It is often said of the Catholic perspective on marriage that the goal of a husband is to get his wife to heaven, and the goal of a wife is to get her husband to heaven.
On a recent episode of The Inner Life, Josh Raymond recounted the story of Élisabeth and Félix Leseur, an unsuspecting, ordinary couple who were married in Paris in 1889, as an illustrative example of this idea.
Élisabeth and Félix never had deep convictions about their faith before they were married, so when Félix confessed that he had lost his faith during his time in medical school, it didn’t much bother Élisabeth. But after that first year of their marriage, Élisabeth became very ill. And during her recovery, the reality of her own mortality prompted her to become more invested in her faith. As the years went on, she became closer to God while her husband drifted further from Him.
And even when Félix began to criticize and ridicule Élisabeth for her faith, she never lashed out. She hid the emotional suffering and offered it all up for his conversion. Eventually, Élisabeth’s constant health issues caught up with her and she ended up passing away from breast cancer at the age of 47. A few months before her death, Élisabeth had written a letter for Félix. In it, she documented all of the suffering that she had undergone for him: the illness, the mortifications, the criticisms. She wrote:
“I begged almighty God to send me sufferings with which to pay the price of your soul. The day I die, that price will be paid.”
After reading that letter and all of her journal entries, Félix, who had never returned to the faith during her life said:
“From her journal I was able to perceive with clarity the interior significance of the life of Élisabeth, so great in her humility. I came to appreciate the splendor of that faith of which I had seen such marvelous effects. The eyes of my soul were opened, and I turned toward the God who called me. I confessed my sins to a priest and was reconciled with the Church.”
Félix returned to the faith three years after Élisabeth’s death. He became a Dominican friar two years after that. And four years after becoming a friar, he was ordained a priest.
Guest Father Ethan Southard marveled at this beautiful expression of love that the now Servant of God Élisabeth Leseur had shown for her husband. Even when she underwent the most intense physical and emotional suffering possible, she allowed God to keep her interior life intact and at peace. That is the type of love any husband or wife would hope to receive from their spouse, from the moment of their union until the moment of their death.
While Félix and Élisabeth may not have had a perfect, two-way relationship during their years together, it’s clear that Élisabeth showed all the signs of a loving and loyal spouse and is a role model for all married couples. Josh and Father Ethan talked about what common characteristics exist in holy and saintly couples and Father Ethan said that an overlooked characteristic is love.
While that may sound obvious and simple, it would not be difficult to go out and find a married couple that lacks love. How do you notice love? You see it in the way spouses greet one another, the way they converse, the way they recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, the way they ask one another for something, the way they say goodbye, and the way they exude a love for God. The only way to make true love last is through Him.
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