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