Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Little in St. 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.
God with Us
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.
“You know the general principle—that God is everywhere . . . yet in the practice of life, we live day by day as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us.” St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
“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.”
Divine Providence in Your Life
It’s easy to trust in God when life is good. But trusting in God’s care for us does not mean we get to have a life of ease. God’s care is not necessarily removing difficulties. God’s care is access to his grace. God’s care is being with us in everything. And God’s care is ultimately all about bringing us to Him for eternity.
How can we possess St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s 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.”
Build awareness of how God is working in your life:
- At the end of the day, reflect on key moments of your day. Consider how God is trying to work in you and where he is calling you.
- Throughout the day, thank God for the people, places, and situations you encounter. Ask him for help and guidance.
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
Question for Reflection
What pivotal events or moments of grace most clearly reveal the working of Divine Providence in my life?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.