Two hundred years ago on August 28, Elizabeth Seton celebrated her 46th birthday in Emmitsburg. Her only living daughter Catherine had returned from an extended stay with the Harpers in Baltimore. Both her sons were at sea – William in the U.S. Navy, Richard on his way home from Livorno and his unsuccessful apprenticeship with the Filicchis.
The Sisters of Charity had grown to about fifty members since their founding in 1809. Besides St. Joseph’s Academy and the free day school in Emmitsburg, Sisters were serving at nearby Mount St. Mary’s and in Philadelphia and New York, Elizabeth’s native city. There her Sisters staffed the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum and a pay school in St. Patrick’s parish.
Elizabeth’s declining health may have given her a premonition that this would be her last birthday on earth. The themes of hope and trust in God’s Providence ran through her letters of this time.
CALL TO PRAYER: Let us celebrate God’s gifts to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, a valiant and tender-hearted woman. She lived and died, filled with hope and trust in God’s Providence amid the twists and turns of life. Let us join our hearts and voices in thanksgiving. (Quotes in italics are Elizabeth’s words.)
MUSIC: Tender Hearted (Jeanne Cotter)
As you listen, be aware of your breath, in imitation of Elizabeth who wrote: “…I try to make my very breathing a continual thanksgiving”
READING: Colossians 3: 12–17
READER: “You must take courage with me, and push on, and do not let your mind rest on the sad thought of future prospects, since the providence of God turns out so often quite different from our calculations.”
ALL: Elizabeth, fill us with courage to embrace the future, with its uncertainty and its promise.
READER: “I cannot help being a little anxious and praying very fervently that all may be well, but after the first start of Nature…I drop all, most cordially and sincerely trusting our heavenly Providence, which has blessed us so far beyond all hope…”
ALL: Elizabeth, calm our fears as we recall how God has always cared for us, no matter the difficulties we faced.
READER: “I carry your beloved name before the tabernacle and repeat it there as my prayer.”
ALL: Elizabeth, in this time of loss and separation, reassure us that prayer unites us with our God and with one another as one bread, one body, one heart.
READER: “Look up at the blue heavens and love [God], he is so good to us.”
ALL: Elizabeth, guide us to notice and celebrate the beauty of God’s creation and to do all that we can to restore it to wholeness.
READER: “Do what we can, and God will do the rest.”
ALL: Elizabeth, teach us to trust that our God “will open the door, probably…when we least expect it.”
READER: “I live in hope, …and if in this world all is blasted, still we will hope and hope to the last.”
ALL: Elizabeth, strengthen our confidence in Christ, our rock, our Redeemer, the source of all our hope.
REFLECTION AND SHARING
What words of Elizabeth speak to your heart and spirit at this time?
How have you been a source of hope for others during this time of pandemic, division?
What gives you hope?
Where do you turn when your hope is weak?
CLOSING PRAYER: God of all hopefulness, sustain us as we seek to walk by faith, to remain rooted in hope, and to put on love. Keep us steadfast in hope as the Spirit of Christ leads us on the path of Charity. Amen.
prayer: Regina Bechtle, SC
image: Hazard Yet Forward, Margaret Beaudette, SC;
quotes: Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings, vol. 2