An Advent Journey with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton | A Four-Part Series
Before Jesus began his public ministry, Saint John the Baptist began his. From the wilderness, he cried, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” (Mt. 3:2). During the second week of Advent, the Church, in her Gospel readings, repeats that cry. The birth of the Savior draws near, and we are called to repent—to turn away from sin and towards God.
The repentance of Advent, however, isn’t the repentance of Lent. During this season, the Church doesn’t call us to fast and don ashes. Instead, in the spirit of the holy babe, born in Bethlehem, she calls us to practice the trusting repentance of a child. She invites us to humbly and simply throw ourselves into the arms of our Father, confident in His love and forgiveness.
This is not what the Evil One wants. The devil wants to draw us away from the Father and towards himself. So, he tries to twist our understanding of repentance. He tempts us to wallow in regret, to believe that our sins are too great and too many for God’s mercy, and to doubt that the gaze of a loving Father awaits us when we turn from sin.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton knew these temptations well.
From the beginning of her spiritual journey, Mother Seton recognized there was no salvation without repentance. While still an Episcopalian, she meditated on her “corrupt and infirm nature” and made resolution after resolution to not only sin no more, but also to never even expose herself “to the smallest temptation I can avoid.”
Like all the saints, though, the closer Elizabeth grew to God, the more she realized that repentance isn’t a once and done event. It is an ongoing act of turning from sin and towards God. It also is a continual wrestling with habitual sins that no simple resolution can eradicate. For Elizabeth, that habitual sin was harsh judgment.
“Conscience reproaches aloud how little charity and delicacy of love I practice in speaking of the faults of others,” she told her spiritual director, not long before her death. She also told him how much she regretted “words of reproach and disappointment” that she’d spoken to him and how she wished she could take away any pain she’d caused him “with my blood.”
As the final hours of her life approached, Elizabeth grew harsher and harsher with herself, repenting every mildly cross look she’d ever given, even lamenting how once she “received a handkerchief in a mildly peevish way.” The temptation to scrupulosity almost got the better of her, and as she lay dying she told her spiritual director she feared she was bound for hell. But, in her final days, she found rest in God’s merciful love, telling the sisters, “It seems as if our Lord stood continually by me in corporeal form, to comfort, cheer, and encourage me.”
That same loving Lord stands with each of us this Advent, comforting us, cheering us, and encouraging us as we turn from sin and towards him. Like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, may our gaze remain fixed on Him, as we journey towards Christmas.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you struggle to believe in God’s mercy for you?
- What helps you trust in His forgiveness?
- What do you need to turn away from this Advent?
INTRODUCTION | An Advent Journey with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
WEEK ONE | Hope in the Darkness
WEEK TWO | To Trust God and Repent
WEEK THREE | Waiting for the Lord
WEEK FOUR | God Is With Us
Emily Stimpson Chapman is an award-winning Catholic writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her books include The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food & Faith Meet (Emmaus Road, 2016); The American Catholic Almanac: The Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed America (Image, 2014), These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body (Emmaus Road, 2013), and The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years (Emmaus Road, 2012). Chapman writes regularly about faith, hospitality, and motherhood on Instagram (@emilystimpsonchapman) and less regularly at her blog, The Catholic Table (www.thecatholictable.com).
Image: St. John the Baptist Baptizes the People, Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665)