Elizabeth Seton and the Mystery of Suffering

by | Apr 6, 2011 | Sisters of Charity, Vincentian Family

Sisters Vivienne Joyce, SC, & Mary Ellen O’Boyle, SC Sisters of Charity of New York prepared a beautiful reflection on the Mystery of Suffering in the writings of Elizabeth Ann Seton (Presented with apologies for not having posted it earlier!)

Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Mystery of Suffering

“…it is the cross which carries us.”

Enlighten me, O Divine light!

Conduct me, O Supreme Truth!

Raise us again, O Increated Life!

– Elizabeth Seton

“Where is your God? ”

Elizabeth replied: “Oh well I know that God is above – Capitano; —  you need not always point your silent look and finger there — if I thought our condition the providence of man, instead of the ‘weeping Magdalene’ as you call me, you would find me a lioness willing to burn your lazaretto about your ears if it were possible that I might carry your poor prisoner to breathe the air of heaven in some more seasonable place…..…but O heavenly Father I know these contradictory events are permitted and guided by Wisdom, which is only light.  We are in darkness, and must be thankful that our knowledge is not wanted to perfect thy work and also keep in mind thy Infinite Mercy”

(“Italian Journal,” Seton Collected Writings I: 270)


Elizabeth Ann Seton understood the Eucharist to be marked by the cross:

“We receive no grace in the communion of the Eucharist but in proportion as we receive it in the communion of the cross.  We may go to the table of our Lord when he did not call us there, when he only bears with our presence, but we never receive him in the communion of the cross without being called by himself; it is a mandate from heaven itself that we obey….

We are never strong enough to bear our cross; it is the cross which carries us, nor so weak as to be unable to bear it, since the weakest become strong by its virtue.  It is the cross which carries us.”

(“Meditation on the Communion of the Cross”, Seton Collected Writings IIIa: 419-422)


Reflecting on a time of suffering in our lives we often say:

“I don’t know how I got through that!” Name such a time in your life.

Have you ever thought that the God of your Life, Jesus, was present to you in a special way during that time, a time of Paschal Mystery?

What blessing did you receive?

Let yourself fully realize that Jesus was with you at that time.


Recall a time when someone helped you carry your cross of suffering.

How did you feel towards that person(s)?

Did you thank her, him, them?

Have you ever thought

that they might be incarnating God’s Love for you?


Recall a time in your life when you helped someone

carry a very difficult cross.

Have you ever allowed yourself to know yourself as incarnating Jesus?


Heart of Jesus, receive me.

Cross of Jesus, support me.


During a time of pain and suffering and misunderstanding, have you experienced what is called the “absence of God”?

Following that experience, was your sense of yourself and your relationship with God and others transformed?

Name those changes.

Have you ever been aware of the Presence of God in a new and more intimate way?



Have you ever or are you now ashamed of what you have suffered or are suffering?

Pray for the grace to honor your suffering.

You might pray the Anima Christi.

Are you aware of carrying a pain or suffering in your heart that you avoid or deny?

Hold that pain tenderly in the presence of Jesus’ love.

Allow yourself during these holy days to go to that place of pain in faith that the wounded and risen Jesus is waiting for you right there.

If it seems too painful, ask Elizabeth to intercede for you.


Prayer prepared by Sisters Vivienne Joyce, SC, & Mary Ellen O’Boyle, SC

Sisters of Charity of New York

6301 Riverdale Avenue, Bronx, NY 10471

718 549-9200 www.scny.org

Download Word document. 3-11 EAS-Suffering


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