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Catholic Spiritual Direction

CSD Book Club – The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur (Week 2 of 12)

August 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Lost Art of Sacrifice

After Elisabeth’s death, when everything seemed to collapse around me, I came upon the Spiritual Testament she had written out for me, and, guided by my sister-in-law, I found her Journal too. I threw myself into the reading of them; 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. – The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. xl (In Memoriam: She gave her life for me)

In a society that degrades marriage – that takes every opportunity to stomp on it and to literally eradicate it in both meaning and purpose – reading the diary of Elisabeth Leseur is like taking a much-needed breath of fresh air. Even more – it’s like a life-line extended for those of us gasping for breath as we suffocate on the never-ending stream of lies that are spread (and lived out) in our society.

Through Elisabeth’s sacrifices the sovereign beauty of marriage is personified – with all the ups and downs and ins and outs – she makes her challenges – as well as her suffering – actually look attractive.

Like at least fifty percent of you, I am the product of divorce. And while I love my parents very much, I know that the experience of any child of divorce has life-long effects. Divorce is not God’s original plan for those He loves. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, “For your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Intuitively, I have always known that it was not so.

When I was young, I spent many hours watching Little House on the Prairie, determined that my own family would reflect the love and devotion I witnessed on television. Unlike some of you whose parents have honored their vows, those of us with divorced parents don’t take life-long love for granted. We vow that we will not marry unless it’s forever. And when we do marry, we aren’t simply drinking the dewdrops of romance and flowers. No, we may be very much in love, but we are also determined. Determined to do things differently. To get it right.

Sadly, that determination is often accompanied by the same poor communication, self-centeredness or lack of sacrifice we witnessed in our parents, and our sheer determination results in that much more devastation when we get it “wrong.”

But it’s not only those of us who were victims of divorce who are failing. Our culture has denigrated marriage by telling us that marriage is dispensable. That our feelings are paramount and that love is fleeting. Consequently, even those blessed with the best of examples are buying the lies and getting it wrong.

In A Map of Life, Frank Sheed explains that we all live by a set of moral laws. Just as with physical laws – such as gravity – these laws are non-negotiable. If I jump off a 20-story building, I will most likely die. If I don’t die, my body will no doubt be irreparably damaged. I MUST live within the physical laws of the world in order to experience freedom and happiness.

Moral laws work the same way. As long as I live within them, I can have both freedom and happiness. But if I break them, my soul may suffer irreparable damage. And no civil law can make it otherwise.

Sheed offers the following example:

The state declares that a man may…leave his wife and marry another. But this is adultery. To assume that therefore adultery is no longer harmful to the soul is unduly optimistic. State action can no more make adultery harmless to the soul than it can make prussic acid harmless to the body. Men have come into a collision with the law of God: the law of God does not suffer from the collision.

As long as we follow the lies and example of the world, we will continue to get it wrong. To destroy the sacrament that is the very backbone of civil society.

But what to do when we are no longer satisfied? When our needs are not being met? When we are belittled or harassed for our beliefs or habits?

Elisabeth has a game-plan. She can show us how to get it right. And her way is beautiful. And refreshing. And so necessary for the world we live in today.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Sacrifice, to be real, must cost, must hurt, must empty us of ourselves.” On the one hand, this sounds almost fatalistic. But considered in light of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it is generative. Sacrifice does not wither. It is a gift that blossoms. As evidenced by the glory of the resurrection, sacrifice produces an explosion of life – colorful and vibrant. Its far-reaching effects multiply into field after field of beautiful gardens, radiant and seedy, all as a result of that first generous gift of love. That first offering of one person – completely giving himself – for another.

Elisabeth offers us the key to a happy marriage. Quiet, loving sacrifice. Sacrifice is life-giving water. It is a sun that nourishes, with grace and pulchritude, promising to leave nothing but beauty in its wake, for all to see.

Reading Assignment: Week 2: The Journal, Part I, through end of November 28, 1901 (p. 3-21)

Discussion Questions:

1. What do you see as some of the greatest challenges in marriage (and if you’re not married – in relationships in general)? In our first reading, what points about Elisabeth were particularly instructive for you?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club: http://spiritualdirection.com/blog/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages three to fifteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the CSD book club so she could embark with likeminded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. In addition to moderating the book club and managing family activities, Vicki also cooks, does laundry, cleans, does laundry, and, every once in a while, finds time to write and speak on topics such as marriage and spiritual reading - of course, these endeavors take place only between her many loads of laundry.

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  • Jeanette

    What I love about Elisabeth Leseur in my readings so far (I have gone ahead) is that she is completely and utterly surrendered to Jesus. She has given Him her life to do with as He pleases. She knows that sacrificing for and loving her husband, family and neighbour is loving Jesus…it’s one and the same (this was reality to her and she has made it come more to life for me). Blessings.

    • Vicki

      Absolutely! As her husband mentioned – she acknowledged that God alone could effect a conversion. Ours is to pray, sacrifice and offer all things to Christ, that he might complete the work that is in each of us. Elisabeth was the epitome of a little child, who has complete faith in and love for her Father. I’ve never been so inspired!

