Today, January 4, is the feast day of Elizabeth Ann Seton the founder of the Sisters of Charity. In this respect Mother Seton represents a number of things. She represents the first American to be canonized by the Vatican. She represents the founding of the first community of sisters in the United States. She also represents a woman who was a wife, a widow at a young age, a single mother, an educator, a social activist and a spiritual leader. She endured a turbulent childhood and suffered severe bouts of depression. To survive she immersed herself in poetry, piano lessons, and devoted participation in the activities of the Episcopal Church.
With respect to her devotion to the Episcopal Church she represents a ecumenical bridge between the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Having lost her husband at an early age she became interested in the Roman Catholic Church while on a trip to Italy seeking a cure for her husband’s tuberculosis. After his death she returned to the United States and found herself the victim of extreme opposition to her new found religious leanings. Due to the ostracism of friends and family she turned to the Roman Catholic clergy of New York City for assistance in caring for an raising her five children.
In 1806 she met Father Louis Dubourg, S.S. (The Society of Saint-Sulpice is a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life named for the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris in turn named for St. Sulpitius the Pious, where they were founded). Father Dubourg wanted to start a community of women religious patterned after the French Daughters of Charity. In 1809 Elizabeth Ann took vows and became “Mother Seton” to a small community of seven women dedicated to teaching. In 1810 the community opened Saint Joseph’s Free School to educate needy girls. The Sisters intertwined social ministry, education, and religious formation in all their varied works.
In the publication of the Episcopal Chruch titled Holy Women, Holy Men a reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is prescribed. That is Luke 14:15-23. In this reading Jesus relates the story of a man who gave a banquet and invited many guests. When the banquet was ready he sent his servant to tell each of the guest to come the banquet was ready. But each invited guest in turn refused to come for one reason or another. Being told by the servant that the invited guests refused to come the man then ordered that the servant to go out into the streets and lanes and to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind, and lame. When the servant had done this he reported back that there was still room in the house for more so the man commanded that he was to go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in so that the house might be filled.
In this scripture we see that human beings who suppose they highly prize the thought of sharing God’s kingdom may in fact be rejecting the appeal from him to act so that they may be able to share in it. For sometimes the love of material and temporal things block our ability to find the kingdom. Mother Seton did not reject the invitation but instead embraced it so as to enable her to share in God’s kingdom through her devoted service and charity toward others. Let us be careful to listen for the invitation to share in God’s kingdom through our own devoted service and works of charity toward others.
15 When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God! 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited , “Come: for all is now ready. 17 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him , I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused. 19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them: I pray you , have me excused. 20 And another said, I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come. 21 So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room’. 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and the hedges, and compel people to come in , that m house may be filled. 24 ‘For I tell you none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’