I am not accustomed to peace and quiet. I grew up with eight siblings, married my husband Dan weeks after I graduated from college, and took my first positive pregnancy test just weeks after that. In the years that followed, we went on to have a total of eight children. I remember conducting an experiment one morning when they ranged in age from 18 months to 13 years old.
8:15 a.m.: I locked myself in the bathroom.
8:15 a.m. and 4 seconds: The baby’s fat fingers appeared at the bottom of the doorway. “Mama?” he called out in alarm. He plunked his bottom on the floor just outside the door and whined.
8:17 a.m.: 3-year-old beat on door ferociously. “I weally need some toast!”
8:18 a.m.: 11-year-old called through door. “I put my baseball pants in the hamper half an hour ago. Are they ready yet?”
8:21 a.m.: 5-year-old slipped a crayoned princess drawing under the door and inquired, “How do you spell Happily Ever After?”
8:22 a.m.: 9-year-old tried the doorknob and sighed loudly. “Is there anything to eat besides Cheerios and toast?”
8:23 a.m.: I rushed from the bathroom and was greeted by a line of children with hands on their hips. “Finally!”
I recalled the time many years prior, when my siblings and I discovered that our father wore earplugs at the dinner table. How offensive! But now I understood that poor Dad was just trying to find a little bit of peace and quiet. Me too.
That is why I am astounded when I read about the life of someone like St. Colette, a woman who spent four years of prayer and penance as an anchoress in a tiny cell that had only one small window that looked into a church. Such a different life from my own!
Colette of Corbie, whose feast day we celebrate March 6, was born in France in 1381. After four years as an anchoress, she left her cell and joined the Poor Clares, where she re-introduced the primitive Rule of St. Clare, with a particular emphasis on poverty. St. Colette went on to found 17 convents and a reform branch of the Order known as the Colettines.
Miraculous healings were attributed to St. Colette, including the healing of a woman in labor and the recovery of a baby who was stillborn. She is considered a patron saint of childbirth and sick children.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton never locked herself away in a cell, but she may have daydreamed of it now and then as she raised her own family of five children and even added her husband’s half-siblings to their household upon the death of his parents. I think every mother has moments when the quiet life of a nun locked away in a cell sounds downright glamorous.
After she became a widow, God did indeed call Elizabeth to religious life, but it did not begin with years in a cell. In 1809, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, the first community of women religious established in the United States. In the years that followed, there was likely little peace and quiet as Elizabeth went on to grow her religious community, and the schools and orphanages they started.
Like St. Colette, Elizabeth found peace in the presence of God, no matter what trials she suffered or what challenges she faced. “You know the general principle: that God is everywhere,” Elizabeth once wrote. “On the throne of His glory among the blessed indeed, but also throughout the whole universe which He fills, governs and preserves, ruling it by wisdom and grace. This we learn in our infancy, as in all of our memory in childhood. Yet in the practice of life, we live along as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us.”
The lives of St. Colette and Mother Seton illustrate the fact that whether we are called to live out our days in prayer and penance, locked away in a cell, or to go out in the world to accomplish big things like founding or reforming a religious order, we can find the peace we need in the presence of God.
I find encouragement in knowing that God sees me in every big or small thing he calls me to do. God sees each one of us. Inspired by the examples of St. Colette and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, we should do our best to see him too.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
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