Greetings from Pittsburgh! We again express our gratitude for the tremendous show of support with masses offered for Elisabeth on or near May 3rd. We were informed of several additional masses following the publication of the May reflection. All masses are listed at the following link. We also want to give special thanks to Vicki Burbach who gave a short talk about Elisabeth at her parish, St. Charles Borromeo in Gretna, Nebraska following a mass for Elisabeth on May 3rd. Over the weekend of May 3rd we had the highest number of visitors ever over a single 24 hour period on ELCause.org. And we were pleasantly surprised to find Elisabeth’s words the reflection of the day for Monday, May 6th in the “Magnificat”! All these “acts of love and words of life” encourage Joe and I to continue in our little ways to increase Elisabeth’s fame of sanctity around the world.
Joe has been my number one supporter on all things Elisabeth, since her words accompanied us to the Holy Land in 2016. Joe takes great care of ELCause.org and also is the first to patiently listen to all my ideas for the cause. He mentioned a few days ago that he would like to write a reflection, which I am very happy to share today.
June 2019 Reflection
To Love is Everything
When Jennifer and I were looking for a quote from Elisabeth Leseur that we could use on the first prayer card we were designing, we choose the following:
To think is excellent;
To pray is better;
To love is everything.
This remains my favorite Elisabeth quote. But as I’ve pondered it over the last few years, I’ve come to see that beneath its Haiku-like brevity lies the full arc of Elisabeth’s spiritual development, in all its beauty and complexity.
From what we know, Elisabeth grew up in a typical Catholic household. Even her very early writings speak to a spiritual depth well beyond her age. But, suddenly cast into a household and an intellectual community actively hostile to the Church, even Elisabeth’s faith faltered. Devoid support, she drifted. Felix, knowing her to be a highly intelligent woman, doggedly appealed to that intelligence as he sought to “liberate” her from faith.
To think is excellent
Yet in the end, it was through her intellectual rigor that her faith was reborn. As Elisabeth wrote in the introduction to her second journal . . . then the slow, silent action of Providence in me and the wonderful process of inner conversion . . . . sometimes through the very means that should have caused me to lose my faith *. . .
I lament the fact that she never wrote more fully on this point, for the “rational” forces of modern society that seek to pull us further from God seem stronger than ever. Even so, God’s reopening of her heart to grace through her reading and her study gives me, and I imagine everyone who has ever been touched by Elisabeth’s own writing, the strength to persevere in sharing her message. Words matter.
To pray is better
Once one has welcomed God into one’s heart, the strength of His grace takes root and leads to places intelligence alone can never take you. Elisabeth recounts a wonderful afternoon at Saint Peter’s in Rome in April of 1903, saying:
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 triumphant Christ, the eternal Word, he who as a human person suffered and loved, the one living God possessed my soul for all eternity in that unforgettable moment.*
Thus strengthened, she committed her whole life to God; willingly accepting the challenges, the trials and the struggles of a life spent discerning the calls of Providence.
To love is everything
To fully surrender to God’s will is a huge moment of faith that most of us will aspire to, but never fully reach. But for Elisabeth, the act of surrender was a prelude to an even greater leap: Abandonment. Elisabeth wrote at one point . . . . yesterday morning I received communion with the same peace and the same abandonment to God. I felt Jesus truly living in me* . . .
While the two words surrender and abandonment are closely related in this spiritual context, surrender connotes a quieter, passive acceptance, while abandonment evokes whole-hearted commitment and participation. It seems telling then, that in Sr. Janet Ruffing’s translation of Elisabeth’s writings, she uses “surrender” only thirteen times, while “abandonment” is employed thirty times to express Elisabeth’s eager and complete engagement with the will of God.
Lest we despair along our own journey, I will conclude by noting that in all of Elisabeth’s writings, the terms surrender and abandonment occur much more frequently (79% of the time) during the last three years of her life. Her journey of faith, from intellect to prayerful acceptance to total abandonment, captured so beautifully in her journals, still helps light the path we are all asked to travel.
Joe MacNeil is a professor of chemistry at Chatham University, treasurer for the Elisabeth Leseur Circle of Friends, and Jennifer’s adoring husband.
*All quotes and analysis are based on the translation of Sister Janet K. Ruffing. Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Kindle Edition.
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With our prayers,
Jennifer and Joe MacNeil