The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur was one of those books I read where more of the text was highlighted than wasn’t once I reached the end. Whilst this is testament to the beautiful wisdom, encouragement and spiritual insight contained within the pages, it makes it a little tricky to flick back through the pages to find the particularly useful or interesting passages. So many of them are useful and interesting!
So, I decided to compile the key takeaways from this spiritual powerhouse. I also hope this will be a useful resource for those who don’t have time to read it themselves.
- Prayer is the most humble and effective act of charity
This is perhaps the most spiritually transformative lesson I learned from Elisabeth. She talks constantly about the importance of both charity and humility in the Christian life, and tells us that prayer is the most humble and useful act of charity that a Christian can do. How so? Well firstly, it is a private act, maybe even completely silent, so it will not attract the praise and affirmation of onlookers. But even more importantly, we may not get the gratification of seeing the answer to our prayers. Whilst we know with certainty that God hears and answers all our acts of petition or prayer, we do not always see how. Perhaps He has breathed peace into the heart of a suffering loved one; maybe He has spoken words of comfort through one friend to another; or it could be that a small sacrifice offered for His glory has brought a suffering soul in purgatory a little closer to Heaven.
Don’t be mistaken. Elisabeth is also clear that more tangible acts of charity are essential when circumstances allow. However, her words remind us that wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, we can offer the most important act of charity simple by offering our prayers to the Lord.
2. Love unbelievers wholly, entirely, without restraint
Many people, myself included, are initially drawn to Elisabeth’s writings because of her marriage to Felix, an atheist until after Elisabeth’s death when he not only converted but became a priest! Elisabeth writes a lot about her deep desire for Felix to know God and to share her faith. She speaks frankly about the loneliness and isolation she feels at not being able to share the deep, unshakeable love and joy she has in the Lord. She longs for Felix to know his Creator, to experience faith in a deep, personal way as well as to understand it intellectually.
But what is especially striking is that she has no sense of superiority, or frustration with her husband – in spite of the fact that Felix could, reportedly, be very cruel to her about her faith, going so far as to try to prevent her from participation in the sacramental life. Having a husband who doesn’t share my beliefs myself, I know all too well the inclination to feel exasperated by his lack of interest in learning about Christianity, and can so quickly become rigid and cold and defensive when matters of faith (or lack thereof) and family life arise.
Elisabeth shows us that we should pray unceasingly for our unbelieving loved ones, but that we should be soft, gentle and loving towards them. We must never view them as deficient because of their unbelief. We must be willing to learn from them, rather than believing that they must learn from us. And this should be done in a spirit of true love and devotion to them – not simply in the hope that we can charm them into coming to faith.
3. We should educate ourselves about faith
This point was intriguing to me, as I consider myself too much ‘head’ and not enough ‘heart’ when it comes to faith. I can read and read, but I struggle to sit down in silence and talk with God. Of course, Elisabeth is not telling us that ‘heart’ doesn’t matter; she has a beautiful interior spirituality which we learn about in her diary. But she’s making the case that especially for those of us who find ourselves surrounded by non-believers, it is a duty to ensure that we are well grounded in theology, doctrine, writings of Church doctors, and of course Scripture, so that we can feel secure and confident when expressing our beliefs in a way that is communicable to those who cannot understand the ‘heart’ aspect of faith.
These are my main takeaways from Elisabeth’s diary, but there is so much depth and richness in the book that I encourage everyone to read it! In the meantime, I am keeping all those who pray for the conversion of a loved one in my own prayers, and asking for Elisabeth’s intercession.
Servant of God, Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!