Reality is stranger than fiction. What you are about to read would be rejected by any reputable publisher as far-fetched, unbelievable even. What it is, however, is something not quite of this world; it speaks of a greater reality, one with its own laws and seasons.
The story starts with a wedding, naturally enough as marriage is at its heart. It is not so much a tale of romance as one of true love, love that costs, and, ultimately, redeems, for it tells of Christian marriage. In these days of confusion, when the false masquerades as truth and the disordered seeks to construct a new order, it is good to be reminded of what is the essence of the union of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony. Many so joined appear to have forgotten that what is entered into is a vocation, a calling to holiness. What it is not is a quick route to an earthly paradise. Instead, it is a path that must pass through Calvary in the hope of heaven. And, like the 72 disciples, this journey is made two by two, with each soul on the same quest, yet mysteriously linked as part of the journey for each other.
So it was for Felix Leseur and Elisabeth Arrighi. They met for the first time in 1886 with neither of them knowing just how remarkable a story was about to unfold, especially as their romance began in a conventional fashion when the 26-year-old Felix, at the home of a mutual friend, met the 21-year-old Elisabeth. Two years later, in May 1889, they got engaged; three months after that, they were married. From the start their lives were materially comfortable. Felix was a trained doctor, but had opted to make a living as a journalist. Elisabeth Leseur settled into a married life of social engagements and exotic travel – all of which she enjoyed. Surrounded by family and friends at their home in Paris, their life together, from the outside at least, appeared idyllic. Superficially this was so, but, unseen, a curious battle was taking place, one between truth and lies, faith and unbelief, soon it came to the surface when, seven years after their wedding ceremony, Elisabeth abandoned the practice of her faith. She no longer believed.
There is a self-evident fact, one demonstrated here if all too easily overlooked: reading has made saints, but the wrong type of reading can also destroy faith. There is a view that an ‘adult’ or ‘grown-up’ approach to the faith involves licence in such matters, a freedom to study and absorb anything that comes along. Clever and distorted reasoning, stealthily dealing its half-truths from the page, have subtly led many astray. So it was with Elisabeth. And, as she moved from faith to a spiritual nothingness, her husband looked on content, his task now completed. This was something Felix had sought, for it was he who had placed the books in her hands that were to unnerve and unsettle, before finally robbing her of faith.
This lapse was to last for two years. In that intervening period, the couple went about their lives in the normal fashion. They were ‘free’ to enjoy themselves, to travel, to live unencumbered by any confessional constraints. Felix had succeeded, but what he had not reckoned on was a counter-attack from a mysterious force: Grace. Throughout this tale there is an air of mystery, one that to unbelievers will appear baffling, just as it did to Elisabeth’s husband. He watched as the very ‘poison’ he administered to his wife began to have the opposite effect. An intelligent and thoughtful woman, even in the time she had succumbed to her husband’s agnosticism, she had begun to have doubts about it – slowly at first, but doubts nonetheless. The arguments made, the reasons presented, the explanations offered were all far from conclusive. The gaps in reasoning failed to satisfy her intellect; they left her emotions cold. It was then a Fire came upon her, one more ancient and real than the warmed over heresies to which she had been exposed. In the darkness of unbelief a light poured into her soul, and with it her heart burned; as it did so, the dull dross of agnosticism was burnt away to reveal once more the shinning brilliance of truth.
There are many stories of conversion. This one, however, was different. Elisabeth’s goal was now clearly before her, it was one of sanctity but as a married woman that could not, would not, be effected alone as at its centre stood the vows she had taken in the summer of 1889. As the scales had fallen from her eyes, she had glimpsed the Love of Loves but what had also been revealed was that her marriage was a means to that Love and that this Divine plan must therefore include Felix.
