Jesus tells us, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Now this is not the fire of a warm cozy fireplace, nor is it the fire of the stake for burning opponents of the faith. This fire is the fierce love of the Holy Spirit and in those who are receptive it burns away the sin of the heart. Jesus then tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Why is there division? There’s division because we have to decide for ourselves: are we for Christ or against Christ. Do our hearts belong to Him or to the world, the flesh, and the devil? Our heart cannot belong to both sides, we have to choose. And that can bring division, even within a family, when one person decides in favor of Jesus and the Church, and another against.
As we know God is love. God is love through and through but that love is perceived by us in the context of a fallen world with fallen minds. In those who hate sin and are trying to rid their life of sin God’s love is perceived as gentle, forgiving, and always there. However, for those who love sin, and want to justify it they see God’s love as demanding and judgmental. “Who is God to tell me what sin is they may say.” It’s the same love but perceived differently.
Just at the turn of the 20th century in Paris France Elizabeth Arrighi and Dr. Felix Leseur married. Both had been raised in the Catholic faith. However, at the time of their marriage Elizabeth was at most a lukewarm Catholic. And Felix while studying to be a doctor had abandoned the faith totally. He was an atheist. Their marriage was a happy one. The Leseurs were well-to-do and they were part of a social group that was very cultured, very educated, and very antireligious. Dr. Leseur eventually became the editor of an atheistic newspaper that was very anti-Catholic.
At the age of 32, Elizabeth felt that something was missing from her life, everything seemed so shallow and so she went searching. And that search ended with the rediscovery of her childhood faith. She had a reversion to the Catholic faith. From that point on she organized her spiritual life around a disciplined pattern of prayer, meditation, Mass, the sacraments, and writing. She kept a spiritual journal, writing down everything. But with this new found faith Elizabeth’s friends and her husband Felix especially ridiculed her mercilessly. They teased her and talked down to her. But she always responded with patience and a gentle smile. She wouldn’t let their comments dissuade her. And every time her husband tried to convince Elizabeth of her errors it only made her more determined to go deeper into the faith, to study it more, and to strive for greater holiness. Even with this division in their life they still loved each other. But they always tried to persuade the other of his or her side.
For the last nine years of her life Elizabeth’s health deteriorated. She was in constant pain and was mostly confined to a chair or to her bed. But even with this she still received visitors and she kept to her disciplined spiritual life and she grew in holiness. Many people would visit because they were drawn by her peace and love and they wanted her advice and spiritual guidance. As Elizabeth was dying she said to her husband, “Felix, when I am dead, you will become Catholic again and a Dominican priest.” His response was, “Elizabeth you know my sentiments that will never happen!” He dismissed this as the whims of a dying pious woman. Elizabeth died of cancer in 1914. She died in her husband’s arms.
Later as Felix was going through his wife’s papers he came across a letter. It was addressed to him, and in it she wrote, “In 1905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die, the price will have been paid. Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband.” Elizabeth had offered her pain to God over the past nine years. She did this for the conversion of her husband. Again Felix passed it off as the fancies of an overly pious woman.
Following Elizabeth’s funeral Felix was scheduled to visit Lourdes where he was planning to write an expose for his newspaper. Lourdes is the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. It’s a place of many miraculous healings. He planned on writing of the fraudulent nature of the place; he reasoned that there were no true miracles taking place at Lourdes. Lourdes was a big fraud. But once there and standing in the grotto, in an instant, he received the great gift of faith, a miracle. Felix quickly reverted to the faith of his childhood. When he got home he began to read all of Elizabeth’s many journals and as he read them he understood for the first time the divine source of her love, peace, and silent endurance of physical and emotional pain which she offered for his conversion and the conversion of non-believers. God made it all possible.
Dr. Leseur did become a Dominican priest. Fr. Leseur died in 1950. All of Elizabeth’s diaries are now available in a book and her cause for canonization is underway in Rome.
Elizabeth once wrote, “Our outer life is the reproduction of our inner life, and the visible part of us reflects what is unseen; we radiate our souls, and when they are centers of light and warmth, other souls need only to be brought into contact with them in order to be warmed and enlightened. We give out what we carry within.” A soul that is burning with the fire of Jesus will try to enkindle others.
Our Lord came to set the earth on fire. My prayer for us today is that our souls become ever brighter and warmer and that other souls around us will be warmed and enlightened by us, breaking down divisions in both family and community.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley