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Obstacles or Opportunities? When Life Throws Curves, Drink from the “Cup”

August 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach


Life of Christ (Week 20 of 27)

Looking beyond all secondary causes, such as Pilate and Annas, the Romans and the Jews, Our Lord saw not enemies to be defeated by a sword, but a cup offered by His Father. Love was the motive and spring of His Sacrifice… — Life of Christ, Chapter 42, Paragraph 5

The above quote perfectly encapsulates everything I have felt when reading the diary of Elisabeth Leseur. When I try to describe her to others, I explain that Elisabeth did not see sinners when she looked at those around her, but rather, she saw opportunities to serve. Souls to love with her whole being. Essentially, she saw each soul in her path as a “cup,” offered by her Heavenly Father, as well as an opportunity to pour herself out for her fellow man, as Christ did for us:

I want to love with a special love those whose birth or religion or ideas separate them from me; it is those especially whom I must try to understand and who need me to give them a little of what God has placed within me. – Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 5

Like Christ, Elisabeth Leseur did not spend time contemplating the whys and wherefores of the behavior or motives of those around her. Rather, she saw the larger picture: The Father’s Will. In that vein, Elisabeth did not see others as obstacles to her sanctity. She recognized each encounter as an opportunity to say Yes to the question Christ asked of His apostles, “Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)

I have read the words in her journal over and over again; yet, while I am deeply inspired by the heroic love demonstrated by Elisabeth Leseur – a love so palpable that her husband was fed and nourished by it, and consequently drawn into the light of Christ in the Catholic Church as a holy priest upon her death – I struggle daily with the idea of offering any kind of love, much less “a special kind of love” to those with whom I disagree. This virtue of receiving all encounters as “gifts” is something I’ve even had difficulty with as a wife. As a mother. Basically, as a human being. This difficulty does not merely affect my encounters with people, but with virtually anything “blocking” what I think should be my road to sanctification.

Do you see obstacles in your pursuit of sanctity too? When you envision your path to sanctity, does it look peaceful? Beautiful? Do you imagine flowers bordering a lovely walkway, trees providing shade from any ill attempts by the scorching heat, butterflies fluttering, birds singing, grass swishing back and forth in a gentle breeze, dancing in waves as far as the eye can see? Do you imagine a life without trouble? If not, do you imagine that if you just have enough faith, your trust will enable you to accept whatever comes? Do you believe that, somehow, anything that comes will be covered in the padding of God’s grace, soft and perhaps even – dare I say – pleasant? And do all those people and circumstances that muddy that path appear to you as impediments to your joy?

I think it is ironic that the Bible gives us absolutely no indication that submission will be easy, pleasant, or even enjoyable, and yet we continue to confuse the joy we are to experience through the light of Christ with the picture I attempted to paint above. We think,

Just get my husband/my children/my friend…to be on the same page with me in our Faith, and then I could better pursue holiness. 

If only the world would return to God and not promote such debauchery – then my I could raise my children to be better Christians and I could practice my Faith better as well.

If only I weren’t sick, if only I weren’t broke, if only I weren’t so busy, if only _______, then I could have the time and energy it takes to focus on a relationship with God.

Yet, the Bible actually says that as Christians, we should expect these difficulties in our pursuit of holiness:

If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you... — John 15:19-20

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. — Acts Acts 14:21-22

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. — 1 Peter 4:12

It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him…” — Romans 8:17

Elisabeth understood the value of every challenge and its critical role in furthering the salvation of the world:

It is the time for painful effort: one must tear oneself asunder, forsake the realm of thought for that of reality, face action, know that one will either not be understood or be understood wrongly, and that one will perhaps suffer at the hands of humanity for having willed the good of humanity. We must already have drawn from God an incomparable strength and armed our hearts with patience and love, in order to undertake day by day and hour by hour the work that should belong to every Christian: the moral and material salvation of his brothers. – Secret Diary… p. 7

And yet, the Bible does say that we can rejoice in that suffering, for we know that our endurance will bring forth victory. In most of the verses quoted above, the promise of celebration and triumph follows if we only persevere (look them up – they are sure to inspire). In the Psalms, that beautiful picture is succinctly and eloquently painted:

Remember thy word to thy servant, in which thou hast made me hope. 
This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life. – Psalms 119:49-50

Each time we encounter what we see as an obstacle to our goal, an impediment blocking our path to heaven — whether a child that interrupts our prayer, a spouse to whom we feel “unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14), a handicap that keeps us from the Sacraments, or a disposition that is difficult to conquer— we can be certain we have been offered “a cup,” and not an obstacle.

As members of His Body, we are called to share in that body – which means to offer ourselves completely to our fellow men. In love.

As. A. Gift.

Offering that gift can be painful; but, the hope that He offers us through His cross to His Resurrection can cause the bitter to taste sweet. And ultimately, through our union with Christ on the cross, souls can be transformed:

Such love could save the world. Why groan, when with such a love one might act? Why hate, since hate destroys, when that divine love can bring life and transformation to hearts? — Secret Diary…p. 8

Like Christ –  like his followers, including Elisabeth Leseur – we must also look past the persecution; past the hate, past the anger, and see only opportunities to love, as we accept with gratitude the “cup” that has been offered by our Heavenly Father.

