Summer 2019 – Reflection by France Roseau
France Roseau (nee de GOUVELLO) was born in Berlin, Germany, in a family of eight children. Her father was a military officer. Following several moves between France and Germany, the family settled in the Paris area. After 20 years working as an engineer, France now teaches physics and chemistry as a contractor in Catholic schools around Paris. She has been married to Jean-Luc ROSEAU for more than 27 years. They have five children. Their spiritual home is the Benedictine abbey of Our Lady of Randol. A monk from that abbey helped France discover the life of Elisabeth Leseur through the book of Bernadette Chovelon. France lives near Elizabeth’s current burial site; she installed a plaque on the grave to make it more visible and she visits it regularly.
As summer begins, along comes vacation, well-deserved rest, and also opportunities for new encounters or family gatherings. Among those people we meet, some may seem very close to us through faith, ideas, charity… Others, on the contrary, may seem far removed from us and from the Church. From this latter perspective, these thoughts of Elisabeth Leseur hold my attention:
“So let us be kind to those who show the […] incredible superficiality of so many around us […]. Let us try to speak a language they can understand […]. Has not God done the same with us […]?”
“Those who seem to be spiritually dead are not always those least accessible to the divine word; when wood is dead, it needs only a spark to set it afire.”
Let’s try to be in the hands of God this little flame for others during these summer months. The best way? This last thought tells us that under all circumstances we must step aside by means of prayer to make room for God:
“Having God within us, we will surely do the work of God, or rather, he will do it himself through us and better than us.”
This is what I wish for each and every one of us for these summer months… Great encounters and good rest to all!
All quotes are from the book “Elisabeth Leseur – Selected writings” by Sister Janet K. Ruffing.
June 2019 – Reflection by Joe MacNeil – To Love is Everything
Joe MacNeil is a professor of chemistry at Chatham University, treasurer for the Elisabeth Leseur Circle of Friends, and Jennifer’s adoring husband.
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.
*All quotes and analysis are based on the translation of Sister Janet K. Ruffing. Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Kindle Edition.
May 2019 -Reflection by Father Ben Syberg
Fr. Ben Syberg is a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He serves as the Pastor of St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He will celebrate his fifth year as a priest this summer. He’d like to be a saint, but isn’t always sure how.
Fr. Ben’s favorite quote from Elisabeth: “I must not give in to my immense longing for seclusion and solitude in spite of my inconsolable grief and natural aversion to superficiality.” (Journal entry of October 17, 1905)
I discovered Elisabeth at a time when I most certainly needed her. Five years into seminary, God sends me this wonderful woman, this treasure trove of inspiration and insight. Several years later, giving a retreat on her life to sixty Catholic woman, I had almost forgotten how much I drew from Elisabeth. Having then been a priest less than two years, I discovered her once more. I need to discover her more and more. Because she has never failed me.
She keeps me on the straight line. The line right down the center. For there is much that can push me off balance. Take the world for example. When the world seems too modern, too mobile, too fast or too enlightened, I remember that Elisabeth lived in the heart of secular France. She is a saint, and yet was born only sixty years after the French Revolution. Or when it seems in life like my best efforts aren’t enough, that I can’t make a difference and nothing I do matters, I remember that Felix became a priest after Elisabeth died. Who had more reason to give up, and yet more reason to celebrate the patience of God!
When I get caught up in my own successes, my gifts and talents, when I feel on top of life and in control, I remember her mountain of writings on suffering and the cross. I remember that she understood what matters. Yet when I feel overwhelmed by the cross, by illness and weakness, and the pitfalls of life, I remember how joyful Elisabeth was. Even if I get caught up in depression, and scold myself for it, I remember – Elisabeth felt that sadness in life too. She knew that deeper emptiness. Depression doesn’t make one a failure.
When I think I have no time for family, I remember all the love she showered onto her nieces and nephews. Family was always at her center. When I look around our country and our culture, and I want to cuts all ties from it and run away, I remember that Elisabeth loved her homeland. She was French at her core. When I think there’s no allowance for levity, for the finer things and joys of life, I remember that Elisabeth made the allowance. So I can too!
Yes Elisabeth always puts me on the narrow path. One that is rarely taken, but right in front of me. I thank God she still shows me the way.
