Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton loved married life. She loved her children. She loved her friends and her family and her life in New York City. But she loved God more. His will—not her own or anyone else’s—was what mattered most to her. She wanted to do His will no matter what the cost. And for her, there was a cost.
Her desire to do God’s will led her away from the Episcopalian faith in which she was raised and into the Catholic Church. In the process, she lost the good will of friends and family, her reputation, and her livelihood. Even many of her fellow Catholics thought her enthusiasm for her newfound faith a bit much. But she remained undeterred. “What was the first rule of our dear Savior’s life?” she used to ask the sisters in her congregation. “I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me’” (Jn 6:38).
“I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me’” (Jn 6:38).
Elizabeth made her “dear Savior’s” rule, her own. “The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God,” she wrote; “secondly to do it in the manner He wills; and thirdly to do it because it is His will.”
Trusting God’s Will
Her trust in God’s will was unfailing. “If it succeeds, I bless God; if [it] does not succeed…I bless God, because then it will be right that it should not succeed.” Even when she didn’t understand God’s will, she wanted it more than her own. “My God knows best,” she would say, when things failed to unfold as expected.
Elizabeth’s trust, however, wasn’t blind. It was rooted in her relationship with Jesus Christ. Elizabeth had sought to know Jesus since she was a little girl. She read about Him in Scripture, and spent time with Him in prayer. She saw evidence of His goodness and care all around her, and learned through all the sorrows of her life, that God was at work even in those, using all things to bring about her ultimate good. She knew God as a “Father infinitely more tender than any earthly Father can be,” and therefore she couldn’t help but want His will to be done. To want that, was to want the very best.
God wants us to know him as a tender father who wants nothing more than our eternal good.
God calls us to that same familial trust. He wants us to know Him as a tender Father, who wants nothing more than our eternal good. The more we come to know Him—the more we learn about Him, read about Him, spend time with Him, and look for His hand in the blessings that surround us—the more, like Elizabeth, we will be able to say, “God’s blessed, blessed will be done . . . all is in God’s hands. If I had a choice and my own will should decide in a moment, I would remain silent in God’s hands. Oh how sweet it is there to rest in perfect confidence.”
God’s Will in Your Life
Discerning and following God’s will demands a lot. So often, we think that we know best. We know what we want and need, and God simply needs to acquiesce to our request. When it doesn’t happen, we may think that God is silent, that He isn’t listening, or that He has even turned His back on us.
But God’s ways are not our ways. That may seem cliche, but actually it is essential to our understanding of God’s will. Like Martha, we are concerned with many things of the world (Luke 10:41). God, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with our ultimate good, our salvation. He wants us to spend eternity in heaven with Him, not suffering in hell. So the question becomes, do I care more about earth or heaven? Only if we can answer heaven will we surrender to God’s will.
Surrender to God’s will in your life:
- Change your focus. This is not our home. When you are making decisions or struggling to accept something that is happening in your life, put heaven at the forefront of your mind. Ask how can this circumstance help me get to heaven?
- When you are actively discerning something in your life, look first to Church teaching. The wisdom of the Church is not arbitrary. God made us, so that means He knows how we work best, what is necessary for us to thrive. If you are considering something that contradicts Church teaching, take a step back and ask how that decision impacts eternity.
- Practice detachment from the world. This could mean traditional fasting, spending less time consuming media, or perhaps giving away some of your favorite items.
- Learn to listen at all times. If we are not firmly rooted in personal prayer, we cannot hope to hear God in other areas of our lives. God whispers to us in the most unexpected times and places, but if we are not attentive how can hope to hear Him?
In the Words of Mother Seton
“I hope you continue to be good after all your fiery trials. Three times a week I beg for you with my whole Soul in the hour of favor when nothing is denied to Faith. Imagine your poor little wandering erring Sister standing on the Rock, and admitted so often to the spring of Eternal Life-the healing balm of every wound. Indeed if I wore a galling chain and lived on bread and water, I ought to feel the transport of grace, but Peace of Mind and a sufficient share of exterior comfort with the inexhaustible Treasure keeps My Soul in a state of constant comparison between the Giver and receiver, the former days and the present. Hope always awake whispers Mercy for the future, as sure as in the past.”
– Elizabeth Seton to Antonio Filicchi, June 22, 1807
Question for Reflection
What steps do I take to discern God’s will before making important decisions? Have I considered taking it to prayer? Looking for answers in Scripture? Surrendering it to God in the Eucharist? Referencing Church teaching?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.