15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was a wife, a mother, and a convert. She also was a leader—not just of the women in her community, but also of Catholics in America. She planted seeds of faith deep in the lives of others. During her lifetime and long afterwards, Catholics looked to her example of charity, humility, and service to learn what it meant to follow Christ.
Elizabeth never sought to become a leader, though. Her goal, always and everywhere, was to serve God. “Do we indeed give [God] the true service of the heart without which whatever else we give has no value?” she asked herself and her community.
With the heart of a servant, Elizabeth was more interested in imitating Jesus’ example of charity than she was in fame or power. She explained: “The charity of our blessed Lord had three distinct qualities which should be the model of our conduct. It was gentle, benevolent, and universal.”
In imitation of Christ, Elizabeth was gentle with both the sisters in her order and the students she taught, seeking to lead them to Christ with tenderness and prayers. As she wrote to one friend, “The faults of young people must be moved by prayers and tears because they are constitutional and cannot be frightened out.”
Christ’s benevolent leadership likewise inspired her to adopt the Vincentian spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. Together, the pair had worked to care for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned in seventeenth-century France. They also founded the Daughters of Charity, a community of religious women whose charism and rule was, in large part, adopted by Mother Seton and the Sisters of Charity. In the Vincentian spirit, Elizabeth taught her sisters to find Christ in the face of the poor and love Christ by loving the poor.
Finally, Christ’s leadership was universal; He came to save all men. Similarly, Elizabeth understood her work as being a service to the whole Church. She equipped her sisters not just to teach in rural Maryland, but to go wherever the Gospel demanded they go, first to Philadelphia and New York, and later to the farthest corners of the United States. Her desire for the Sisters was to “extend their usefulness whenever OUR SWEET PROVIDENCE may call” and her instructions were simple: “Be children of the Church—Be children of the Church.”
Like Elizabeth, each of us is called to lead others by the example of our faith. At home with our children, at the office with our co-workers, online and on the road, in our neighborhoods and in our cities, God calls us to lead through service every moment of every day. Through words and actions, we are to be “salt and light,” inspiring, encouraging, and assisting others to live the Gospel as Elizabeth did. And also like her, the surest way for us to lead is to imitate Christ’s charity—His gentleness, His benevolence, and His universal concern for all men and women, desiring their eternal good above all else.
In the Words of Mother Seton
“This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. The charity of our blessed Lord in the course of His ministry had three distinct qualities which should be the model of our conduct. It was gentle, benevolent, and universal. Its gentleness appeared in all things in His exterior manner, in His forbearance, and moderation in all things. For what had He not to endure from…those to who He taught his divine truths, with what condescension He managed those opposite Spirits, and accommodated Himself to persuade and gain them. How many rebukes and contradictions did He endure without complaining…. He always desired to have them with Him.”
Elizabeth Seton, Instruction on Charity, 1
- Who is a spiritual leader I admire and why?
- In what situations am I a spiritual leader? Do I feel equipped for this task?
- How well do my actions as a leader reflect the charity of Christ—in its gentleness, benevolence, and concern for all?
- How can I lead others to Christ through my vocation—whether as a priest or religious, or as a wife, mother, husband, father, employee, and neighbor?