Briefly Reviewed: September 2020
When Silence Speaks: The Life and Spirituality of Elisabeth Leseur
By Jennifer Moorcroft
Publisher: Gracewing (www.gracewing.co.uk)
Review Author: Jennifer MacNeil
Jennifer Moorcroft blends the life story of French mystic and laywoman Elisabeth Leseur with an overview of Leseur’s spirituality, all in the context of the religious turmoil at the turn of the 20th century. Love of and abandonment to God constitute the essence of this Servant of God’s unique path to sanctity. Documentation of Leseur’s life is complete only with a study of her most meaningful relationships, which Moorcroft has distilled from the vast collection of written correspondence Leseur generated. Moorcroft’s careful incorporation of details, taken from French and English sources, includes quotes that were new to this reviewer, who has been working on the sainthood cause for Elisabeth Leseur for several years.
Moorcroft provides a view into Leseur’s childhood and family, from which some of her closest relationships came, particularly with her sister Juliette. Elisabeth’s early childhood also was the beginning of her lifelong love of writing to capture spiritual moments. On her first Holy Communion, Elisabeth, age 13, wrote, “Our Lord, he was in me, I was no longer alone, I was with our Lord.” After Elisabeth grew into a young woman, the entrance of Felix Leseur into her life came with great joy; the differences in their spiritual lives would only be revealed in time. Elisabeth would experience several health issues as sources of suffering throughout much of her adult life.
The moments of joy, extensive travel, and enjoyment of the arts by the married Leseurs are juxtaposed with their most significant struggles, including Felix’s loss of faith and their struggle with infertility. Though their spiritual lives were incongruent, Felix initially did not interfere with Elisabeth’s growing faith or works of charity, her initial apostolate. Moorcroft explores the successes and failures of Elisabeth’s various attempts at works of charity, which also provided her with several close friendships.
The Law of Associations, passed in 1901, had a significant impact on France and French views of religion. The bill brought all religious institutions under the control of the state to ensure the supremacy of civil power. This fundamental change in France, as well as the atheism of Felix and his friends, had the potential to destroy Elisabeth’s faith, but she continued, with great struggles at times, not only to maintain but to grow in faith. Several of Elisabeth’s significant spiritual moments include visits to Rome and Lourdes.
Moorcroft selects poignant words from Elisabeth’s latter years (she died at the early age of 48) to depict the depths of her faith. Belief in the Communion of Saints was a cornerstone. Imploring God, Elisabeth wrote, “Unite with my soul the souls of those I love…. And then, sanctify me, too, by this suffering, bring me close to Your heart and teach me to love and serve You better.” Elisabeth believed in the importance of surrendering herself to Divine Providence and, near the end, to complete abandonment to God’s will. Throughout her faith life, she was moved by Christ’s command to love all.
No story of Elisabeth Leseur would be complete without the story of Felix’s life following Elisabeth’s passing in 1914. During their marriage, Felix’s atheism was quite public: He wrote for several anti-clerical periodicals. After her death, his return to the Catholic faith was only part of God’s plan for him. Throughout his reversion, Felix frequently experienced Elisabeth’s presence and encouragement. Within a few years, he felt called to live even more united to Christ by serving as a priest. However, the path to priesthood was not easy; Felix would need to plead his case to Pope Benedict XV, who initially refused his petition. Within a day, the Pope relented, and Felix was ordained a Dominican priest in 1923. He would eventually publish Elisabeth’s journals and letters in multiple languages, and in 1936 he initiated her cause for sainthood. Moorcroft’s inclusion of details of these events helps readers understand how Elisabeth Leseur has quietly become known across the world.
Elisabeth’s life and writing continue to inspire men and women, lay and religious. One of Elisabeth’s friends said of her, as Moorcroft notes in the introduction, “Some beings are a light toward which all turn who need light to live by.” Moorcroft’s book carries forward this light.
Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology
By Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, and John A. Kincaid
Review Author: Hurd Baruch
Paul, A New Covenant Jew — intriguing title, isn’t it? Paul proudly announced his Jewish heritage: a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees, and a zealot for the Law. But didn’t he convert on the road to Damascus and become a Christian? The answer from Brant Pitre and his co-authors is both yes and no. Yes, Paul did become a Christian in the sense of believing that Jesus was both Messiah and Lord, but no, he did not turn his back on the Jewish Scriptures. Rather, he came to a new understanding of them, focused on Jeremiah’s prophecy that a new covenant would be given. This new covenant, superior to the covenant given through Moses, would be written on human hearts rather than on tablets of stone, and it would enable people of all nations to believe in and emulate Christ. By becoming members of Christ’s body in faith, they would share in His divine life — not just after death but in this world to begin with, for the second world, the eternal one, had already broken in with the Resurrection of Jesus.
Unlike Pitre’s previous works, which I reviewed — The Case for Jesus (April 2017) and Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary (Nov. 2019) — this is not a book for the casual reader, particularly one who just wants to know a little bit more about St. Paul. (For that I recommend N.T. Wright’s Paul: A Biography.) As the authors state, “This book is aimed at unpacking Paul’s theology as contained in his undisputed letters.” And unpacking is just what happens, with citations and footnotes galore referencing works of other scholars, and rigorous analysis and refutation of many of them, especially since the subject of Paul’s theology has mainly been of interest to Protestant scholars.
Readers who think the subject of Pauline Christology might be too abstruse should be reassured by seeing the issues covered in non-technical terms: (1) “What does Paul mean when he speaks of Jesus as the ‘Christ’?”; (2) “What exactly does Paul mean when he refers to Jesus as the ‘Son of God’?”; (3) “How does Paul reconcile his identification of Jesus as ‘the Lord’ (kyrios) with his Jewish confession of ‘one God’?”
Another topic of interest is the question of what Paul foresaw eventually for the Jewish people. Salvation for each one, or for the people as a whole? From a close reading of Romans 11, Jeremiah 31, and Isaiah 40-66, the authors conclude that Paul expected there would be a “twelve-tribe restoration of Israel.” They state, “By going out to the nations, Paul understands that he will bring back the descendants of the scattered northern tribes of Israel” (who had become Gentiles), and by embracing Christ, all “are saved in Christ through the new covenant.”
Throughout Paul, A New Covenant Jew, the authors employ orthodox Catholic reasoning in discussing such subjects as justification — is it by faith alone? This is most important in the chapter on the Lord’s Supper, which includes exegesis showing that Paul taught the Real Presence without using those specific words. The authors also show that Paul’s description of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26) is “deeply rooted in Jewish temple language and imagery,” citing especially the covenant ratification ceremony by Moses (cf. Exod. 24:5-8). And they note that the phrase, the “table of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:21), is a reference to the altar of sacrifice in the Jewish Temple (cf. Mal. 1:7). They conclude that the words spoken then by Christ show that His death was “a covenant-making sacrifice,” whereby the new covenant foreseen by Jeremiah was instituted.
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Public discourse remains limited to material concerns, but what really differentiates human beings is culture, which is founded on religion.