15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.
Little in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life went as expected. At age three, she lost her mother, who passed away after childbirth. Her father later remarried and Elizabeth came to love her stepmother as her own. But when Elizabeth was still in her teens, the couple separated; Elizabeth’s grief over losing her second mother was so great, it drove her to contemplate suicide.
In the years that followed, Elizabeth would lose her husband, best friend, and two of her children, all to tuberculosis. After converting to Catholicism, she lost the support of friends and family, and the school she founded was forced to close. Hunger, poverty, and sickness followed her when she left New York to found a religious community and school for the poor in Maryland. Eventually, she too developed tuberculosis, and died at age 46.
Yet, somehow, as tragedy followed tragedy, Elizabeth’s faith in God’s loving care grew stronger, not weaker. She lamented her horrible moments of doubt and despair as a teenager and made a “thousand promises of eternal gratitude,” vowing never again to question the goodness of Divine Providence. She kept that promise by cultivating an abiding awareness of God’s presence in every moment of her life.
“There is a Providence which neither slumbers or sleeps,” she wrote. Later, she advised one of her religious sisters to look for Providence in every opportunity that came her way, believing that “a treasury of grace” awaits us when we accept God’s invitations to love and serve.
Elizabeth understood that nothing in life happens by chance. “You say tide of fate,” she wrote her son, “but I say tide of Providence, which [is] as infinite goodness.” In times of difficulty, she practiced patience, noting, “Our good God has His times and moments for everything,” And no matter how unsure her future seemed, Elizabeth reminded herself that God was there, seeing all and working in all, to bring about her greatest good: eternal life with Him. “God will provide; that is all my comfort,” she said in a letter. “[N]ever did that Providence fail me.”
How can we possess that same unwavering faith in Divine Providence?
Like Elizabeth, we need to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, recognizing all the gifts, great and small, that God sends us, and thanking Him for them. We also need to say yes to the opportunities He gives us, walking through the doors He opens and trusting He’ll give us the grace to do what He asks. Lastly, we need to look for the ways God is present to us each day: in the world He created; in the care He provides; in His Word and in the Eucharist; and in the people who surround us, for each is the image of God.
When we do all that, Elizabeth believed, “we become enriched with the gifts of His grace, which will obtain us those of His glory, and after living in His presence and love, we will die thinking of Him and loving Him.”
In the Words of Mother Seton
“You know the general principle—that God is everywhere—on the throne of his glory and among the blessed, but also throughout the whole Universe which he fills, governs, and preserves, ruling it by his wisdom and power. This we learn in our infancy. We learn it as an act of memory in childhood, yet in the practice of life, we live day by day as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us. God is so infinitely present to us that he is in every part of our life and being—nothing can separate us from him. He is more intimately present to us than we are to ourselves, and whatever we do is done in him.”
– Elizabeth Seton, On the Exercise of the Presence of God (n.d.), 1
Questions for Further Reflection
- Do I believe in Divine Providence?
- What pivotal events or moments of grace most clearly reveal the working of Divine Providence in my life?
- How has God used me as an instrument of Divine Providence to bring hope, compassion, and care to people in need?
- What gifts has Divine Providence given me this very day?