Where Grace Abounds: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels

Elizabeth Seton’s ordinary life reminds us that even without divine visions we can discover God’s abiding presence and grace in the everyday circumstances of life.

I watched The Conjuring 3 last night, and loved it.

That may seem odd to some. As a Catholic, middle-aged mom of many, I may not immediately appear to be the target demographic for horror movies. And yet, I do love some of them. Not the gory “chainsaw in the woods” kind of movies, but those that dramatically illustrate the battle between good and evil because that is a real battle going on in the real world. I think movies like these can remind us of something important that even many believers fail to recognize: Satan is real.

“Consider that the devil doesn’t sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways” is a warning frequently attributed to St. Angela Merici, and something I try to keep in mind. A good scary movie can underscore that reality for us. But even more importantly, movies that depict forces of evil can most effectively illustrate the goodness of God and his ultimate triumph over the enemy forever. Evil might appear to be real, but goodness is the ultimate reality.

One story that always highlights the power of God’s goodness is that of the small chapel just outside of Assisi, Italy, that St. Francis restored from ruin. It was from this holy place that St. Francis founded the Franciscan order and welcomed St. Clare of Assisi who in turn founded the Poor Clares. This is a place where grace flourished, so much so that St. Francis asked to be brought back to it years later when he knew he was dying.

To this day, the 180-square-foot chapel is such a holy place that it has a plenary indulgence attached to it. On August 2, the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula, the faithful can receive a plenary indulgence by making a pilgrimage to the Portiuncula in Assisi, or by making a visit to some other Catholic Church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and reciting the Creed, the Our Father, and praying for the Holy Father’s intentions.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also knew of the real presence of goodness in the world and its triumph over evil. She once wrote:

“You know the general principle: that God is everywhere. 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.”

It can be challenging to keep the reality of God’s loving presence at the forefront of our minds. Our vision is limited, and there is just so much to do. I often wonder about saints, like St. Francis, who saw visions of Jesus and Mary, and I am a little envious of the clarity these apparitions must have given them. If Jesus appears before you and tells you something as clear as “rebuild my church,” there’s no room for hesitation or doubt. It’s easy to believe, and to act with confidence, when you have God in front of you, telling you what to do.

God does communicate with some saints via visions, but Elizabeth Ann Seton is an inspiring example of a saint who didn’t have fantastic visions of Christ that we know of, and yet remained faithful through emotionally, physically and spiritually trying times. She knew “the general principle: that God is everywhere,” and it was enough. She did not demand signs or visions. She stepped out in faith, caring for her family through years of sickness and unimaginable loss, founding a religious order, and bringing love, discipline, and education to poor young girls who had no other hope.

Instead of demanding that God show up in obvious ways in her daily living, St. Elizabeth Ann sought to bring God’s presence, and an awareness of his presence, to any circumstance in which she found herself. Her home, her family, and her school became holy places because of her faithfulness to God’s calling.

This year, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Portiuncula, I will visit a church and remember that small, holy chapel that St. Francis cherished throughout his lifetime. But I will also remember the spaces Mother Seton made sacred through the ordinary living out of her ordinary life, and I will endeavor to do the same.

May her example inspire in us awareness of and faithfulness to the presence of God in our lives. May all of our homes, families, churches, and workplaces become holy ground, sacred spaces where God is present and grace abounds.

DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You Are Enough, and her newest book Whisper: Finding God in the Everyday. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

Image: Assunzione di Maria, Pietro Perugino