Sunday, October 21, 2012
Fr. Andersen: Claiming Our Inheritance
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon, for October 21st, 2012
Dominica XXIX Per Annum, Anno B
Thus says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah:
“If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.”
This prophecy from Isaiah has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who laid down his life as a ransom for many, as an offering for sin. The will of the Lord was accomplished through him. Isaiah speaks of the descendants He shall see if He gives His life as an offering for sin. We are the descendants. Therefore, as descendants, we have an inheritance from Him. But we must claim that inheritance. It is there waiting for us in all its richness, but many do not receive it; either because they do not claim it, or because they reject it. Such was the case of a Parisian man named Felix Leseur, an avowed atheist. But his wife gave her life as an offering to God on his behalf. The will of the Lord was accomplished by her self-offering and Jesus took Felix to Himself in a way that is truly miraculous. Here is the story:
Mr. Felix Leseur was born and raised in France in what he called “a thoroughly Catholic family” (“In Memoriam”. The Secret Diary of ElisabethLeseur. p. xxi). But when he attended medical school he “quickly lost [his] Christian belief” (xxi). He then fell into a life of paganism and atheism. He sought to collect a library of written works by every one of the Church’s adversaries he could find so that he could use them as weapons against Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. Meanwhile, he married a good and holy woman. Her name was Elisabeth. She had been raised and educated in an affluent Catholic family who practiced their faith in an ordinary way.
At the time of their marriage in 1889, Felix agreed to “respect [his] wife’s faith and to let her practice it freely” (xxii), but he became more and more irritated by her faith and sought to destroy it with all his energy. In his own words, Felix speaks:
I set myself to attack her Faith, and to deprive her of it, and –– may God pardon me! –– I nearly succeeded. During 1897 I managed, by a course of reading and much pressure brought to bear on her, to dissuade her from the practice of her religious duties, seriously to upset her faith, and to lead her in the direction of liberal Protestantism –– which to my mind was only a stage on the way to radical agnosticism. (xxii-xxiii).
Throughout these years, Felix and Elisabeth Leseur led a glittering life in Parisian high society. They travelled and they entertained. Elisabeth gradually abandoned the practice of Catholicism by 1898. Her husband then gave her a heretical book on the Life of Jesus to read which he knew would surely be the nail in the coffin of her faith. But his plan backfired because the book was so poorly written. From the point of view of an atheist, it seemed brilliant, but to Elisabeth, a woman of “sane and steady judgment and uncommon good sense” (xxiii), it proved only to be a cheap deception with a “poverty of substance” (xxiii). Reading the heretical book triggered in her a profound conversion (cf. 288).
So now Elisabeth set out to counterbalance her husband’s Anti-Christian library by collecting and reading the fathers, doctors, and mystics of the Church: St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, and many more (cf. xxiii). Each day, she also read and meditated upon the New Testament and began to write a spiritual journal.
Then Elisabeth fell ill. She had complications from childhood that affected her liver. Facing her illness, she wrote a spiritual testament and made a pact with God that she would trade her life for the salvation of the soul of her husband. She then came down with breast cancer and after surgery and radiation treatment she went on pilgrimage to Lourdes to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her husband went along so that she would not be unaccompanied. He was impressed with the piety of the crowds, but he did not convert. He was also impressed with how his wife remained so at peace through her many years of illness and suffering. He had long ago ceased to torment her about her faith. He came to respect his wife deeply for her religious devotion, but he himself had no faith.
“One day, she declared 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.’” A few weeks before her death, she said to him: “You will come and find me again –– I know it” (xli). Elisabeth died in his arms on May 3, 1914, at the age of 47. Felix gazed at the face of his wife who had died and he saw a great peace on her face that seemed extend beyond her death.
One day he discovered her Spiritual Testament that she had left for him to read. This is an excerpt from what she wrote:
This, my beloved husband, is the testament of my soul.
I wish you to be my chief and dearest heir. …Try during your life to discharge, as far as a poor human creature can, my immense debt of gratitude to the adored Father, whom you shall know and love through my prayers in Heaven. When you also shall have become His child, the disciple of Jesus Christ and a living member of His Church, consecrate your existence, transformed by grace, to prayer and the giving of yourself in charity. Be a Christian and an apostle.
And now, my beloved Felix, I tell you once more of my great love. …Close to God, where other dear ones already await us, we shall one day be eternally reunited. I hope for this through my afflictions offered for you and through divine mercy.
Your wife forever, Elisabeth. (143…145)
Felix Leseur then began to read through her journal and little by little, his “former hostility quickly gave way to the wish to know Catholicism” (xli). One year later in the spring of 1915, Felix reconciled with the Church. In 1919, he entered the Dominican Order and in 1923, he was ordained a priest. Fr. Leseur published the spiritual diary of his deceased wife and travelled all over Europe for nearly twenty years speaking about Elisabeth’s apostolate of prayer and accepted suffering. He died in 1950. The cause for her beatification was interrupted by World War II and reopened in Rome in 1990.
Elisabeth Leseur chose to drink from the cup of our Lord’s suffering. She lived out her participation in the common priesthood of the faithful by offering herself to God on behalf of the soul entrusted to her care: her husband, the atheist. By her self-offering, her husband was saved. Jesus Christ saved Felix, but it was through Elisabeth that He did so. We can never give up hope over the conversion of any soul.