Monday, January 04, 2010

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton...and her evangelizers

She was a wife of a loving and wealthy husband, the mom of five kids, and a New York Episcopalian.

When her husband became ill, he was advised by his doctors to move to a warmer climate. The Setons chose Italy, and after her husband's death, she spent time with a Roman Catholic Italian family.

Their example of holiness and love gave her cause to contemplate its origins...and ultimately she converted to the Church.

Much has been written about this lovely lady—the first native-born US citizen to be canonized. Much should be written about her...the patroness of Catholic education.

But I'm thinking about that family she lived with in Italy.

We've supposed to evangelize.

What does that mean? To be a John the Baptist, preaching in the desert? For some, yes. To be a Frank Sheed, to proclaim the Gospel in city parks? Indeed, for some. To be a Mother Teresa, lovingly sharing the love of Jesus while tending to the poorest of the poor? Yes, and what a privilege that would be!

But there's another sort of evangelization...that of example.

Elizabeth Seton was so impressed by what she saw and felt and drank in among this holy Italian family with whom she lived that she decided to investigate its source. And she came to the conclusion that it was their faith—their Catholic Faith—that fed it.

The widowed lady was received into the Roman Catholic Church on March 14, 1805, by John Carroll, the first bishop of Baltimore. The rest, of course, is history.

A remarkable woman, Elizabeth Ann Seton. But perhaps just as remarkable—or even more so?—is the notion of what ordinary, practicing Catholics can accomplish through the grace of God. I don't even know the name of the Italian family that so inspired Elizabeth, but I do think this:

Saint Augustine tells us that, without the prayers of the martyred Stephen, there would be no Saint Paul. I'm thinking that, without the example of a Roman Catholic family in Italy a couple of hundred years ago, there would be no Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

From the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament, we learn:

Before converting, St. Elizabeth recalled: “How many thoughts on the happiness of those who possessed this, the blessed faith of Jesus still on earth with them, and how I should enjoy the heavenly consolation of speaking heart to heart with Him in His tabernacles, and the security of finding Him in His churches.”