Tag Archives: US Catholic Catechism for Adults

Elizabeth Seton, January 4

Elizabeth Seton 1804Today’s the feast of St. Elizabeth Seton (1774-1821), a saintly woman born at the time of the American revolution and a founder of the American Catholic Church.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults sees her as an example of a woman in search of God.  We find God through Jesus Christ, but also through creation, through human relationships and through various circumstances of our lives.

Elizabeth Seton was a woman who found God in all those ways. As a little girl after her mother’s  death she was neglected by her father and at odds with her stepmother, and  she found God in the beauties of nature, in the fields around New Rochelle, NY,  where she played as a child.

Then, as a young woman, she married a prominent New York business man, William Seton.  They had five children and Elizabeth enjoyed a happy married life, lots of friends; she was active in her Episcopal church, Trinity Church, on Wall Street in New York City. She was drawn to Jesus Christ whom she  discovered in the scriptures and by helping the poor.

Her life changed when her husband’s business failed. When his health also failed, Elizabeth took him to Italy to see if a better climate could revive him. As they arrived in Livorno, Italy, he died in her arms in a cold quarantine station at the Italian port.

Some Italian friends took Elizabeth and her daughter into their home and there she began to think about becoming a Catholic. Her conversion after her return to New York City caused her to lose old friends and left her to face hard times as a widow with small children.

She moved to Baltimore, then Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she opened her first  Catholic school and gathered other women to form a religious community. She is one of the great saints and founders of the American Church, an important witness to the major role women played in establishing the Catholic Church in America.

Her quest for God was many sided, touched by sorrows and joys.  She’s a good example of how our relationship with God is formed by creation, by the people around us, and the varied circumstances we face as we go through life.

People like Mother Seton show how faith grows in us. That’s why the new U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults sees her as an example of how we find God in real life. More important than books, people tell us what believing means. They’re the first catechisms.

Happy Feast Day to all her daughters throughout the world who continue in her spirit. They are following her and their journey isn’t over.

A biography of Mother Seton:  http://emmitsburg.net/setonshrine/

Talking About Saints

I’m beginning a four day retreat for seminarians at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland today.  I’ll be speaking to them about American Catholic spirituality as we see it in our saints and other important figures of our church.  I’ll use the US Catholic Catechism for Adults as a basis for my talks. One of its features–which I’ve commented on recently– is its insertion of stories of the saints and others into the catechism to illustrate its teachings.

You can’t expect the short biographies in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to tell you everything about these personalities of our church and their impact on our church and our world, but they are a start.

As I see it, writings about the saints has changed in recent times. For one thing, saints are more than people we pray to for some favor or miracle-workers we marvel at. They tell us how to live in this world.  They are part of the communion of saints. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)

Recent studies on the saints tend to dwell on the world they lived in and how they helped to shape that world. That’s also our task: to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom that’s coming.

You can’t understand someone like Dorothy Day, for example, without looking at the social history of the United States from the 1930s onward. She reacted to the problems of her time, and so should we.

Recent studies on the saints tend to be less panegyric. Saints are not perfect. Writing on the saints follows the recent trend in biography which tries to tell as much as can be known about figures in the political or social or intellectual or religious worlds, their faults and failures as well as their virtues and accomplishments.

I hope to talk this week about Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, the Jesuit Martyrs, Dorothy Day, Pierre Tousaint, Mother Cabrini and Theodore Foley.