  • Camila

    Stunning Post Vicky.

    Sometimes I feel like the apostles on the way to Emmaus after the crucifixion with heavy hearts imagining that Jesus perhaps wasn’t who He said He was – imagining the cross to have been all for naught.

    Buuut, we have a God (supreme authority) who promised fruitfulness to our sacrifice. The fruitfulness doesn’t come from us, He promised it, He asks for it, He grants it.

    It takes supernatural faith to live this out however. Yes we can actually see a seed become a tree and bear many seeds in the natural world, but believing and trusting that this reality is so in the spiritual realm is beyond our capacity.

    The way to “get it” is by the infusion (from outside of us) of faith, hope and charity. Unless we have these virtues we simply can’t “get it” we can’t trust this truth and reality. Without these we live discouraged in an imaginary world of fruitless sacrifice.

  • Don Schwab

    Elizabeth’s prayer determination for the conversion of her spouse and the final success of those intercession gives me hope for converting my spouse. Look forward to really getting into this book. I must admit was dragging my feet on whether to participate with this particular reading. Glad I got the book. Thank you.

  • LizEst

    One of the greatest challenges to marriage is our unstated, subliminal desire for our husband or wife to be God for us, for us to find our happiness in them, for them to be our everything. Only God is God. And, God has to be first in our marriage. This does not mean we are to expect nothing from the spousal union. But, when we don’t make God first, we wind up trying to make our spouse God, our children God, our career God. That’s something no one can live up to. And, since no one can live up to that, it is the death blow to marriage when the other person cannot fulfill that expectation. (We can see this sadness, and perhaps anger, at parents also…because children, subliminally, expect parents to be God for them. And, they can carry this into adulthood, not forgiving them for their sins and failings…and for being the flawed human beings we all are.)

    Elisabeth did, in fact, make God first in her marriage…so much so that she wanted to bring her husband, Felix, to God so that he, too, would share in what God has prepared for those who love him. So, she emptied herself of her wishes and desires in order that she might become “all things to all men” to Felix, not so that Felix would find God in her, but so that she could lead her husband to the fulfillment of all desire. This is what saints do, they lead others to God. They love others in the way that God has so loved them. Elisabeth is both a model and an inspiration for the right type of sacrificial love centered in God.

    p.s. I can’t help but like her name, too! Ha! Thanks, Vicki, for selecting this book.

  • jrbarrytx

    I cannot even begin to tell you how much this book means to me. When I read the part under the heading “Elisabeth Experienced Profound Spiritual Suffering”, I almost felt as if it was written for me. “….the necessity of hiding all the riches of her religious development, lacerated her spirit.” Hiding those riches has been the hardest part of this journey back to the church.

    • Jeanette

      Yes, it is the same for me as well so I commiserate with you. I would love to share my spiritual life with my spouse but he is not open to it at this time. But that ‘laceration of the spirit’ can be offered up for your spouse or anyone else so it becomes a spiritual treasure. My spiritual director told me that anytime someone denigrates you for your faith, you can then offer up that hurt for their conversion. The same offering can be made when we have to ‘hide all the riches’ as it causes much suffering for us, maybe even worse suffering, when one wants to share such good news and it is so unwelcomed. I believe this book will help many people who are in the same type of situation as Elisabeth Leseur. I’m looking forward to learning more about sacrificial love from this saintly woman. God bless you!

    • jrbarrytx

      Thanks, Jeanette! I guess there are more of us out there than I realized. That is good advice, “to offer up that hurt for their conversion”. I need to do this more often then having little pity parties. Can be difficult at times for sure. Am looking forward to the rest of this book!

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  • Robert Kraus

    I think, in my experience, the greatest challenge for marriage is to remember that it’s for forever and that no argument, disagreement, and difference could cast it asunder. It’s so easy in this modern world to think of marriage as a contract to be terminated whenever it gets uncomfortable. I am so thankful that I married in the Church. It has transformed my attitude towards the permanence of marriage and helped my wife and I navigate the tough times, with God’s help, and really commit to a lasting relationship.

    • LizEst

      Good for you, Robert. ps. We’ve missed seeing your postings on the site. Glad you are still part one of our companions!

      • Robert Kraus

        Thanks, Liz! I took a self-imposed spiritual sabbatical to reduce some of the noise in my life and see which influences are truly meaningful. This blog and book club is definitely one of them!

        • LizEst

          Good for you. I’m happy this is one of the truly meaningful influences in your life! God bless you.

  • Deborah Rentler

    My favorite quote so far is on page 19. “We pray, suffer, and labor in ignorance of the consequences of our acts and prayers. God makes them serve his supreme plan; gradually they take their effect, winning one soul, then another. They hasten the coming of the Kingdom of God…they will exert an influence that will endure until the end of time.” I just love her view of evangelization! She not only values each and every opportunity to pray, suffer, and labor but is humble enough to realize that God is the one who will decide how each action will be used for His supreme plan.

    • Deborah Rentler

      Oops, now I just read your post for week three Vicki and I see that you posted this same quote. Sorry! I am a little behind in the reading