He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17-18).
On this, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we do well to consider this moment in Matthew’s Gospel just after Jesus is baptized by his cousin John. We hear the Father’s voice addressing his Son. We see the Spirit descending as a dove. Father, Son, and Spirit—the one God appears as three distinct persons. At this moment, we catch a glimpse of the Triune God.
And we have a place in this scene, too. The Gospel for today assures us that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).
Jesus died to draw us into this mysterious eternal life of God, which is revealed as a life of love. Through baptism we become beloved sons and daughters of the Father. We are, in a sense, inserted into the divine life of the Trinity.
If this sounds like “pie in the sky” to you, then you need the saints. I know I do. I need to see this trinitarian love in action, to see how it transforms life. And Elizabeth Ann Seton is such a good teacher in this regard. In her words and works, she helps us see what it means to be part of this scene.
When we consider Mother Seton’s life, we might be struck first by all the heroic things she did. We admire her unswerving commitment to prayer and her vigilant attention to her family, both her physical children and the spiritual ones God gives her. We note how she weathers difficulty with a consistent trust in Divine Providence, an almost unwavering adherence to the Divine Will. And it is easy to wonder how we can relate. I know that I am not living something that looks heroic. I find myself failing at every turn. What is the point of contact for me with the sanctity of the saint?
It is a good question, and it forces us to go deeper. If we press into Elizabeth’s early years, we see that what stands behind every heroic gesture of her life is her grasp and total acceptance of a fundamental reality: that God has so loved the world that he wants to share His life with her. St. Elizabeth Ann has already assumed her place in that baptism scene—she is at the side of Christ, a beloved daughter of an all-loving Father, a partaker of the Spirit’s gifts.
And this is what is exactly meant for all of us: to come to know God as she did, to let ourselves be loved by the one who has loved us into being. We are meant for a share in his life. We are meant for the fullness of life. Could it really be?
Elizabeth Ann Seton testifies that it is possible. Her sense of being known, loved, and wanted arose when she was young, and it flourished despite the fact that she knew sadness and loss. By age four, she had seen her mother, sister, and grandfather buried. Her father, a busy physician, was rarely around. But God had come close to her in the prayers and psalms she was taught. She began to pray more, longing to know him better. And He did not disappoint.
At fourteen, Elizabeth had an unexpected encounter on a clear May morning. That day, it seemed as though the divine was bursting forth through all of creation: the shining sky and the verdant grass, the warmth of the sun and the songbird’s trill. But the future saint saw more than the God who stands behind nature. On that day, she met the Father who had made her and called her to be His own.
Of that moment, she later wrote, “God was my father, my all. I prayed, sang hymns, cried, laughed, talking to myself of how far He could place me above all sorrow. Then I laid still to enjoy the heavenly peace that came over my soul; and I am sure, in the two hours so enjoyed, grew ten years in the spiritual life.”
This moment has all the marks of the fullness of human life: Elizabeth is talking, singing, laughing, crying even. It is as though she has found her family, has entered a place where she is known and loved and can be exactly who she is. She can rest and soak in the love. It is her birthright as the chosen and wanted daughter of her Father.
We cannot know Elizabeth Ann Seton the saint without this sense of Elizabeth the beloved daughter. It pervades her words and works, even to her dying day. One of the last things that she tells her daughters in religion is “Be children of the Church.” It is interesting: She does not say, “Do great things.” She says “be children”—as though beckoning them to that same spring day, that same blessed rest, that same sense of being beloved. And well she should. For this is what we are all offered. We share the same place. We share the same Father. We share the same love.
Maybe we don’t feel it. Maybe we were baptized a long time ago but cannot say that we have heard the Father’s voice or felt the Spirit’s gifts. It’s not too late. The offer still stands. The relationship still exists. We can still know God as He is and thus come to know ourselves for who we really are.
That you are reading this right now is your sign. God still sees you and knows you and wants you. On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, grasp hold of the plan He has made for you. Put yourself in the scene. Begin being what you are—“beloved of the Father.”
LISA LICKONA, STL, is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, New York, and a nationally-known speaker and writer. She is the mother of eight children.
This reflection was originally published in 2020.