Elisabeth Leseur died in the arms of her husband on 3 May 1914. She had been ill for some time. In fact, most of her adult life she had suffered physical pain. From the time of her conversion onwards, she had led the life of a faithful Catholic in an exemplary way. She had been a dutiful and loving wife, a faithful friend and confidante, a popular hostess, an attractive presence at the various social occasions the couple had frequented. She had, of course, prayed for her husband; he had ignored her prayers. Nevertheless, his open hostility to his wife’s Catholicism had lessened considerably, and with it, a cessation of any further attempts to poison the well of her faith. During these last years together, more than anything else, in a very human way, they loved each other. Elisabeth had a secret, however, one that was to reveal itself through an unexpected find.
After any bereavement one of the most forlorn tasks falling to a loved one is sifting through the possessions of the recently departed. Such was Felix’s lot in the spring of 1914 when he came across a journal and other writings he had not noticed before. Immediately, he recognised Elisabeth’s handwriting in what appeared to be a document set out chronologically. Intrigued, he sat down to read.
It was ironic perhaps that just as reading had changed Elisabeth so it was later to change her husband. Whereas her reading matter had, albeit temporarily, destroyed her beliefs, that which was now being studied by Felix was to fan into life the embers of his long dormant faith. What he read that day astounded him. Within these pages was nothing less than a record of the interior life of his late wife. It spoke of her trials, her joys, her sufferings and above all her longing for the conversion of the man whom she loved above all others. Having entered into the state of Holy Matrimony, she understood the grave responsibilities that both spouses owed each other. Her prayer for her husband’s conversion was as unrelenting as were her mortifications for that end. Even to the extent that, close to her death, she offered her life just prior to a crucial operation, one that was to prove unsuccessful, in return for what she desired most. When Felix closed the manuscript, the shock of its discovery was eventually to give way to other emotions – regrets, tears, and then, finally, a change of heart.
Today, many look for miracles, wonders, signs, even though we already have four Gospels full of them. Nevertheless, there are still miracles to behold – look at any queue for Confession; marvel at a Christian burial after a life lived well, with a soul dispatched fortified by the sacraments; gaze upon a new born child born again in the living waters of life during Baptism. On that day, as Felix finished reading his late wife’s journal, a miracle took place. Through the prayer and silent entreaty of his wife, this once hardened agnostic returned to his childhood faith.
If the story ended there, with Felix spending what years were given him in quiet contemplation of this great mercy, then that would have been something. Matters were to take an altogether different turn though, for in the pages of the journal it became clear that Elisabeth Leseur had not only prayed for his conversion but also that, one day, he become a priest.
October 15, 1905
This is, my beloved husband, the testament of my soul.
…The adored Father… you shall know and love through my prayers in Heaven…When you become His child, the disciple of Jesus Christ and a living member of His Church…Be a Christian and an apostle…Love souls; pray, suffer, and work for them…We shall one day be eternally reunited. I hope for this through my afflictions offered for you and through divine mercy.
Your wife forever,
Pause here for a moment and consider the circumstances in which such a testament was committed to paper. Elisabeth knew only too well just how convinced a non-believer her husband was and yet she hoped and prayed for something truly miraculous Through the life of Elisabeth Leseur one is reminded of how effective prayer is, and how this is even more so when combined with suffering. As life’s sorrows, and in particular this woman’s last painful illness, became a holocaust, its fragrance reached to the very heights. After her death, those prayers were answered when, on 8 July 1923, Felix was ordained.
As stated earlier, throughout their married life, the couple had enjoyed travel and the adventures it brought. After Elisabeth’s death, Felix was to travel ‘with her’ once more. Armed with the journal she had left, and all that it contained, he ‘introduced’ his wife and her witness to any audience that would listen. He talked to them of love, real love, love that transforms, heals, sanctifies. He talked of Christian Marriage, the joining of two souls for a purpose, and, as he stood there, a changed man, all the world could see clearly where such a journey must lead.
On 27 February 1950, Felix died, as his wife had done before him, in the arms of the Church. The couple’s earthly journey now over, the two lovers were to be reunited in a heavenly one in the very Heart of Love itself.
Editor’s note: The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur is available from Sophia Institute Press in ebook or paperback.