Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
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.
Identifying with Mary’s Pain
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.”
Interceding for Us
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?”
“If Mary is not heard, then who shall be?” St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
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.
Mary in Your Life
Some people find it hard to accept the Church’s teaching on Mary, fearing perhaps that it could take away from our relationship with Christ. But remember, God chose to work through Mary. Why would he stop? The closest person to Jesus during his life on earth was his mother Mary. Imagine what we can learn from her:
- Intimate insights about Jesus
- Her unconditional yes
- Her unwavering faith in God
- The way she meditated on the circumstances of her own life to discern how God was working and what he was calling her to
- Her courage in the face of incredible suffering, walking with her Son to the Cross
Pick a way to learn from Mary’s example:
- Pray the Rosary, asking for her insights into the key moments in Jesus’ life
- Ask for help in carrying your crosses by reflecting on the Seven Sorrows of Mary
Model Mary by praying her Memorare (see below)
- Find a piece of art depicting Mary that you can relate to and keep it where you can see it often
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!
Question for Reflection
Do I turn to Mary for help and comfort during my own difficulties? Why or why not? In what area of my life can I ask her for help?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.