Easter Reflection 2019 by Claude Mengesguen
I remember an Italian poem, “La Gioia”, that I learned a long time ago at the Lycée de Marseille. I believe it is by the writer Edmondo de Amicis. He tells the following story:
One morning at home, a man receives a visit from joy. Before hugging it close to his heart, he runs from room to room within his house shouting: “joy came to visit me”. But nobody answered. Everything is sad, he must let go of joy.
Joy is sharing. The joy of Easter must be shared. Yet Elisabeth can only receive the joy of Easter in a painful solitude. She lived intensely the emotions of Holy Week, especially Wednesday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. On the other hand, we feel that the celebration of Easter is a challenge for her. She has no one with whom to share the joy of the Resurrection. For her loved ones, Easter Sunday is a Sunday like any other.
She attributes to her “fatigue and physical exhaustion the deprivation of the delicate sweetness of communion.” (March 25, 1913). One rather believes what she writes elsewhere: “It is a double and very painful sacrifice, that of my soul’s loneliness.”
With her usual courage, she concludes: “What does spiritual joy matter to one who feels alive?” Official responsibility must prevail. Moreover, she enters Lent with a set of resolutions towards God, towards herself and towards her neighbors.
How sad it may be that Elisabeth did not experience – she who loved the great liturgies so much – the Light shared during Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, which prepares one so well for the joy of the Resurrection.
April 2019 Reflection: Karen Feitl and Jennifer MacNeil
A few weeks ago a woman from France was in touch with us to let us know that small groups were forming across several cities in France to bring women together in friendship and for prayers to Elisabeth. They are praying for the intercession of Elisabeth in marriages similar to that of Elisabeth and Felix, where one spouse is a believer and one is not. They are also offering prayers in general for their families and for those with health concerns. I shared this with one of our very active supporters in the USA, Karen Feitl, and together we discussed ways we might unite ourselves with them despite of the distance between us. We came up with the idea of asking our Elisabeth group on Facebook to join us in praying the rosary on Fridays for the cause for Elisabeth, for strong marriages, and for families. We have had a very positive response from around the world. (If you would like to join us but have not yet found us on Facebook, search “Friends of Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur”.)
When we decided to suggest the rosary, I was not well studied in quotes/thoughts from Elisabeth on the Blessed Mother. I know by heart so many Elisabeth quotes on suffering and uniting herself to Christ, but I was challenged to think of anything on the Blessed Mother. I thought of Elisabeth’s time in Lourdes and found this beautiful paragraph from a letter she wrote to Sr. Goby after the trip. I love the fact that Elisabeth views her relationship with the Blessed Mother as that of a daughter.
June 30, 1912
My dear Sister and friend,
During our stay in Lourdes I could only send you a quick note, but you were constantly being remembered. I took you with you me to the holy grotto, near our Lord and in my communions, everywhere that I prayed, and one prays everywhere in Lourdes, as you well know. What consoling moments I spent in that peaceful city of Mary, an unforgettable time that leaves a deep mark on one’s life for ever. It seems to me that I love the holy Virgin ever more as her daughter, that I have a greater desire to serve the good God. I also have more of an attraction to the poor, the sick whom he so loves, a greater willingness to work for the spiritual good of others through suffering or action, according to God’s will. …
March 2019 Reflection: Claude Mengesguen
When we visited Paris last fall we were blessed to spend an afternoon with Claude Menesguen and his son Nicolas. (Claude is the author of the book, “Cent pensées d’Élisabeth Leseur” and was one of the featured speakers at the Saint-Germain-des-Pres conference on October 16, 2018.) One of the highlights, besides wonderful wine from St. Emilion at lunch, was a visit to the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle. We have kept in touch with Claude over these last few months, exchanging emails on many topics including the unrest in Paris. We asked Claude if he would write a reflection we might share in early spring.
The choice of this theme for a woman whose main characteristic is an intense spirituality may seem unusual. Moreover, she lived at a time when women in France were systematically removed from politics. The 3rd Republic refused until the end of the regime in 1940 to confer the right to vote on women. The nineteenth century, unlike the eighteenth century, experienced the triumph of machismo.
Despite this unfavorable context, Elisabeth was still interested in political issues. And one finds in her stories the trace of her opinions. Intelligent, she was rooted in her time. Moreover, through her husband, she was close to men of power and very well placed to judge their ideas and actions. Thus, while the majority of practicing Catholics dreamed of a return from the monarchy, she realized that the Republic was firmly established in the country. In a letter, she is dismayed at the end of a dinner by the naivety of friends convinced of the chances of ascending the throne of Bonaparte. She supports without any problem the policy of rallying to the Republic advocated by Pope Leo XIII. She does not believe in the eternity of an anticlerical government: “The future will be what we will make of it.” In fact, as early as the 1914-1918 war, governments abandoned their destructive attitudes in this area.
