisabeth Leseur, whose secondary residence was on block next to his own home. For the last 10 plus years, he has worked on the writings of Elisabeth Leseur in cooperation with Dominican monastery of the Annunciation in Paris. He published in 2015 a lovely book entitled “Cent pensées d’Elisabeth Leseur”.

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May 3, 1914

A decisive date.  For Elisabeth Leseur, it is the pinnacle of her spiritual rise.

For Félix Leseur, it is a starting point.

She has dedicated her life to the conversion of the people she loves and, first and foremost, to the conversion of her husband, yet on the day of her death, Félix remains an agnostic.  Did she fail?

The unfolding of history shows that her spiritual victory is total, but moreover, she dies in peace. Illuminated with complete hope, she knows that her prayers were not in vain.

Félix sees on her face “an expression of bliss”.(1)

On May 6, 1914, during Elisabeth’s funeral at St. Pierre de Chaillot, Félix “has a very vivid sensation of communion of souls as a purpose beyond that of our earthly existence”.(1)

Shortly after, he is given Elisabeth’s spiritual journals.  “Providence had placed within my reach the radiant flame which was gradually going to enlighten me and lead me to God.”(1)

“A day will come, will it not? when your desire will be that I go to you, Lord, when the shadows, the sorrows will vanish, when the burden of the body will cease to weigh down the soul, when our soul will finally spring, free and pure, to your Beauty, immerse itself in your Holiness, be elated in your Love.” E.L.

(1) In “Life of Elisabeth Leseur” by Félix Leseur – de Gigord: Editor

Easter Reflection 2018 – Special guest writer: Bernadette Chovelon

Bernadette is a Doctor of Letters and former teacher of French as a foreign language, mother of five children, grandmother and great-grandmother, and the author of several books on married spirituality, including the bestseller “Aventure du mariage chrétien : Guide pratique et spirituel” co-written with her husband Bernard in 2002. She wrote about Elisabeth and Felix Leseur in her 2015 book, “Élisabeth et Félix Leseur: Itinéraire spirituel d’un couple”. Bernadette has also given many interviews on Christian marriage, including a recent 2015 interview, “The Spiritual Adventure of Christian Marriage” available on YouTube at the following link.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Easter 1903 in Rome – The renewal of Faith of Elisabeth

In the spring of 1903, Elisabeth shares with her husband her wish to spend Holy Week in Rome. At that time her husband is an atheist and anticlerical, so she keeps secret the reason for her request. Felix, delighted to see his wife suggest a vacation, immediately organizes an inviting itinerary. She rejoices because she loves traveling; she simply asks him to plan, as part of the trip, a morning of solitude and freedom for her alone. In reality, she wants to enjoy the Easter holidays to renew her faith so that it becomes deeper and more alive.

She goes alone to St. Peter’s while her husband and friends go sightseeing. There, she experiences two exceptional moments that will be for her a true leap into a new Faith:

  • The pontifical audience of Leo XIII. The day before she received an invitation for a seat in the second row. She considered this invitation as a gift from God.
  • And especially her morning in St. Peter’s Basilica where she devotes her whole life to God. At the very heart of Christendom she is seized by the immense tenderness of God for her:“After going to confession to a French-speaking priest, I received communion in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Those moments were completely and spiritually happy. I felt the living presence of Christ, of God himself, conveying indescribable love. This blessed one spoke to me, and the infinite compassion of the Savior passed quickly into me. Never will this action of God be obliterated. […]The one living God possessed my soul for all eternity in this unforgettable moment. I felt renewed to my very depths, ready for a new life, for responsibility, for the work intended by providence. I offered myself and the future without reserve.”

Janet Ruffing: Elisabeth Leseur, Selected Writings, 2005

March 2018 – Special guest writer – Vicki Burbach

In a recent homily, our parish priest discussed the staggering fact that 80 percent of baptized young people are leaving the Faith before they are 25 years old. He was sharing the findings of a newly published study conducted by St. Mary’s Press, in conjunction with Georgetown University. The report —  Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics — discusses the self-reported reasons Millennials give for leaving the Church. Our pastor mentioned three:

  1. They do not believe in God
  2. The Church is full of Hypocrites.
  3. What the Church has to say about morality (particularly sexual morality) is diametrically opposed to what the culture is teaching Millennials.

