I wrote a (free) Elisabeth Leseur devotional!

For months now, I have been working on a short, 7-day devotional based on the writing in Elisabeth Leseur’s diary. After many stops and starts, it’s ready to go! It is meant to be self-paced, and is in the format of Meditate – Pray – Act. Elisabeth believed that our prayer lives must lead to action, and this devotional tries to reflect that. All the action points are things that can be done easily within the context of your day-to-day life, and don’t require any special materials.

It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this and it is very much homegrown, so in your charity, please forgive formatting fails and such! You can download it right here with the Download button below. I hope this will bless at least one person. Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!

The narrow path

“Let us not linger in contemplation of the road ahead; let us follow the narrow path. Let us not look too far or too high, but right in front of ourselves, right next to ourselves. The good to be done is perhaps there.‚ÄĚ – Elisabeth Leseur

Every time I’ve read or thought about the “narrow path” (Mt 7:13-14), it’s seemed a little overwhelming. I imagine some very specific, very restrictive plan that God has set out for me, and that I must somehow figure out that plan or else risk getting thrown off the Providence bus, as it were.

While I read these word’s of Elisabeth Leseur’s, a different image formed in my mind. I remembered years ago when I went on a hiking holiday with my friends on the Isle of Skye, for which most of us were woefully unprepared. Each of us – two girls and three guys – schlepped 40 lb backpacks from dawn til dusk as we trekked from the north of the island to the south over five days. It was a route that even experienced hikers do not undertake lightly, and here we were with little-to-no hiking experience (except for one of the guys), setting out with everything we needed on our backs, stopping to sleep in tents wherever we happened to end up that day.

It was exhilarating, gruelling, rewarding, terrifying. One particular morning has become the stuff of lore for those of us on that trip, and it involved a narrow, wet, dangerous path.

We had spent the night camping by a beach, and had very restorative sleep. We woke up ready to tackle the next part of our hike, and referred to our little pamphlet that outlined the route. The first part of the day’s hike was a 3 mile walk along a small path built into the side of a cliff. The notes said that whilst the path was perfectly safe if trodden carefully in good weather conditions, it should not be undertaken in rain or if the path was wet.

Somehow, we (the girls) let ourselves get talked into taking it even though it was raining and foggy.

I remember that as we set off, we were all singing to try to keep up morale, but within a few minutes we’d all gone very quiet as we understood how terrifying the task ahead was. If we took a wrong step, or slipped, then we literally risked falling off the side of a cliff.

The path was so narrow that you had to just put one foot in front of the other – as in, it was not wide enough to stand with feet side-by-side. The physical act of turning around to go back the way we came could also have been perilous. We carefully placed one foot, and then the next, and then the next (remember we each had 40 lbs on our backs), whilst looking very carefully for rocks or plants that we could slip on. The steady drizzle and fog meant we couldn’t see what was beyond the cliff-side, which made things feel even more ominous.

Clearly I lived to tell the tale, and so did everyone else, thank God! And once I’ve connected this story to my theological reflection, I’ll tell you the cosy ending to the story ūüėČ

This episode came to my mind while I read Elisabeth Leseur’s words this morning, because it gives a very different perspective of the “narrow path”. Rather than having to figure out some abstract path that God wants me to take, it paints an image of Him asking me only to worry about taking the next right step; to put one foot carefully in front of the other, to forget about what’s beyond the fog surrounding me, and trust that if I do so then I will end up safely at my destination – Heaven.

I don’t think this means that we should only think about ourselves, our homes, our immediately family (although we definitely should think about those thing). It can, and should, definitely encompass the big problems troubling our world. But I think it means that we should seek to respond to how the Spirit is moving us now, today, and not what God might ask of us in the future.

So now, for the end of the hiking story… Well, after a mile or so, we reached a break in the path that connected to a road. My best friend (the other girl) and I decided to take our chance to get off the path, and attempt to hitch a ride to a nearby town. The guys decided to keep walking.

After just a few minutes, a young woman drove by on this fairly deserted road. She slowed down for us and, seeing what a sorry state we were in, offered to drive us somewhere. We were so relieved and grateful, not only to have found a ride but for it to be someone that we felt we could easily trust. The woman dropped us off in a village where we found a charming, cosy cafe that offered us tea and scones – can you imagine anything more comforting after such a trying morning?