On the other hand, her knowledge of misery leads her – which is rare among women of that time who were confined to female patronesses – to attach importance to the social question. “The social question is, in essence, the Christian question since it is that of the situation of every man in this world, and of his material, intellectual and moral improvement.”
Knowing politicians well, is Elisabeth without illusions about the sincerity of their generous speeches? “Let us think less about humanity and more about man.” The socialists of the moment do not find favor in her eyes. She knows that their achievements in France are meager, inferior to those that could be observed in the Germany of William II. “Socialism claims to secure and transform the future, Christianity transforms the present.”
Liberalism does not seduce her either. “Practical materialism is as dangerous as philosophical materialism. It invades people’s homes every day and, through the game of evil instincts, it settles in our democracy. ” Here too she reveals herself prophetic. It precedes a century of criticism of the West by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “The Western system is in a state of spiritual exhaustion.”
To conclude, I would say that the text that best expresses Elisabeth Leseur’s state of mind is the shortest: “I am anti-anti.” I admit that this sentence often serves me as a reference for judging the speeches of politicians. Written at the time of the Dreyfus Affair where in France everyone is anti: anti-Semitic, anti-clerical, anti-republican, antimilitarist, etc … It retains a perpetual value.
February 2019 Reflection: Jennifer MacNeil
After many failed attempts, I have finally found the episode of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s television show “Life is Worth Living” where he speaks of Elisabeth and Felix Leseur. For our friends outside the United States, Archbishop Sheen’s television show was quite popular in the 1950s. In this particular episode he is discussing Marriage and Incompatibilities. Just before he speaks of the Leseurs he mentions the sharing of spiritual gifts between husband and wife and notes St. Paul’s words from the Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:14). “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband”.
Given the theme Archbishop Sheen explored with St. Paul’s words, I believe there are many words of Elisabeth that are appropriate. I chose one of my favorites; her journal entry on November 13, 1905.
“Worries, sad memories, an atmosphere of unbelief, indifference, or scorn, and the painful awareness of never being able to make either God or one’s soul known to others–all of this has battered me and knocked me to the ground, bruised like the gentle Savior. But all this brings me to a humble act of faith, love, and acceptance, and a new resolution to be more courageous, to steady myself in peace, and to submit to these offenses without revealing the suffering they cause me. With Felix I ought to be more even tempered, stronger; with Maman more gentle and attentive; with everyone kind and self-forgetful. … I must say with St. Paul that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). My beloved Felix has many cares, Maman an immense grief; they need me, or even more, they need only God. Through my sufferings and sacrifices I can obtain spiritual transformation for them. … My God, assist her who, in spite of her faults, desires above everything to make you known and loved.”
Elisabeth Leseur Selected Writings, Paulist Press, Janet K. Ruffing, RSM
January 2019 Reflection: Jennifer MacNeil
Just before Christmas, I was blessed to spend some time in person with Sister Janet Ruffing, a Sister of Mercy and the author of the book Elisabeth Leseur Selected Writings. Sister Janet was in Pittsburgh to join with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in commemorating 175 years of ministry in the United States. It was a wonderful experience to meet the woman who’s book on Elisabeth has had such an impact on my life. Sr. Janet’s book has helped introduce Elisabeth’s spirituality to a whole new generation.
For January’s reflection I selected a small portion of one of my favorite letters between Elisabeth and Sr. Goby that is included in Sr. Janet’s book. These words of Elisabeth help to remind me how connected we all are in prayer and work through our “beloved Master”.
January 12, 1912
It’s been so long since I have chatted with you, and I have decided this….cannot continue. True, we’re 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 am able to open my heart to you, fully one with you in Spirit.
How reassuring it is to feel surrounded and wrapped in divine love, realizing that our all loving Father is bringing us to the eternal shores, letting us occasionally breathe in from a far their life-giving scents. And then, if the path becomes more difficult and our guide less visible, we surrender ourselves blindly to his gentle direction, waiting in self-forgetfulness until God’s presence can be felt once more. Earth is not heaven, after all, and were we always surrounded by spiritual consolations, we might find it difficult to understand the difference. We have been given the grace we need to help us reach the joys of our much desired heaven.