ÉLISABETH LESEUR ON GIVING LESS THAN WE EXPECT

I’ve been going through my files and the other day came across this quote from Élisabeth Leseur–a couple of weeks late but ever timely.

“The last day of the year has been filled with deprivation. God filled the year with suffering, renunciation, sadness of every kind, and, spiritually, with dryness, with the destitution of the manger, without the loving joys that make the divine dawning in us so radiant. But God taught me a stronger, deeper love, stripped of conscious happiness, and I offer the year that is over and the one to come with a grateful heart. I consecrate myself to God and accept in advance all that he wants of me, through me, or for me: joy or sorrow, health or illness, poverty or riches, and life or death, according to what will be for the greatest good of others and the Church. For myself I ask one thing: let me love you, without joy or comfort if need be, and use me for the spreading of your Kingdom, Jesus my Savior.

It is a source of pain and difficult sacrifice to have to divide one’s life so much and always to give to each one less than he or she expects.. This sometimes leads others to feel not enough is being done for them, and they perhaps experience some sadness or regret, which becomes painful to her who is the involuntary cause of it. And then one’s self-love dislikes the loss of esteem and appreciation as well as the felling of being not up to the task. That perhaps is the hidden fruit of this trial: a little useful humiliation, less dangerous than empathy and admiration, interior pain that does not elicit any praise. To fulfill my obligations generously; to give to each one my energy, time, affection, a warm and hospitable embrace, even at the price of sacrifice and renunciation. To offer God my incapacity, and joyfully to endure being misunderstood a little, or rather, to endure being truly understood with my weaknesses, my laziness, my many imperfections. Without this drop of bitterness, the tenderness of the affection surrounding me might make me slide into laziness and complacency.

My God, I accept my dissipated life, so often not what I want–this sometimes fatiguing mixture of activities, tedious acquaintances, cares. Help me to fulfill all the obligations of life and yet preserve my spiritual life. Let the warmth of my hospitality, the serenity of my bearing, the friendliness of my words always hide from everyone my physical suffering and my spiritual efforts and sacrifices. Teach me to be all things to all people, to be more strict with myself. To practice greater mortification, especially in a spirit of reparation.”

Here’s the “Credible Witness” Magnificat essay I wrote on Leseur several years ago:

Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914), a French mystic, is known for the spiritual diaries she wrote while married to a doctor who scorned her devotion to Christ. Her husband Félix lost his Catholic faith shortly before their 1889 wedding and became a publicly vocal atheist.

The Leseurs frequently entertained. Elisabeth, a gracious and lively hostess, 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.

She developed a rich interior life. She wrote down her insights and reflections in journals that are now considered spiritual classics.  She carried on a wide-ranging  correspondence– mostly unbeknownst to her husband—for the duration of her marriage.

“Look around oneself for proud sufferers in need,” Élisabeth counseled, “find them, and give them the alms of our heart, of our time, and of our tender respect.”

By July, 1913 she was bedridden by breast cancer. She offered up her sufferings for the conversion of Félix’s soul.

Shortly after her death, he found a letter she had written to him praying that he would turn to Christ.

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 wife.

“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.”

She developed 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.”

“Silence is sometimes an act of energy, and smiling, too.”

8 Replies to “ÉLISABETH LESEUR ON GIVING LESS THAN WE EXPECT”

  1. Philippe Garmy says: Reply

    Thank you, Heather, for this lovely devotional on Élisabeth Leseur. A true light in the darkness…
    Her paradoxical life is illuminating to all who see, as Blake once stressed, «  not with, but thro’ the eye… » into this sacred life journey of ours filled with toil and trouble, but full of purpose….Suffering is indeed the great schoolhouse of experience and meaning. It it is also our blessed connexion to Christ crucified….a horrific and painful experience yet, the ultimate sacrifice for all our sins….come to think of it, many a creative soul has fashioned and elevated their life purpose and work through this very act of suffering. Ma chère, Heather, your are no stranger to this paradoxical reality as evidenced by your own life story. A life transformed by the loving grace of God. And now you are ours to share! Your writing is powerful, courageous, honest and lovingly crafted…you are an inspiring, prophetic voice in this confused, surrounding darkness, a grateful, unrelenting champion of hope…and a beautiful blessing to all us clumsy pilgrims, struggling along the way…

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Philippe, bless you, as always! See Chesterton quote, which you probably know, in another comment to the Leseur post…And I LOVE the phrase Clumsy Pilgrims! Surely closely related to Desire Lines…On we go into another rich, full week in this January, 2021!

  2. My first encounter with Elisabeth Leseur was your story in Magnificat. Immediately, I could relate to her, not only because of her husband’s taunts, but because it seemed to me that the people around her were unaware of her interior sufferings. This is something I feel daily, as my adult children also mock my faith. It is a sacrifice to smile through it all. In the meantime, I’m wearing out rosaries because the Blessed Mother is pretty much my go-to person when it comes to praying for my kids and husband. There is a sense that their conversion won’t come until after I am gone. So, thank you for introducing me to Elisabeth Leseur. And thank you for opening your heart to us.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, exactly, there is something about her interior suffering–serving the family and her husband and his taunting “intellectual” friends, maintaining a wide spiritual correspondence and a deep prayer life–this profound inner life among people who were utterly incapable of noticing, acknowledging or appreciating her I think strikes a chord in many of us. That Felix became a priest in the end is yet another sign of God’s profound sense of irony…that elusive quality in Christ that Chesterton describes at the end of Orthodoxy: “And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

  3. O Heather! I am in tears as your essay and these lovely comments so speak to me!
    I thank you and I love you,
    Rose

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh Rose, thank you and bless you–Love to you, too, and thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Patrick Foley says: Reply

    Thank you for this. I had not heard of Elisabeth Leseur before… one of the hidden ones. I wonder if, in the sentence “It is a source of pain and difficult sacrifice to have to divine one’s life so much and always to give to each one less than he or she expects,” the word “divine” should be “divide”.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      It sure should, Patrick, thank you. I shall make the correction forthwith!

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