“I want to be a doctor,” I announced to my mother once when I was eight years old, on the ride home after a check up at the pediatrician.
“I think you would be a very good doctor,” my mom had encouraged me. “You are smart and you care a lot about other people.”
That settled it. A doctor I would be. I’m not sure exactly when my life plans changed, but somewhere between that moment in the backseat of our old station wagon and the moment when I said “I do” and then welcomed four children in the first five years of marriage, I determined that I would not be a doctor after all. I would be a mom. And it turns out that being smart and caring a lot about other people comes in handy in that profession as well.
God works with us. He takes our natural skills and inclinations, the things we are passionate about and the desire for good things we have in our hearts, and he nudges us toward what He wills for us. Our job is to be open to the nudging.
St. Rose Venerini knew about nudging. She too once thought she knew what God’s plan was for her life. Raised in a faithful Catholic family in mid-17th century Italy, as a young woman, Rose decided to become a nun, and she entered the convent. Just months after she arrived, though, her father’s sudden death brought her back home. When her brother and mother died shortly afterward, and her older sister married, young Rose found herself alone at home with her younger brother, Orazio. What now?
Sometimes we think that we need to have all of our life’s plans laid out ahead of time, and we need to know all the details about what we are to do before we can say yes to God’s plan for our lives. The great saints, though, know that this is not the case. We don’t need to know everything in order to do God’s will. We need only to be open to the nudges of God and keep on doing the next right thing.
The next right thing for St. Rose was a very simple thing indeed. She looked around her and saw young women of her community suffering extreme poverty and lacking education. She began by inviting these women into her home just to pray the Rosary. As she came to know these young women and sympathize with their plight, Rose was moved to dedicate herself to their education. Under the direction of a Jesuit priest, she began a small school for young women. And just like that, she launched the first public school for women in Italy.
St. Rose could not have known that these humble beginnings would lead to more than 40 schools for women opened all over Italy, a visit from Pope Clement XI, and the founding of a religious order after her death. But God knew. And all he needed from Rose was one faithful “yes” at a time.
We see a similar dedication to young women and simple faithfulness to God’s will in the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Elizabeth was a married mother of five who might have thought the raising of her family was sufficient “good work” to accomplish in the world. But her conversion to the Catholic Church from her Episcopalian faith and the unexpected death of her husband left her wondering what God might ask of her next.
Like St. Rose in Italy 200 years before, Elizabeth saw many young women and girls around her who suffered from poverty and a lack of education, and those two things seemed to go hand in hand: ignorance and hardship.
Like St. Rose before her, Elizabeth did not yet know all that God was calling her to, but she did say “yes.” She said yes to the founding of a school, the first free Catholic school in America, and the founding of a religious order.
St. Rose Venerini and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived on different continents and centuries apart. But I like to think these two great saints are fast friends in heaven now. Perhaps they’re sharing a cup of tea and clicking their cups in a toast to the importance of education, the strength of young women, and the life-changing, world-changing power of being open to the unexpected and answering God’s nudges, one little “yes” at a time.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
This reflection was previously published. To read all of our Seton Reflections, click here.