Elisabeth intuitively recognized and understood each of these reasons, and sought to eradicate them through the only productive means possible —  personal transformation. May each of us be inspired to adopt her resolutions, that His light may be encountered by every soul we meet:It is not in arguing or in lecturing that I can make them know what God is to the human soul. But in struggling with myself, in becoming, with His help, more Christian and more valiant, I will bear witness to Him whose humble disciple I am. By the serenity and strength that I mean to acquire, I will prove that the Christian life is great and beautiful and full of joy. By cultivating all the best faculties of my mind, I will proclaim God is the highest Intelligence and that those who serve Him can draw without end from that blessed source of intellectual and moral light. — The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 10

February 2018

We are just a few weeks from the start of Lent, so I thought it was not too soon to select a journal entry from Elisabeth focused on her Lenten preparations. In these last few years, it seems in the United States it has become popular to not  give something up, but to commit to doing an extra good work or working on a virtue (e.g. being kinder) during Lent. But there are still many who will give up something such as dessert, chocolate or wine. With either path, it tends to be external and can be seen by others. In fact, most people ask each other, especially among family and friends what they will “do” for Lent. When I read Elisabeth’s words, however, I focus my attention inward and on the unceasing internal work required in the spiritual life. There is beauty to be found in the hidden parts of our lives, which we make visible only to our God. Elisabeth continues to teach me humility.

February 23, 1912

“I have jotted down in my notebook my Lenten resolutions, but I want to confirm them here. I must truly renew my life, and it is God whom I ask in all simplicity to transform me. I want to live interiorly more spiritually, exteriorly more gently and lovingly so as to make God better loved, who is the beginning and end of my spiritual life. More than ever I want to hide in the heart of Jesus my good works, my prayers, my self-denial, to preach only through example, to speak not at all of myself and little of God, since in this sad world one only gives scandal or annoys others by showing one’s love for God. But whenever someone approaches me, or whenever it seems to be God’s will that I should approach another, I will do so simply, very prudently, and disappear as soon as the task is done, mixing no thought of self with God’s action. And should I be misunderstood, criticized, and judged unfavorably, I will try to rejoice in remembering our divine exemplar, and I will seek to be of no consequence in the esteem of others. I who am in fact so poor and little in the eyes of God.”

Janet Ruffing, Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings, Paulist Press, 2005

January 2018

For this month’s reflection I have selected the opening paragraph of one of Elisabeth’s notes to Sister Goby at the start of 1912. In this note, Elisabeth writes that regardless of distance, she and Sister Goby are connected by the same beloved Master. In the weeks leading up to Christmas as we received a small increase in notes on the cause from around the world, including Argentina, France, the Phillipines and the United States. While Elisabeth is the connection, it is really our beloved Master that bring us together. In these notes, people share with us the need for healing, of vocations being discerned, the need for more prayers for more conversions and we in turn offer those petitions to our same Beloved Master.

I am grateful for the work of Janet Ruffing in translating into English these beautiful letters between these two spiritual women. In her introduction to these letters she noted that Sister Goby, of the Hospitallers of St. Martha of Beaune, was sufficiently admired in her nearby village, for the patients and soldiers she had nursed, that a street was named after her. While in France last year, we took the time to visit Savigny-Les-Beaune and walked down the Avenue of the Combatants (a World War I monument) to turn right and onto rue Soeur Goby (Sister Goby street). It is a beautiful small street with many flowers between the buildings.  

Letter to Sister Goby date January 12, 1912

It’s been so long since I’ve chatted with you, and I’ve decide this..cannot continue. True, we’ve never really separated, since we live and work for the same beloved Master and are one with him in front of the tabernacle or at other times of prayer. And yet I experience such a deep calm, truly a consolation, when I’m able to open my heart to you, fully one with you in spirit. Although we’re not near one another, it is so good to know I’m united with a true spiritual sister who prays for me, and that in God there is no distance, since all hearts meet together in the heart of Jesus.

Janet Ruffing, Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings, Paulist Press, 2005