Readers may remember Bishop Fulton Sheen’s popular television show, “Life is Worth Living.” On this show he would teach lessons of the faith intertwined with memorable stories and humorous quips. One such story he told struck me deeply and I have remembered it always. It is the story of Elisabeth Leseur, who was a devout Catholic in upper class Paris at the turn of the 20th century. She was married to a strong-willed atheist husband named Felix. Although she loved her husband dearly, she would suffer with his ridicule, frustration and impatience with her Catholic faith.
Elisabeth was a very intelligent woman who understood that the more she confronted his atheism, the more her arguments would be dismissed. Elisabeth changed her perspective and instead of allowing these differences to destroy their relationship, she used it to find deeper ways to grow in love for him. As she endured this suffering in her marriage, she also feared that Felix would not be with her in heaven and would write about it extensively in her diary.
Elisabeth died at age 47, and when her husband Felix found her diary after death, he read about all the prayerful sacrifices and even her willingness to give her own life as a redemptive offering for her husband. When Felix discovered the depth of love his wife had for him, he not only converted to Catholicism but went on to become a Catholic priest. This beautiful story of her love of God and her love for her spouse can be found in the book: “The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur,” Sophia Press.
Although this story is truly inspiring and a beautiful example of love in the face of suffering, I recognize that it may seem idealistic to many. However, as the New Year approaches, let us collectively hear the challenge of Elisabeth’s example to aim high this year. She could have easily prayed for patience which is a very good thing, but to her it wasn’t enough. She realized early on that her goal for her marriage was to see her spouse in heaven, and to be there together with him. Nothing short of that would satisfy her. Let’s challenge ourselves this coming year to aim higher than we may think possible for our marriages and our relationships.
The quiet of the Advent and Christmas season is a good time to reflect on your relationship. If there is an area that could be worked on, is there something more that can be done? Sometimes, as the example of Elisabeth shows us, it isn’t just bearing with the circumstances, but rather it is looking at those circumstances in a different way. Is there a sacrifice that can be made for your relationship? It may not be enough, for instance, to say, “We should spend more time together.” Instead, consider doing something intentional, like date nights, or even creating distraction-free times in your home so you can focus on each other more.
Elisabeth’s story is also one of hope. In the darkness of her circumstances she could have easily felt trapped and given up hope. Instead, she truly believed God was bigger than what she was facing and in faith reached out for help. The challenge she issues to us by her example is again to aim higher than we may think we can achieve.
If solving an issue by ourselves is proving fruitless, pray earnestly in faith and believe that God can work things out. Offer to God not only your prayers but a sacrifice for the other as well. Something done intentionally for the sake of another will bear great fruit.
Lastly, cultivate the virtue of patience. Be inspired by Elisabeth Leseur in this New Year and aim higher than you may have thought possible with your marriages and families. Take comfort in these words from Isiah 41:10: “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Tremblay is director of Marriage and Life Ministries for the Diocese of Green Bay.