26th June, 2022

Dominican Monk

In today’s Gospel we have heard about the Apostles who travelled with Jesus to Jerusalem. One day during their long journey, when the people of one of the towns were not interested in showing them any hospitality or even human kindness, and refused to receive them, the apostles James and John said to Jesus something very strong: Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up? I don’t think Jesus expected such a harsh response from his disciples. We don’t know what His first reaction was, we only know that the Evangelist Luke wrote that Jesus turned and rebuked them, and I suppose his reaction must have been very sharp. Jesus is gentle and – as the prophet Isaiah says about him: He will not brawl or shout … He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick… but on the other hand Jesus is very radical and firm when someone refuses others: mercy, forgiveness, and any opportunity to convert and changes their lives.

As I pondered this Gospel, I was reminded of a book that someone had given me a few years ago. The main characters of this book are the Leseur family, who lived in Paris a few years before the first world war. Dr Felix Leseur was a wonderful and experienced doctor, moreover he was a famous and widely respected professional in many medical environments in France. As for his religious views, he was an atheist who fought against every faith and religion, mostly by writing articles for various anti-religious newspapers that undermined the authority of the Church but also the existence of God. He used every possible opportunity to express his aversion and hatred towards God and the Church. Unlike his wife, Elisabeth, he did not pray at all. There was no Church, no God, and no religious practice in his life. On the contrary Elisabeth – his wife – was a very pious woman, and she prayed all her life for one particular intention – for her husband and for his conversion, but her prayers seemed unanswered. She wrote a spiritual diary – something like Saint Faustina’ diary – and patiently asked and pleaded with God for her husband’s conversion. At one point in Elisabeth’s life, something unexpected and very tragic happened that changed her entire life – she developed cancer that was making rapid progress. All her sufferings, pains, and ailments, she offered for the conversion of her husband. One day in 1905, she wrote the following words in her diary: I am sure my prayer has been answered. My husband will not only convert and begin to deeply believe in God, but he will enter a monastery and become a religious. Unfortunately, Elisabeth died, and did not live to see her husband’s conversion. Even at her funeral, he did not want to receive Holy Communion and did not pray for her soul. As we can imagine, it was very difficult for him to sort out his wife’s things, because despite the fact that they differed in many views concerning her faith and his atheism, he loved her very much. It was only about a month later that he started sorting out Elisabeth’s belongings. One day – next to the books and medicines in the cupboard right next to her bed – he found her diary. He started reading it, but stopped reading for a moment when he came across one paragraph: Today I am in terrible pain, but I will not complain to anyone, I am offering my suffering for my husband and for his conversion. A little further, he found another passage: Outwardly I am calm, I do not show anything on the outside, but inside that is spiritually I suffer a lot because every day my faith is ridiculed and attacked by my husband. Dr Leseur couldn’t read it any further as he was in tears, he threw the diary on the floor and went for a walk, but somewhere in his mind, the words of his late wife began to mature in him, they began to bother him more and more. Sometime later he went to Lourdes to write another, new article challenging religion and the existence of God, but finally that time spent in Lourdes completely changed his life. In 1919, Dr Felix Leseur converted and entered the Dominican Order. He died in 1950 and was a Dominican monk for 30 years. If you would like to know more about him and his wife Elisabeth, and read this interesting story in English, you can find it in the book – Salt and light: The spiritual diary of Elisabeth and Felix Leseur. As an interesting aspect of this true story, I would like to mention that Elisabeth in the future will most likely be made a Blessed or a Saint by the Church.

I think at this stage it is time to sum up my reflection. If sometimes you are tempted to say to God, as the Apostles did: Lord, do you want me to call down fire from heaven to burn them up? If you are tempted to say something like this about others, about people you dislike and don’t accept, please remember the story I mentioned today. If you are tempted to give up your faith, to stop trusting God and to doubt in his existence, care and love, then please look at the Leseur family and the wonderful example they give us. Jesus didn’t allow his apostles to call down fire from heaven to burn anyone up, because probably the first person who would deserve this fire would be me or you. And finally, if there is anything in this world that we should never do, then no matter what circumstances we are in, we must never give up on Jesus and our trust in him.

Fr Gregory