15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
From the outside looking in, the crosses St. Elizabeth Ann Seton carried seem too many and too heavy for any one person to bear.
She lost her mother when she was a toddler. She lost her father when she was a young bride. She lost her home and fortune when her husband’s business failed. She then lost her husband, two children, and three beloved sisters-in-law, all to tuberculosis. Finally, at 46, she lost her own life to the same disease that took half her family.
Why would God ask any person, let alone such a loving and faithful servant, to endure so much?
Elizabeth, however, never asked that question. Instead, referring to the crosses God gave her as “objects of peace and sweet comfort,” she explained, “[I was] not only willing to take [up] my cross, but kissed it too.”
Elizabeth could do that because inside her crucible of sorrow and loss, she saw what those on the outside couldn’t see.
First, Elizabeth saw a God who loved her. “Our God loves us—that is our comfort. We have every true consolation and must leave all to Him,” she explained to one friend.
She also saw a God whose wisdom surpassed her own. “Blessed a thousand, thousand times be the One who governs all, and will bring light out of darkness,” she explained.
And she saw a God who poured out consolation on her during times of sorrow. “If sufferings abound in us,” she noted, “God’s consolations also greatly abound, and far exceed all utterance.”
Above all, though, Elizabeth saw a God who hung on the cross out of love for her. In her times of greatest sorrow, she knew He was with her. They were suffering together, experiencing a type of communion that could be found nowhere else besides in the Eucharist. She explained: “It is very certain that we receive no grace in the communion of the Holy Eucharist but in proportion as we receive it in the communion of the cross.”
God is with us in our sorrows too. He doesn’t ask us to not feel sad when we suffer. Mary wept at the foot of the cross. Elizabeth wept at her dying husband’s bedside. But God does ask us to remember in the midst of our suffering that He loves us, that He has a plan to bring about our ultimate good, and that He will comfort our broken hearts. He also asks us, when our crosses seem the heaviest, to close our eyes, think of Him on the cross, and join our suffering to His, asking Him to use them as He wills.
The more we do that, the more God’s consolations can penetrate our heart, giving us the strength we need to suffer with peace and love. For, as Elizabeth knew, “We are never strong enough to bear our crosses, it is the cross which carries us, nor so weak to be unable to bear it, since the weakest become strong by virtue.”
In the Words of Mother Seton
“There is no possible advantage to be compared with the happiness of receiving Our Lord and Savior in the Holy Eucharist, who is our very life in all our sufferings yet we also receive Him by the communion of His cross… We may unite with Him, we draw His Spirit on us, and it is very certain that we receive no grace in the communion of the Holy Eucharist but in proportion as we receive it in the communion of the cross….In receiving this cross we are not to look at what it is made of, that is, on the nature of our sufferings, it being a mystery. We are to look only at the interior virtue, not the exterior form. Eternal life is hidden under it, and when it comes in the shape of poverty, it conceals eternal treasures; in that of shame or reproach it is the glory of God; the form of its afflictions carries eternal consolations. When our Savior offers us his cross in any way, it is Himself.”
– Elizabeth Seton, Meditation on the Communion of the Cross, 52
- How do I respond to the crosses in my life?
- Is living the Paschal Mystery central to my life of faith?
- What cross am I carrying right now? How has Jesus been with me as I’ve carried this cross?
- Who is someone I know that is carrying a heavy cross right now? What is one thing I could do to help them carry that cross?