Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s love of God, her commitment to the Church, and her desire to follow God’s will, whatever the cost, were all extraordinary. Yet, at the same time, her letters reveal that as a mother, she still experienced the most ordinary joys and the most ordinary struggles.
In just eight years’ time, Elizabeth brought five children into the world: two boys (Richard and William) and three girls (Anna Maria, Catherine, and Rebecca). She adored them all. “The darlings are too precious, too lovely, and their mother too happy,” she wrote in a letter to one friend. She never attempted to hide her affection either. “Mamma longs to kiss you and hold you in her arms,” she wrote to five-year-old Richard upon her departure for Italy.
At the same time, Elizabeth wasn’t immune to the daily trials of mothering. “My companions talk so fast, they confuse my brain,” she confided in one letter. She also fretted about her “saucy boys” who “almost master me” and anxiously sought advice from a friend about Anna Maria’s stubborn will and bad temper, declaring that her daughter “despite all my endeavors is past my management.”
Putting Spiritual Needs First
As the years passed, however, nothing concerned Elizabeth so much as her children’s relationship with God and the state of their souls. During the months leading up to her conversion to Catholicism, what concerned her most was the children. “I must answer for my children in judgment, whatever faith I lead them to,” she explained. After her conversion, she delighted in her three daughters’ ready acceptance of the faith, but feared for her sons, whose friends mocked the Church. In order to protect them from bad influences, she sent them off to one of the only two Catholic boarding schools for boys in the United States at the time: Georgetown University.
For as much as Elizabeth wanted to safely shepherd her children into heaven, though, she also recognized, as they grew, that they had their own path to walk, and that all the blows life dealt them were a necessary part of that journey. “May they fight it out as their Mother did before them, looking to Providence and beyond the grave . . . Well, I hope they will be punished by disappointments and adversity till they do.”
Her affection, her gentleness, her desire to provide for her children, and help them grow in holiness is what God asks of every parent.
For mothers and fathers today, seeking to raise faithful children in a faithless world, Elizabeth is both a model to follow and a spiritual mother to whom we can turn. Her affection, her gentleness, her desire to provide for her children, and help them grow in holiness is what God asks of every parent. Likewise, her prayers—for us, our children, grandchildren, and spiritual children—is what Elizabeth offers us. We are her children, too, and the words she wrote to her son Richard, she also says to us: “Be blessed with the full blessing of a mother’s heart, think how it dotes on you, and how I have held you in these heavenly feasts.”
Parenting in Your Life
We may not all have biological children, but still we can learn from St. Elizabeth’s example. Do you prioritize the spiritual needs of people around you?
Make the spiritual needs of your children a priority:
- Pray for your children daily.
- Pray with your children daily.
- Be an example of prayer for your children. Do they see you pray, read the Bible, and live with the peace of Christ? Do you prioritize going to Mass and receiving the sacraments?
- Teach your children about Jesus and his Church. You do not need to have a degree or teaching experience to share the Faith with your children. Tell them how God has and is working in your life, read the Bible together, talk about your struggles. You can learn about the Mass, the sacraments, and teachings together.
In the Words of Mother Seton
“I will tell you in what I know American parents to be most difficult—in hearing the faults of their children. In twenty instances where you see the faults, they are not to be immediately corrected by the parents, but rather by good advices and education. It is best not to speak of them to Papa and Mamma, who feel as if you reflected on their very selves. While to you [teachers and caretakers] the parents will say, “Yes, Sir, I know, I perceive,” in the heart they think it is not so much; and they will soften and excuse to the child, what they condemn to us. Our efforts afterwards avail very little-so that is a big point.”
— Elizabeth Seton to Simon Gabriel Bruté, January 1816
Question for Reflection
Am I living as a spiritual parent to others, whether my own children or other people in my life? How is God calling me to do this?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.