Sunday, March 17, 2013

Elisabeth Leseur's Rule of Life

Writing about a Rule of Life made me think of this book "My Spirit Rejoices:  The Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief"

Elisabeth Leseur's story is an interesting one. 

Elisabeth Leseur was an upper-class Frenchwoman married to Felix, an avowed and aggressive atheist. When Elisabeth died prematurely in 1914, Felix found the secret diary she had kept. Page after page revealed to him the beautiful life of Christian simplicity she had lived amidst the swirl of Parisian high society. Felix's eyes were opened by that diary (now published as My Spirit Rejoices). He became a Christian and soon entered the Catholic priesthood. Elisabeth's virtues and her love of him and her God had won Felix the atheist to the Christian faith. My Spirit Rejoices is a moving testament and a unique story of love and faith. -- Midwest Book Review
Fulton Sheen regularly brought her up in his sermons.  

I had this book for several years before I read the whole thing.  Consequently I missed the second part, her book of resolutions, which is presently my favorite part of the book.    If you have it around the house, you may want to turn to page 113.

Her husband, in the introduction to My Spirit Rejoices in which he tells of her life and his subsequent conversion, writes:

"In making further search, I came upon a copybook called Book of Resolutions.... this was indeed... the decisive time in an exceptionally edifying life; this copybook is one of the most moving parts of the whole work, differing slightly from the Journal in arrangement, but thoroughly in keeping with it..."
  I think her Rule, which emerges in a series of resolutions over a period of six years, nicely complements Msgr Lejeune's description of a Rule of Life.  

Elisabeth Leseur was not blessed by children, but she suffered from ill health and was married to an outspoken French atheist, so she was prevented from doing all she might have aspired to do otherwise.  You can see her progression from ordinary Christianity to an ever-increasing devotion and fervor.  Her faith gave her the grace her be fruitful in the midst of secularity, worldliness, and many physical and emotional trials.

She writes:

This rule, which I now write down so that I can better examine my soul before God, should not be too rigidly interpreted by me.

The milieu in which I live, certain people's hostility, the variety and sometimes the complication of my duties, the influence I can have on the hearts who love my own heart and the spirits who come to me with confidence:  all demand great circumspection from me.

 If I must be so exact as to not neglect the smallest details of my rule when I alone am concerned, it would not do to act in the same way when a neighbor is in question.

My resolutions should therefore be adaptable to circumstances.  The precepts of charity should come before any measure intended to ensure the solidity and intensity of my spiritual life.
Her rule of life is carefully structured but as she mentions, flexible enough to accommodate changing circumstances and to prioritize the requirements of charity to others.  First, after dedicating her efforts to God and His saints, especially Mary, she lists daily, monthly, and yearly resolutions.

Under daily, she has (similar to Msgr Lejeune)

  • Morning and Evening Prayer,
  •  Meditation, and
  •  Confession/Communion every two weeks (this was during the time in France where frequent communion was generally discouraged for Jansenist reasons).   

She also commits to attending Mass as often as possible without being tactless towards her non-believing husband.

Under monthly and yearly resolutions, she lists a general spiritual retreat.   The monthly retreat is to last for a part of a day and include withdrawal from worldly pleasures as much as possible.  The yearly retreat is to last for a few days if possible. 
"A retreat is to the whole of life what meditation is to each day.   The soul gathers new strength and, transformed and sanctified, returns to the tasks and duties which fill up our lives.  Giving oneself is easier when the soul has renewed its interior provision."  

After her religious resolutions, she turns to different aspects of her state in life, including categories for her husband, relatives, mother, and the wider community (including the poor).
 "Duty to My Dear Husband"
She lists tenderness,
 "constant care to be useful and gracious to him",
 "above all, to be extremely reserved concerning matters of faith, which are still veiled to him."

 "Duty to My Two Families" (I think her family of origin and her husband's family),

"especially to the young, to whom I will open wide my mind and my home.  Duty to set an example, to pray, to exercise an influence..."

"Never to anticipate a new task or duty, but as soon as one presents itself with a clearly providential character, to welcome it and never forsake it."  

 "Duty of consolation and tenderness to my dear mother"  

"Duty in work" 

Under this she lists
"to undertake only a little and only what I can really accomplish." 
She also undertakes to do only what does not interfere with her primary duties.

"In dealing with the poor, to avoid familiarity or haughtiness, or excess of any kind."

After these duties connected with her state in life she goes on to list general resolutions:

Giving Myself
Personal Austerity

She gives an explanation of what each of these things means to her.

The rest of her book of resolutions are developments of these essentials over a period of time.   For example, one Advent she writes:

Prayer.. More intimate, more profound.  Frequent Holy Communion.  More meditation.

Regularly she mentions renewing her former resolutions, eg on New Year's day, or after she feels that she has fallen away slightly. 

Sometimes she writes resolutions obviously connected to what is going on in her life, like:

"Renewed resolve, after failure, of silence about myself, my sufferings, and the graces I have received, and of great reserve with those souls not yet decisively touched by grace."
Change of abode, a new life, which must be directed to a greater degree towards God.

So I think her format is a nice one because it focuses on the essentials but allows for all sort of modifications and developments as one's spiritual life deepens and according to the circumstances of one's own life. 

I thought some bits from her Rule might inspire you as you work on your own one.  


  1. I've been interested in Elisabeth Leseur's life for quite some time but hadn't taken the time to read her writings yet. This glimpse into her personal rule is wonderful! It's a very good example, for me, about what a rule is supposed to look like.

    Thank you so much for sharing! Now I want to read her writings... so much reading and so little time!

  2. That's an inspiring story.She has the commitment, faith and trust in the Holy Spirit.
    Thank you.

  3. Thank you. I've seen Elisabeth Leseur's name pop up here and there on Catholic blogs but this is the first time I've heard any of her story. Now I want to go look up the book.


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