This is a chapel in the grotto that Mother Seton loved so much.
Saint Elizabeth Seton, Her Children's Mother.
The Name of a Mother
The mother who deserves that name. . . Is one whose child comes first . . . In comfort and in happiness. . . In hunger and in thirst . . . The little boy or girl. . . To whom her womb gave birth. . . And who means more to her than does. . . Her life upon this earth. . . She is the mother who is good . . . Unselfish and afraid. . . Who does not wander off and leave. . . Her children to a maid. . . She does not think about herself . . . The jewels she night wear. . . But only that her boy or girl. . . Will get the best care. . . There are a million mothers but. . . They are not all the same. . . And only she who loves her child . . . Deserves that noble name.
Author, James J Metcalfe
Looking at the evidence it seems that St. Elizabeth Seton has too earned this noble title in more ways then one. At this time we will look more at the relationship that St. Elizabeth Seton had with the children of her womb and how we can learn by her example.
St. Elizabeth Seton had for her children "From their first entrance into the world fear (of) their eternal loss, the prevailing care through all the pains and pleasure of a mother." She knew that children were "a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward." Ps. 127:3.
This heritage, this fruit of the womb that she was given to grow was put solely under her parental care when her husband died when the children were quite young. In fact Rebecca was just a small babe the smallest of the five children. Sadly, Elizabeth's husband died leaving no financial resources to care for the young ones. In her trials and they were many Elizabeth Seton was to show her children how to live a true life of faith in God.
Her response to her husbands death and being left penniless was, "My God you are My God" and so I am now alone in the world with You and my little ones." - yet to be alone with Him is everything, for you are my Father and doubly theirs." She knew the road ahead for them was going to be rough, but that they would not be forsaken.
It was while her husband laid dying that Elizabeth Seton was introduced to Catholicism when they stayed with some Catholic friends in Italy looking for a cure for her husband William. (Before William's downfall in business they were quite wealthy and came from the upper-class). Elizabeth had always lived her life to serve God as fully as she could as a devout Episcopalian of whom her grandfather was a minister to the church, but she started wondering if perhaps she could not serve God and her children better as a Catholic. It was also part of their social class to be Episcopalian at that time in New York to be Catholic meant mostly to be poor, not educated and looked down upon.
Elizabeth read and listened and took all she could in about Catholicism, but mostly she prayed. She knew she had found the truth for her and her child and that it was her obligation to lead her children as close to the Lord as she could. When she told her husbands family, her family and her friends she was thinking of converting they told her she was mad with grief. They made fun of her and threatened to desert her of which most did when she converted. These were the people that Elizabeth had to rely on for a means of living since she had none of her own. These are the people that Elizabeth loved. This was a hard choice she had to make maybe the hardest in her life, but she indeed made the choice looking to the heavens and as she did so, she taught her children to do the same, leading by example. She taught them that all choices lead to consequences, but the consequences that matter the most are the eternal ones. One example that this was a lesson well learned was her youngest son, Richard. Although in his early adult life he seemed to be somewhat adrift and Elizabeth feared for his soul he was to come back. Richard was out to sea when a fellow sea mate took sick, a Protestant minister. Richard knowing very well he could catch the fever nursed the minister back to health, contracted the fever and died himself, but it was a noble death.
Elizabeth Seton's children and their souls were in every thought as she made the choice to convert. In fact she had wrote the following to a friend in Italy ,"Now they tell me, take care, I am a mother, and my children I must answer for in Judgment, whatever Faith I lead them to. That being so . . . for I little thought till told by Mr. Hobart (Her Episcopalian minister before her conversion) that their faith could be so full of consequences to them or me, I will go peaceably and firmly to the Catholic Church." She knew that if she helped to lead their souls closer to the path then God would take care of the earthly needs and so He did not in a lavish style, but in one that seems more to His liking. This is what she wrote when her and her children moved to Maryland a little while later about their new lifestyle, "The comfort of having my darling children all around me in a fine country where we enjoy plain but substantial comforts." was more then enough for them.
St. Elizabeth Seton not only showed by example to her children what kind of life to lead for the Eternal, but also took the time to explain and teach them. As she writes "lay in bed with Anna (her oldest child) to explain the Te Duem" (the Our Father). How many times has one heard I left the faith (whatever that faith be) because no one ever explained it or explained it in an understandable way. How many people are taught the Our Father and not taught what it means? There are to many if there is, but one.
Elizabeth knew that her children needed not only to know the words, but the meaning behind them to give the children substance to feed their souls on. Elizabeth also wrote journals for them for their amusement and instruction. This was something that they could look over time and time again and absorb and learn more every time they read it. In one journal she wrote , "Recollect a Mother's treaty that you give time everyday, if it is only half an hour, to devotional reading, which is necessary to the well ordering of the mind as the hand of the gardener is to prevent the weeds destroying your favorite flowers." She wrote this to Anna for her 8 birthday and what a wonderful birthday present something that over time they could look back and learn from.
When Elizabeth Seton was asked to be the Mother of her convent she worried that she could not fulfill her first calling being a mother to her children. In fact she brings this up several times in her writing were you will find her heart and in it you will always find her children. She made it clear that, "The thought of living out of our valley would seem impossible to myself, but the dear ones have their first claim, which must ever remain inviolate. Consequently, if at any period the duties I am engaged in should interfere with those I owe them, I have solemnly engaged with our good Bishop Carroll . . . to give their rights and to prefer their advantage in everything." She also wrote, "And as mother of our darlings must be so, since by the law of the church . . . I could never take obligation which interfered with my duties to them except I had an independent protector and guardian for them, which the whole world could not supply in my judgment of a mother's duty." It seems that she had no need to fear that her calling as Mother to her convent only enhanced her calling as mother to her children.
You could say with this kind of life God was all around and all the children had to do was sop Him up. As the kids grew and came to age they were free to leave and make their way in the world. In fact Elizabeth made arrangements so they could do so for three of them. Two of the girls died at the convent Rebecca her youngest from and injury from a fall and Anna from the same fever her father died of TB. They both died a very holy death. Elizabeth grieved and was thrown in sorrow as is natural, but knew that she would see her children again if she could just be "good enough." She had faith in God's grace that she could. Father Dubois wrote this of Elizabeth right after Rebecca died , "The mother is a miracle of divine favor. Night and day by the child, her health has not appeared to suffer. She held the child in her arms without dropping a tear all the time of her agony and even eight minutes after she died." (Nov. 3 1816.)
Her other two children were to go on and lead their adult lives outside the convent. William was to marry and have seven children, one who became the archbishop and another was to become a Sister of Mercy. It makes one think of the Bible verse, "I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you." 1Tim. 1:5. Elizabeth Seton knew a planted and nurtured seed would grow many years after and in the case of a soul for an eternity. Her other daughter was to roam around for awhile and experience life aboard before she became a Sister of Mercy at age 42 and worked in a prison ministry. She lived to the ripe old age of 92.
As a mother, St. Elizabeth Seton, knew both joy and suffering she accepted both as gifts from God. There is much more that could be said on just this subject but alas the more will have to wait until another time. It is amazing to think that this motherless child (Elizabeth's mother died when she was three and her stepmother did not pay much attention to her stepchildren) had become such a good mother herself and not only to her child, but to many and still guides today with a mother's firm, but tender care.
Elizabeth Seton writes, "for many years I have had no prayer for my children but that our blessed God would do everything to them and in them in the way of affliction and adversity if only He will save their souls." Maybe this should be our prayer for all.
Tracey Griffith December 3, 1998
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