After that we caught a bus to the capital of the island, where we checked into a hostel. We went to a local butcher and picked up some venison burgers for dinner, which we ate in the hostel’s communal area with a view over the bay. My best friend and I still talk often about the sheer bliss of that evening. We were so glad we had decided to get off that path and opt for a bit of comfort.

A couple of days later, we reconvened with the guys, who had kept on until the end of the hike. They were pleased with their decision, too.

I thought my theological reflections were over, but I guess there are some in there too. Sometimes God throws beautiful and unanticipated blessings our way, and our “next step” is simply to accept it with gratitude. Sometimes we start down one path, and then realise God had something different in mind than what we had expected. And always, God wants each of us to arrive at our destination, but doesn’t want us all to get there in the same way.

Lessons from Elisabeth

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.

  1. 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 Рnot 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!

 

Prayers of Elisabeth Leseur

Sometimes it can be difficult to find our own words of prayer. Thankfully, the Church has a rich tradition of beautiful prayers, in addition to a whole host of saints who have given us words of prayer to use when our own words fail us. Here, I will list some prayers recorded in Elisabeth Leseur’s diary for you to use in your own life and marriage.

 

My God, help me to carry the cross Thou hast offered me, and let none of this precious grace of suffering be lost to me or to the souls Thou lovest.

I want to love Thee and Thee alone, O my Saviour – not the great joys Thy child sometimes receives from Thee. Help me to detach myself more and more from passing things and to attach myself to Thee. Give me the grace of being […] Thine instrument with souls, those who are dear to me, and those whom I do not know but who need my humble intercession with Thee.

My beloved, I believe the joy of reunion will surpass the pain of separation and waiting, and that then we shall live. You who can see and know, obtain for us a feeble ray of this eternal light to guide and illuminate us.

O Lord, […] I implore Three to come to him, to come to them, and let them live, let them live the interior life deeply, and also an outer life renewed by Christianity. The harvest is plentiful; my God, let them be blessed labourers in it; let their life and mine be a work of beauty and love, and let us labour together for the coming of Thy kingdom in the world and in souls.

Help me, my God, and without my knowing it, use me for a little good. [L]et me be the rough vessel giving forth light and warmth. Thou art that light; come and enlighten, through me, the souls that infinitely dear to me. What a joyful day it will be when those souls shall know and love all that Thou hast made me know and love, I who am poor, insignificant, and weak – that day when I shall be able to reveal to them the soul Thou hast truly recreated in me.

 

Elisabeth Leseur

Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) is a Servant of God, meaning she is being investigated by the Church for possible canonisation. Whether or not she is eventually recognised as a saint (I pray that she will be!), she has had a profound effect on my life and spirituality. It is really her example that led me to feel that I can confidently pursue sainthood, even in the absence of a devout Catholic spouse.

The short story is that Elisabeth Leseur was a devout Catholic married to an atheist/agnostic, Felix Leseur. Furthermore, her circle of friends were overwhelmingly non-believers, and had little respect for her beliefs. This caused Elisabeth a lot of pain, in addition to significant physical suffering. But rather than growing bitter and defeated by her situation, she embraced it as her cross and used it as a means by which to grow closer to the Lord. She lived a life of constant prayer and sacrifice, as well as unceasing love and charity towards those who derided her faith. She even begged the Lord to take her life in exchange for the conversion of her husband.

Alas, the good Lord granted her prayer. After her premature death, Felix discovered Elisabeth’s¬†secret diary in which she had intimately detailed her prayerful quest for his conversion, as well as her deep and abiding love and respect for him in spite of their differences. This started a spiritual journey that led not only to his return to the Faith, but to his being ordained a priest. I’m sure Elisabeth rejoiced ecstatically in Heaven!

I’ve adopted Elisabeth Leseur as patroness of this website, as well as considering her one of my own personal patrons. I try to remember to ask for her intercession in my marriage daily, as well as doing my best to follow her example as set out in her diary (which I strongly encourage you to read!). You will certainly see many more references to her here, as she’s become a saintly best friend of mine, and the first (future) saint whose story truly resonated with me.

Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!