I recently reread an account of St. Elizabeth Seton’s conversion to Catholicism which began when she and her little daughter were guests of the Filicchi family in Italy following her husband William’s tragic death in the quarantine station in Livorno. “”The patience and more than human kindness of these Filicchis towards us! You would think it was our Savior himself they received in his poor sick strangers.” Their Catholic faith and devotion moved her profoundly.
Once at Mass with the Filicchis, an English tourist leaned over at the elevation of the Host and said to Elizabeth in a loud whisper, “This is what they call their Real Presence.”
“My very heart trembled with shame and sorrow for his unfeeling interruption of their sacred adoration,” she wrote, “for all around was dead silence. Involuntarily, I bent from him to the pavement, and thought secretly of the word of St. Paul, with starting tears, ‘They discern not the Lord’s Body.’”
She thought of the Filicchis’s devotion and asked how God created her “ and how a hundred other things I know nothing about? I am a mother, so the mother’s thought came also. How was my God a little babe in the first stage of his mortal existence in Mary?”
Later, Elizabeth wrote to a friend:
“How happy would we be, if we believed what these dear souls believe: that they possess God in the Sacrament, and that he remains in their churches and is carried to them when they are sick!
Oh my! When they carry the Blessed Sacrament under my window, while I feel the full loneliness and sadness of my case, I cannot stop the tears at the thought! My God! How happy would I be, if I could have you in the church as they do…how many things I would say to you of the sorrows of my heart and the sins of my life.
The other day, in a moment of excessive distress, I fell on my knees without thinking when the Blessed Sacrament passed by, and cried in an agony to God to bless me, if he was there–that my whole soul desired only him.”
Gradually, Elizabeth Seton knew the happiness that comes from a strong belief in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. She’s answered the question raised in John’s gospel today: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”