Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Holiness is always a journey. It requires not a one-time religious conversion, but ongoing conversion, a repeated turning to God throughout our lives.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew that journey well. She was never content to stay where she was in the spiritual life. Her desire was to always push forward, to give her heart again and again to God until He possessed it entirely.
For Elizabeth, that journey began in her teens, when her father’s failing marriage filled her life with troubles. As a refuge from her worries, Elizabeth took long walks in the woods. Surrounded by the beauties of creation, she started to perceive the greatness of God. She was, she wrote, “filled with even enthusiastic love to God and admiration of his works.”
During those years, Elizabeth embraced the deism so popular in post-revolutionary America. She believed in God, but not necessarily organized religion. Her father shared those opinions. Together, they read books of philosophy, politics, and history. The more Elizabeth read, though, the more dissatisfied with deism she became.
By 1800, Elizabeth was turning to the Bible, not philosophy, for consolation and by 1801, she was a committed member of Trinity Episcopal Church, taking spiritual direction from her pastor John Henry Hobart, visiting New York’s poor, and praying regularly with friends. All her earlier diffidence about religion was gone, and she considered herself reborn in Christ. Writing of the day she called her spiritual “birth,” she said, “This blessed day my soul was first sensibly convinced of the blessing and practicability of an entire surrender of itself and all its faculties to God.”
But for Elizabeth, that wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning. Just four years later, her husband’s death and her travels through Italy made her acutely aware that union with God required an even deeper conversion: a conversion to the Catholic Church. Struck by “the wide difference between the first established Faith given and founded by our Lord and his Apostles,” and the Protestant faith, Elizabeth became convinced of the Church’s claims. She also became convinced that she could not refuse to convert and still hope for salvation. So, she “abandoned all to God” and entered the Catholic Church in 1805.
St. Elizabeth sought God and truth expecting to find her peace in the true Church, not in social status.
There, for the remainder of her life, Elizabeth’s journey continued, with her soul nourished by the Eucharist—“the refreshing waters for which I thirsted”—and the Sacred Liturgy, which she attended with “grateful and unspeakable joy and reverence.”
Conversion in Your Life
God calls us to that same path. There are two key points we can learn from St. Elizabeth here: 1.) Conversion is a habit, and 2.) Holiness depends on how we respond to the circumstances of our lives.
Like Elizabeth, God wants us to always push forward: to read more, learn more, pray more, and seek more. He asks us to come to Him as often as possible in Communion, taking advantage of every opportunity to receive his grace. And He wants us to give our hearts to Him daily, recommitting ourselves to loving Him and following Him.
Everything we encounter and experience is an opportunity for deeper conversion. Joy, sorrow, gifts, difficulties. Everything. How do we respond? We can approach everything as it is: an opportunity to grow closer to God. Now that doesn’t mean we’re expected to jump for joy when something hard happens.
St. Elizabeth prayed. She reflected. She sang hymns. She cried. She talked to God about the weight of her sufferings. You can do the same. He wants you to bring everything to Him. He will help you carry it, and He will help you grow deeper in love with Him, and He will give you true, lasting joy.
Choose conversion every single day:
- Offer each day to God. Start your day by asking Him to be with you, and pray for the ability to see Him working in everything.
- Be intentional about growing in virtue. You probably know an area of your life where you can grow, but you can always ask someone close to you.
- Learn about the Faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great place to start.
If we do all that, like Elizabeth, we too will say, “Every day of my life more and more increases my gratitude to Him for having made me what I am.”
In the Words of Mother Seton
“I assure you my becoming a Catholic was a very simple consequence of going to a Catholic country where it was impossible for anyone interested in any religion not to see the wide difference between the first established Faith given, and founded by our Lord and his Apostles, and the various forms it has since taken. As I had always delighted in reading the Scriptures, I had so deep an impression of the mysteries of Divine revelation that though full of the sweet thought that every good and well meaning Soul was right, I determined when I came home, both in duty to my children and my own Soul, to learn all I was capable of understanding on the subject. If ever a Soul did make a fair inquiry, our God knows that mine did. Every day of life more and more increases my gratitude to him for having made me what I am.”
– Elizabeth Seton to Ann C. Tilghman, January 1820
Question for Reflection
How is God inviting me to grow in my spiritual life? Where am I stagnant?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.