Last time I quoted some of Elisabeth's advice to her niece:
From now on you ought to prepare yourself for this great task that is required of each of us... All Christians have the same aim and ideal, in every age... But circumstances require them to adapt their mode of action...
As a matter of fact, our Christian duty appears under a threefold aspect--
- and social.
I went on to cover the section about education and intellectual development, and now I want to move on to the other two aspects of Christian duty.
Leseur on a Christian woman's familial duty
Your second responsibility is for your family... With the church, I believe that the whole structure of our moral, national, and social life is based on the family, and I am convinced that everything done for the family enhances the greatness and strength of peoples and societies; on the other hand, they are irretrievably destroyed as soon as the family, the cornerstone of the structure, is attacked.
Thus, you will do all you can to strengthen in every way respect for family life.
Elisabeth here develops the theme of concentric circles, from the private to the public, where development of an "interior" aspect illuminates the "exterior" aspects. That "light-flowing-from-center-to-outside" concept appears explicitly in her following directions:
Later on, when you have your own family, you will make your home a warm and lively center of influence, and you will be a guiding spirit for those who live in the light that you spread.
You will be a friend and companion to your husband, and a guide and model of moral strength to your children.
For the woman of faith, the return for such perseverance, Elisabeth promises, is "one of those mysterious compensations, unknown on a purely human level but known only in God:"
You will possess that precious treasure... a serenity and peace of mind that nothing can destroy, neither trials nor losses, since God is their source, and God gives them [serenity and peace of mind] sometimes in proportion to our sufferings.
To me, this sounds like more development of Elisabeth's theme that the gift of faith adds to and transforms the gifts (and corresponding responsibilities) that are natural, without taking anything away from those natural gifts. I get the impression that Elisabeth would also advise a "natural" (unbelieving) woman to strengthen respect for family life, to make her home warm and lively and influential for the good, to befriend her husband, to guide her children. These duties can be difficult by their nature; but because Elisabeth trusts that her niece will have faith, she promises that the experience of difficulties will be transformed.
(The difference, I think, is that in the light of faith the difficulties we encounter -- our suffering -- is not meaningless, but has meaning.)
Then, and even now, in the midst of your extended family --
(clever with the "even now!" Elisabeth represents, of course, Marie's "extended family" at present.)
-- you will develop the habit through daily effort and the help of God's grace to "possess your soul in peace," to be gently and lovingly composed in your attitude towards events, people, and life itself.
Sometimes managing to smile requires true heroism; may your smile, whether thoughtful or joyful, always do good.
I like the distinction between "joyful" smiles and "thoughtful" smiles. Nothing there about fake vs. real smiles; it's more like "spontaneous" vs. "deliberate."
You will meet many people throughout your life, but by preference go to the weakest, the most embittered, and the most marginalized, and regardless of your trials and sorrows, you should know "to rejoice with those who rejoice," and to share in the happiness of others.
I find this last bit interesting, appearing as it does in the section of the letter devoted to "family - extended" rather than in the section which follows about "society." Perhaps Elisabeth meant only a stylistic segue as she moves outward from the family, to the extended family, to the society. I also see in the placement of this mention a notion that the people whom we encounter "in person" are more like "extra-extended family" than they are like faceless representatives of "society." I think the word we're going for here is "neighbor," anyone who can know us and be known by us.
So the advice we have from Elisabeth as regards family -- although she expresses it more as a confident prediction than as counsel -- is:
- Do all you can to strengthen respect for family life
- Make your home a warm and lively center of influence
- To those who live in that influence, be a "guiding spirit"
- To your husband, be a friend and companion
- To your children, be a guide, and a model of moral strength
- When family duty is hard, expect faith to supply consolations
- In reaction to events, people, and life: make daily effort to achieve composure, asking for God's help
- With effort -- sometimes a heroic one -- you can manage a "thoughtful" smile that may do good
- By preference go to "the weakest, the most embittered, and the most marginalized"
- Even in the midst of your own trials, "rejoice with those who rejoice"
Elisabeth's center-to-outward theme expands in the next part, duty to society. Next time!