These two women were married to men they loved and lived a life of holiness despite their very different circumstances.
Both of these books were written by married women who lived in the 20th century — but that’s about the end of their similarities. One is a French upperclass woman who wasn’t able to bear children and lived her faith quietly to keep the peace in her marriage. The other is a Mexican woman who had nine children and wrote extensively during her lifetime, helping to found and support religious congregations. One is a Servant of God, which is the first step in the canonization process; the other is a Venerable who will be beatified next year.
The first book is The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur.
Elisabeth Leseur is a Servant of God who lived in France in the 1900s. She and her husband Felix were intelligent, well-to-do, and lived a comfortable upperclass life. They were very happy together except for one thing: Felix, her husband, hated Catholicism. He was an atheist and she was a Catholic, and they could never talk about religion because he would get too upset. This broke her heart, and she kept a secret diary in which she wrote her prayers and reflections to God. She did not have many friends who shared her faith either, and so lived a pretty isolated faith life. The other suffering she carried throughout her life was her inability to have children with Felix. But she grew very close to her niece and spent time caring for the poor in their community.
Elisabeth’s constant prayers for her husband never seemed to affect him. He was a staunch atheist when she died from cancer in 1914. And he was frustrated with her, because she said several times before she died that she was offering her life for him so that he would convert. After her death, Felix found her diary and read it, but he was skeptical. But then, after a trip to Lourdes, he had huge conversion. He became a priest and published her writings so that many people could read them. Her diary is easy to read. Some entries talk about what she did that day, and have little reflections from prayer. Other entries are prayers she composed or thoughts from going on retreats, or even a letter to her husband. Some days she jots down a few sentences, other days, a couple of pages. Her writings are not organized and connected from beginning to end, but they provide a helpful glimpse into what her prayer life (and also her day-to-day life) looked like. Her spiritual insights are beautiful and relevant to all women, but especially to women who don’t have much support in their faith.
The second book is a collection of writings by Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida (Conchita), called A Mother’s Letters: A Vision of Faith in Everyday Life.
This is a compilation of Conchita’s letters, mostly to her sons and her sons’ wives. Conchita lived in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century at a time when the Catholic Church was undergoing a lot of persecution. She had nine children with her husband Francisco. Most of them married, and a couple had religious vocations. Her letters are mostly to her adult children, and they contain everything from recipes, to suggestions for medicine to help with their sicknesses, to reminding them of God’s love and encouraging them to stay close to Him. She writes about what is going on in her life and in the lives of people they know, or what’s going on with their siblings.
Conchita’s letters show how practical she was, and how possible it is to be an involved and devoted mother and grandmother and lead a holy life. Not only that, but having the responsibility of motherhood can help you reach heaven. She also had a fairly happy marriage of seventeen years until her husband passed away. In the book, Conchita writes about her husband, explaining that he was loving and supportive and an excellent father. He would watch the children in the mornings so she could go to receive Communion every day. He also seemed to have had a strong faith which he carried with him to his death. During her lifetime, Church authorities were already looking at her many spiritual writings to approve them. Her canonization process was started just twenty years after her death, and she will be beatified on May 4, 2019.
These two women, Elisabeth and Conchita, were married to men they loved and lived a life of holiness despite their very different circumstances. Their lives show that there’s hope for all of us, regardless of our vocation.
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