Reading Assignment:

Chapters 45-46

Discussion Questions:

1. Share any experiences where you chose love (as opposed to anger, annoyance, selfishness, etc.). How was the outcome different from what might have been? Any advice for how others might choose that path rather than succumb to frustration when tension is high?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. You can also find her at

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  • Jeanette

    I remember listening to a CD by Fr. Thomas Richter on “Trust in the Lord” and hearing him ask the question (paraphrasing): “Close your eyes and think of a person who seems to be a consistent obstacle in your life. The first person that comes to your mind…that’s the one who will help you attain holiness.”

    I have remembered that and it has helped me understand as you have quoted: Elisabeth did not see others as obstacles to her sanctity. She recognized each encounter as an opportunity to say Yes to the question Christ asked of His apostles, “Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38)

    This being the case, we should especially love that person/obstacle that the Lord has willed to send into our life to help us attain sanctity. Great should be our thankfulness! A most inspiring post Vicki! Thank you.

    • LizEst

      That’s great stuff, Jeanette! I didn’t know Monsignor Richter had any CDs out. Patti Maguire Armstrong wrote a post on him about three years ago on site:

      • Jeanette

        I order for Lighthouse Catholic Media for our church and that is how I listened to Monsignor Richter’s CD on “Trust in the Lord.” It is one that I listen to often as it is so inspiring. Thanks for the link on ‘How to Pray Like Jesus’…I printed that off to read again. 🙂

        • LizEst

          And, your parish is blessed to have you in that position! God bless you, Jeanette.

          • Jeanette

            God is Good!

        • Judy Silhan

          Thanks for the mention of a LH CD. Being a Parish Consultant, I have the opportunity to listen to the CD’s, as well; but this one I have not listened to. I read from the link which Liz provided, and now I look forward to listening to Msgr. Richter.

          • Jeanette

            Hi Judy! I’m sure you are finding it rewarding to be part of an evangelistic effort within the church and are being richly blessed by it!

  • Judy Silhan

    I have not been involved in reading your current book, Life of Christ, but have in the past with another selection, so I hope it is okay that I comment here today, as your post helped further my understanding of what our Lord is asking of us when He calls us to love others as He loves us, and what St. Teresa of Avila meant when she said without love, growth in spiritual progress is stopped. I have not yet read the diary of Elisabeth Leseur, but I shall indeed do so. Her words – “I want to love with a special love those whose birth or religion or ideas separate them from me; it is those especially whom I must try to understand and who need me to give them a little of what God has placed within me. – ,” immediately brought to mind my experience on Saturday. Attending the bridal shower of my oldest granddaughter created just such a time. Prior to attending, I knew I should attend, but how to be a witness for Christ, in a non-Christian environment, and with the love Elisabeth and St. Teresa, and others who understand this, speak of, was what I hoped to do. Having lived with a young man for the past five years, dressing in a white dress for the shower, gifts that suggested something new and beautiful to be embarked upon, created in my heart a very judgmental mindset, rather than one of peace and love, and which I was reminded of, in a priests homily from this past Sunday, which spoke also of friends and family who do not live by Christ and his Truth, but will be drawn into it by my actions of living His truth, that being with love. Attending with all of this in mind, it was clearly revealed to me that much prayer and grace is needed to indeed, love as Jesus loves, as Elisabeth Leseur and St. Teresa of Avila, and others have loved.

    • Vicki

      Judy, Thank you for sharing your experience so honestly. I am so thankful for Elisabeth’s diary so we can see what is possible through true love – despite circumstances and regardless of the sins of our beloved. She is such a great role model for our lives today. God bless!!!

  • Benard Chedid

    Was there a mix up in the posts between Life of Christ and Secret Diary of Elizabeth Leseur? This post only referenced the Secret Diary and there wasn’t a single sentence mentioned about Sheen or his book besides the opening quote. Peace!

    • LizEst

      The “sentence” was at the beginning when Vicki mentioned that what Sheen wrote (that indented paragraph) was just like what we had read in the “Secret Diary”. Please feel free to comment on what the reading assignment was. God bless you, Benard!

  • Michelle

    How hard it is to answer the first discussion question!

    I remember a time when I was single and working as a bank teller. Not yet back to the faith, but still I challenged myself to show love to the customers who were most despised by the tellers and bring them around. I was successful with every one and it gave me great pleasure and joy. I suppose I also became a bit prideful too when I saw that they now preferred me. Now, much older and supposedly wiser, I have lost this desire. Elizabeth has inspired me anew, but I still lack the energy to carry it out. At least I have an idea of how it’s done and I’m sure I must be doing it without remembering. (can’t remember much these days). But if I ask God to show me some small fruits of this effort by His mercy and with His grace, and I believe He will, I will be able to persevere!

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