It has suddenly been borne in upon me that I have files and files of material that I can share here. Hidden in my laptop, for example, are the stories of hundreds of unsung saints. Here’s one of them.
Servant of God Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) was a married laywoman. Her husband, Félix, a doctor, lost his Catholic faith shortly before their 1889 wedding and became a publicly vocal atheist.
Ironically, the suffering she endured as a result invited her to a deeper exploration of her own, until that point rather conventional, faith. She came to see that enduring the anti-Catholic jibes of her husband, whom she loved deeply, and his friends, could be a hidden form of mortification. “Silence is sometimes an act of energy, and smiling, too.”
But Leseur was no retiring faux-martyr. A lively hostess, she carried out her social duties with grace and good humor. A loyal friend, she carried on a wide-ranging spiritual correspondence– mostly unbeknownst to her husband—for the duration of her marriage.
All the while, she continued to develop a rich and hidden interior life: her collected journals are now widely considered a spiritual classic. Her entry for May 3, 1904, is typical: “Has my life known any unhappier time than this?…And yet through all these trials and in spite of the lack of interior joy, there is a deep place that all these waves of sorrow cannot touch….[T]here I can feel how completely one with God I am, and I regain strength and serenity in the heart of Christ. My God, give health and happiness to those I love and give us all true light and charity.”
In frail health all her life, by July, 1913 she was bedridden by the breast cancer to which she would succumb the following year. In the silence of her heart, she made the decision to offer up all her sufferings for the conversion of her husband’s soul.
After she died, Félix found among her papers a letter she had written to him revealing her fervent prayers that he would turn to Christ and become a priest. Outraged, he set off for Lourdes in the hopes of debunking what he considered to be the crank miracles that occurred there. Instead, he had a conversion experience at the Lourdes Grotto.
Leseur is a powerful example as we walk through a world that so often despises Christ and his Church.
“We must never reject anyone who seeks to approach us spiritually; perhaps that person, consciously or unconsciously, is in quest of the “unknown God” (Acts 17: 23) and has sensed in us something that reveals his presence; perhaps he or she thirsts for truth and feels that we live by this truth.”
“Look around oneself for proud sufferers in need, find them, and give them the alms of our heart, of our time, and of our tender respect.”
“Suffering is the highest form of action, the highest expression of the wonderful Communion of Saints, and that in suffering one is sure not to make mistakes (as in action, sometimes) — sure to be useful to others and to the great causes that one longs to serve.”
As the French say, “Woman’s will, God’s will.” Félix was ordained a Dominican priest in 1923. He spent much of his last twenty-seven years promulgating the writings, and advancing the cause for beatification, of his cherished wife.
You can read this and many other such stories in my book FOOLS FOR CHRIST: FIFTY DIVINE ECCENTRIC ARTISTS, MARTYRS, STIGMATISTS AND UNSUNG SAINTS.