Friday, February 09, 2007

From Atheist to Priest

From my inbox...

By the time this volume appears, I shall have left the world, and
entered the Dominican Order.

My beloved wife, Elisabeth, prayed incessantly for my return to the Catholic Faith. Daily for this intention, she accepted and offered up
all her sacrifices, trials, sufferings, and at the end, even her death.

But she did this secretly.

She never argued with me; she never spoke to me of the supernatural side of her life, save by her example.

I have, since Elisabeth's death, learned to appreciate the power of
her silence. God heard the constant prayer it concealed, and, when her sacrifice was accomplished, completed the conversion that was begun in me by her influence and by my reading her diary, which I found after her death, and which I present to you here.

Renunciation, detachment, sacrifice, and utmost charity toward God and neighbor: these are the themes on each of these pages.

Reading them, you might say, "This is admirable, but I couldn't follow so steep a way. In the incidents and worries of daily life, how could anyone?"

But Elisabeth, too, was a woman of the world: we liked to have guests and to pay visits;
we had a comfortable home; we led a varied existence.

Her example shows how to live an intense spiritual life and to practice the highest virtues in the midst of outward activity.

When I married Elizabeth, I was profoundly anti-religious.I had been
raised Catholic but lost my faith in medical school. Materialistic
influences, assisted by my own passions, carried me on to paganism and
atheism. I searched for weapons against Catholicism.

I set myself to attack Elizabeth's Faith,
to deprive her of it, and
— may God pardon me! —
I nearly succeeded.

At the beginning of July 1913,
she was struck down by her last illness,
which for ten months was her Calvary,
until the end came on May 3, 1914,
when she was forty-eight years old.

Her Journal shows how Elisabeth
endured these terrible afflictions.
She comforted those around her,
never complained,
and looked to the Eucharist,
and to prayer and self-sacrifice,
for the support she needed.

During her last months,
when she suffered a martyrdom of pain,
she contented herself, while the crisis lasted,
with repeating in a gentle plaintive voice,

"My God, have pity on us, on me!"

— even now naming herself last.
And then, when the crisis passed,
she became once more smiling and valiant.

When I think that I was foolish and criminal enough
to try to destroy the Faith that lifted her so high
and sustained her so powerfully!
To what a Hell would I have reduced her
and condemned myself at the same stroke!

I can only implore my dear Elisabeth to
pardon me and to prove her pardon
by asking God to inspire me with her ardent faith,
some of her great Christian virtues,
and the self-giving and self-sacrifice she practiced.

During the unhappy days after her death,
before her burial, while she still lay on her bed
with a calm expression and a truly supernatural beauty,
there was an uninterrupted procession at her bedside.

People came to pray near her,
to bring her a last token of affection,
and I thus saw in my home numbers of people
whom I did not know, whom I had never seen before
and have never seen since, and who gave free vent
to their sincere and touching grief.

A great many people attended her funeral.
They expressed such real and unanimous emotion
and gave witness to such an uncommon distress
that the clergy assisting at the service
were utterly astonished.

They made inquiries, and their questions
were at once reported to me:

"But who was this woman?
We have never seen
such a funeral before!"

Since God has taken her to Himself
I am not alone in praying to her,
and it has been told to me in confidence
that special graces are believed to have been
obtained by her intercession.

I know of happy events that may be said
to have been brought about by her intervention;
and indeed the evolution in my own mind and life
bears witness to her supernatural influence.

I have already told how irritated I had been
by the failure of my campaign against her faith,
and how obstinately I was bent upon
controverting all her religious opinions.

But from 1908 my attitude was modified.
When I saw how ill she was,
and how she endured it with equanimity,
I was struck to see how her soul
had so great a command of itself;
and knowing that she drew this
tremendous strength from her convictions,
I ceased to attack them.

I could never weary of admiring her moral force
in the midst of a real martyrdom.
And what a look of immortal beauty
she wore upon her deathbed!
Her face, peaceful now after the last suffering,
had the calm of another world.

After Elisabeth's death,
when everything seemed to collapse around me,
I came upon the Spiritual Testament
she had written for me, and her Journal too.

I read and reread them,
and a revolution took place in my whole moral being.
I understood the celestial beauty of her soul
and that she had accepted all her suffering and offered it
— and even offered her very self in sacrifice —
chiefly for my conversion.

She had concluded with God a kind of pact,
vowing to exchange her life for my return to the Faith.
Her sacrifice was absolute,
and she was convinced that God would accept it
and would take her early to Himself.
She was equally persuaded that
He would ensure my conversion.

One day, she told me
with absolute assurance:

"I shall die before you.
And when I am dead,
you will be converted;
and when you are converted,
you will become a religious.
You will be Father Leseur."

Some weeks before her death,
we were speaking of her belief in a future life
and the Communion of Saints.
She ended with this pronouncement,
spoken with almost solemn authority:

"You will come and find me again
— I know it."

And so I perceived clearly
the inner meaning of her existence,
so grand in its humility.
I began to appreciate the splendor
of the faith of which I had
seen such wonderful effects.
The eyes of my soul were opened.

Although Elisabeth seemed to have gone,
I felt her come to me, to direct me.
All that I found of hers,
all the manuscripts I gathered together,
brought me her inspiration,
and my former hostility quickly gave way
to the wish to know Catholicism.

I turned toward God,
who called to me.

In the spring of 1915,
I confessed my faults to a priest
and was reconciled to the Church.

I had found the harbor, the peace of soul that
allows grief to remain but assuages bitterness.

Elisabeth had led me to the truth,
and even today, in my inmost being,
I continue to feel her guiding my steps
to a more perfect union with God.

Fr. Felix Leseur, O.P.
(ca. 1940)

I resolved to publish Elisabeth's writings,
particularly the Journal,
which had become my daily reading.

I drew from it so much support,
sweetness, and certainty
that I told myself it might well be
of the same great benefit
to other souls as it had been to mine.

It is a book of rare beauty.
The designs of God's Providence
are shown plainly in
Elisabeth's life and work.

I am convinced that by reading these pages
many torn hearts will find the means
to endure with courage the sacrifices
which have been imposed on them.

I now, therefore, give to you
these precious pages.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will spread them far and wide
and that they may help to work in as many souls as possible
the renewal they have accomplished in my own soul.

Thus will be realized and perpetuated
the apostolic work to which God called
my holy and dear Elisabeth.

Felix Leseur

* Felix's words are excerpted from In Memoriam,
his 1917 introduction to Elisabeth's
Journal et pensées de chaque jour.

1 comment:

Dymphna said...

I hope to see the day when Elizabeth is declared a saint. She's a true patron for wives.