“If only we keep courage, we will go to heaven on horseback instead of idling and creeping along.”
– St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Collected Writings [CW] 2:156)
St. Elizabeth Ann is looking toward the sunset, pondering heaven. At second glance, Betty looks to have mounted her spirited steed for New York’s Belmont Stakes, “The Test of the Champion,” usually held in June. She dons jockey gear, and number 46, her age when she crossed the finish line into heaven.
The shortest distance between two points is a line. For Elizabeth, the shortest distance between courage and heaven is a horse. For a horse possesses an unbridled desire for freedom. It has stamina, is sure-footed and swift. When life’s normal pace is thwarted, idling may well indicate any situation in need of courage — or a horse.
Through it all, Elizabeth never lost sight of her purpose: heaven. The leap from idling to heaven is rather sizeable, even with courage. Instead of ruminating over the hindrance, it appears Elizabeth chose to turn her gaze to God and opted to imagine a “future full of hope” (Jer. 29:11). She resolutely kept her focus on God — the God who would quicken to her voice as if she were on a purebred. It seems Elizabeth innately grasped the concept of liminal space, waiting in sacred space where transformation takes place. No longer saddling the burden alone, she idled in God’s presence. Together they waited in ambiguity and possibility.
“Keep courage” writes St. Elizabeth Ann. One definition of courage is “Do with heart.” Notice the nuance as it reads “with heart” and not “with the heart” (not exclusively affective). To do with heart is — well, hearty, and robust, that extra oomph. Those disconcerting experiences that dash our spirit (personal and collective) implore a humane and divine boost. Note in particular, “the terrors of the night, or the arrows that fly by day” (Psalm 91) that afflict the temporary and the terminal… job security, bread lines, illness, to name a few.
At the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis made Manzoni’s quote his own when he said, “Courage! ‘Courage is not something you give yourself.’ True…but you can receive it as a gift.” That extra oomph — it is God’s gift. To recognize another’s distressing impasse and then to reach out “with heart” poses an opportunity where both can receive. To pay it forward, prompts hope. With the gift of courage comes unflappable perseverance to navigate daily disruptions, unplanned fissures or entirely impossible chasms. Courage is contagious. Share it, give it away. Test your “horse-power.” Heaven is counting on it.
– Catherine Salani (SC Collaborator, Educator, Artist)