15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton grew up longing for a mother’s love. Her own mother died when she was just three-years-old. Her relationship with her step-mother was complicated and came to an end when her father’s second marriage ended in separation. Later, during her early years of marriage, Elizabeth missed having a mother to whom she could turn for help and advice. In the weeks following the loss of her husband, her longing for a mother’s comfort grew all the more.
So, God gave her his own mother, Mary.
As Elizabeth traveled through Italy with the Filicchi family, the images of Mary she encountered impressed her deeply. The suffering written on Mary’s face at the foot of the cross was a suffering with which Elizabeth could identify. Looking at one image of Mary holding her dead Son, Elizabeth reflected that, “it seems as if his pains had fallen on her.”
The bond of kinship in suffering that Elizabeth felt with the Blessed Virgin grew stronger as she wrestled with her own grief. One day, in what Elizabeth described as a “moment of excessive distress,” she found St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s famous prayer, the Memorare. Elizabeth prayed it, believing “that God would surely refuse nothing to his Mother.”
That day, Elizabeth felt that she had the mother, which “my foolish heart so often lamented to have lost in early days.” And that night, she “cried myself to sleep on her breast.”
For the rest of her life, Elizabeth clung to that Mother, taking “Mary” as her confirmation name. She saw Mary as the “Mother of our redemption,” whose fiat made possible the Incarnation and all the saving events that followed. She also felt certain that by entrusting her prayers to Mary, Jesus would more readily answer them, for “if [Mary] is not heard, then who shall be?”
As the years passed, Elizabeth slept with a small crucifix under her pillow and a small image of the Blessed Virgin close to her heart. Both helped her feel the nearness of her two dearest loves. She reminded the women in her congregation that Mary was “the first Sister of Charity” and urged them to call upon Mary as they lived out their vocation. In the small chapel in Emmitsburg, she hung an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and for her personal devotion, she composed her own Memorare, modeled on St. Bernard’s.
Elizabeth firmly believed that “The glory of the Catholic Church is to sing the praises of Mary.” And just as she urged her Sisters to sing those praises, she urges us to do the same. No matter how great the cross we carry feels, no matter how alone or far away from God we think we are, our Mother Mary is by our side, waiting to help us carry our cross or take our hand and lead us back to Christ. She is our most faithful intercessor, and all who fall asleep, crying on her breast, as Elizabeth did, will wake with their hope renewed.
In the Words of Mother Seton
“The other day in a moment of excessive distress…my whole Soul desired only God. A little prayer book of Mrs. Filicchi’s was on the table. I opened [it to] a little prayer (the Memorare) of Saint Bernard to the Blessed Virgin, begging her to be our Mother. I said it to her with such a certainty that God would surely refuse nothing to his Mother, and that she could not help loving and pitying the poor Souls he died for…I felt really I had a Mother which…my foolish heart so often lamented to have lost in early days. From the first remembrance of infancy, I have looked in all the plays of childhood and wildness of youth to the clouds for my Mother. At that moment it seemed as if I had found more than her tenderness and pity of a Mother. So I cried myself to sleep on her heart.”
– Elizabeth Seton, Journal for Rebecca Seton, Entry of February 24, 1804
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s
Remember, O most pious Virgin Mary,
That no one ever had recourse to you,
Implored your help or sought your mediation,
Without obtaining relief.
Confiding then on your goodness and mercy,
I cast myself at your sacred feet,
And do most humbly supplicate you,
O, Mother of the Eternal Word,
To adopt me as your child and take upon yourself
The care of my eternal salvation.
O, let it not be said, my dearest Mother,
That I have perished, where no one ever found but grace and
Eternal Salvation. Love me, my Mother!
- Do I turn to Mary for help and comfort during my own difficulties?
- What difference has my relationship with Mary made in my life? In my relationship with God?
- How can I better imitate Mary’s “yes” to God at the Annunciation?
- Mary pondered particular moments of grace in her heart. What moments of grace should I or do I ponder in my heart?