15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out the path for those who would follow Him: they were to be merciful and humble of heart, seeking justice and peace, loving the poor, caring for the sick, and zealous in building the kingdom of God.
From the first moment of her spiritual awakening, while still a Protestant, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton sought to follow that path. She began, in 1797, by helping organize the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. Along with several other Protestant women in New York, she not only helped provide immediate relief to the city’s poorest inhabitants, bringing food and medicine into their homes, but also worked to find the women employment, housing, and education for their children.
Elizabeth didn’t see this service as merely her duty; to her it was a blessing, and she wrote of her “thankful heart…for the opportunities of doing some small service.”
Later, as she began contemplating organizing a new religious community, she drew upon the charism and rule of the Daughters of Charity, the order established by St. Vincent de Paul and known for its sacrificial service to the poor. Once founded, the Sisters of Charity sought to emulate their older French “sisters” through active service to the American poor.
They began by educating the rural poor of Maryland. Within a decade, they expanded their mission to caring for orphans in New York and Philadelphia. In time, the Sisters of Charity would also become America’s most valued and sought after nurses, with their charism of serving the poor extending to serving the sick as well.
For Elizabeth, these acts of service were about more than justice; they were about love for Christ and union with Him. “I am not enabled as Jesus Christ to do miracles for others,” she wrote, “but I may constantly find occasions of rendering them good offices and exercising kindness and good will towards them.”
She then added, “How can I hope that God will bestow on me His graces and benefits, if my heart is shut up from His members and children?”
Love, not fear, however was what motivated Elizabeth to acts of service. “Your first step in this heavenly way,” she explained, “is to contract a habit of the presence of God and the spirit of recollection—and let Divine Love cast out Fear. Fear nothing so much as to not love enough.”
That is the challenge St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gives to us—the challenge that she herself received from Christ: to love more. To love our spouse more, our families more, our neighbors and co-workers more, our enemies more, the poor more, the hungry more, the addict more, the criminal more. Through prayer, through giving of our time, attention, and affection, and through concrete acts of generosity and service, we are called to walk the path set out for us in the Sermon on the Mount, the path which Elizabeth described as “the path to love our Jesus in His poor.”
In the Words of Mother Seton
“To live according to the Spirit. To live according to the flesh, is to love according to the flesh. Love is the life of the soul—as the soul is the life of the body…. To live according to the Spirit is to act, to speak, to think in the manner the Spirit of God requires of us…. To live then according to the Spirit is to do what faith, hope, and charity teach—either in spiritual or temporal things.”
– Notation by Elizabeth Seton in her copy of The Following of Christ, Back Flyleaf.
- Am I living the Beatitudes in my daily life?
- In the spirit of Elizabeth, what can I do today to help someone in need?
- How could I grow in the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?
- Who is difficult for me to love? What is one practical thing I could do for this person to show them the love of Christ?