15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
In the pages of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Bible, certain passages are repeatedly marked, underlined, and circled, all by the saint’s own hand. Those passages, dealing with eternity and peace, weeping and silence, offer us a glimpse into the hopes and struggles of the first American-born saint. They also offer us an example to follow.
For Elizabeth, Sacred Scripture wasn’t just a collection of holy books or stories about ancient peoples; it was an encounter with the living God. It was where she heard the Voice of the Lord she loved, speaking words of comfort and praise, encouragement and hope, directly to her.
Elizabeth had sought out that Voice ever since she was a little girl. One of her first memories was of her stepmother, teaching her the words to Psalm 23. The opening lines—“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want—brought her consolation during the long years of her lonely childhood. Later, as a young wife and mother, she made time for reading Scripture daily, and on the nights her husband William was away on business, she would fall asleep with the Bible in her hands.
The Bible also went with Elizabeth, when she and William, traveled to Italy, hoping a warmer climate would help his health. It was with her during the weeks following their arrival, when the couple was quarantined in a damp Italian hospital. And it was with her when William died, just days after their release. During that time, as always, Elizabeth read her Bible daily. It was, she wrote, “an unfailing comfort.”
That reading brought more than comfort though. Day by day, year by year, it shaped how Elizabeth saw the world. It inspired her to serve others, to love the poor, to live simply, and sacrifice generously. It taught her how to pray and strengthened her resolve to become Catholic. It even drew her closer to Mary, whose “own piety and secret thoughts and prayers,” Elizabeth explained, had been nurtured by reading the same holy books. After her conversion, Elizabeth began praying the Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1) daily.
Having gained so much from the Bible, Elizabeth encouraged her sisters to learn by her example and reserved time in her community’s schedule for the reading of Sacred Scripture; daily, before lunch, the sisters read 25 verses of the New Testament on their knees.
During this holy season of Lent, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by making St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s reading habits our own. It takes 5 minutes to read 25 verses of Scripture before lunch. It takes two minutes to read a Psalm. It takes less than one to whisper a Magnificat.
God’s Word lives in the pages of Sacred Scripture, and through it, His voice speaks to us here and now. Find five minutes or two minutes or even one minute to go to Him there. He waits for you.
In the Words of Mother Seton
“If to now you have been so unhappy as to be like a highway in which the precious seed of the word of God is trampled under foot by those who pass along, or like stone amongst which it cannot take root because it finds no earth or moisture, or like thorns which grow up so abundantly that they choke its plants… If till now you have heard the word of God with dissipation and without any recollection, with indifference and insensibility, with a mind employed about a thousand trifles and useless thoughts, acknowledge humbly your fault. Ask pardon from your God. Entreat his goodness most earnestly to stop your volatile mind, to mollify your heart so unfaithful to his grace, to disengage it from vain things which engage all your attention. In a word to make it like good soil which may preserve the good seed, foster it, and bring forth its fruits a hundred fold.”
– Elizabeth Seton, Instruction on the Word of God, 17
Questions for Further Reflection
- How do I allow the Word of God to enlighten me?
- What biblical passages touch my heart most powerfully, drawing me into intimacy with God?
- What stepping stones of faith has God placed in the path of my life?
- To what is God calling me at this time in my life? How am I responding to this invitation?