After beautiful and talented Elizabeth Ann Seton was widowed in 1803 at the age of 29, she began to head her letters with the inscription, + Eternity +. She had already lost her mother when only three years old, and much future loss lay ahead of her: two sisters-in-law, dear friends; her daughter Annina, just 17 years old; and, four years later, another daughter, Rebecca, 14.
One might think Mother Seton’s fascination with eternity simply an escape from the harsh realities of daily life. In actuality, however, the “light of eternity” offers the most realistic perspective possible on daily life. The weeks spent with her sick husband and Annina in an Italian lazaretto, as William inched toward death, taught Elizabeth a precious truth: we are made by Eternal Love for eternity, and successes and failures in this life are successes and failures only insofar as they lead us nearer to Love or farther from Him.
This truth guided Mother Seton through her impassioned life, a life of deep friendships, of extraordinary service to her Sisters and her students. Far from offering escape from reality, the thought of eternity lent meaning to her daily tasks.
This month of November, the month of the Holy Souls, is an invitation to reflect on eternity — and thus to let the reality of love glow white hot for us, His love for us and the love we owe Him and others, including the departed souls in Purgatory.
Carmelite St. Elizabeth of the Trinity lost an excruciating battle with Addison’s Disease at the age of 26. Shortly before her death, she wrote a beloved friend:
The hour is drawing near when I am going to pass from this world to my Father, and before leaving I want to send you a note from my heart. Never was the Heart of the Master so overflowing with love as at the supreme moment when He was going to leave His own! It seems to me as if something similar is happening in His little bride at the evening of her life, and I feel as if a wave were rising from my heart to yours!
Dear Antoinette, in the light of eternity the soul sees things as they really are. Oh! how empty is all that has not been done for God and with God! I beg you, oh, mark everything with the seal of love! It alone endures. How serious life is: each minute is given us in order to 'root' us deeper in God, as Saint Paul says.
This November, let us ask God to teach us to do all for Him and with Him, to seal each action with the seal of love. He is the jealous lover of Hosea, who pursues us perseveringly. Let us this month return to Him in Mass or confession — or, in charity, help a friend to do so. Let us pray for the Holy Souls, who yearn with such longing to see Love face to face.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.