Because she is the first native-born American saint, many people know the life story of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821). Her conversion from devout Anglican, her struggles to live her new faith and her accomplishments, including starting what eventually became the parochial school system in America and founding the Sisters of Charity are as much a part of U.S. history as they are hallowed hagiography.
What many people might not realize, however, is that throughout much of her adult life, St. Elizabeth faced a very modern kind of suffering—penury. From the time she and her husband went bankrupt early in their marriage until her latter years struggling to maintain her convents and sisters, Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to suffer from lack of funds and experience involuntary poverty…
Her life, and her on-going struggle with the suffering associated with lack of money, can be an inspiration to those of us who also face financial stress.
One of the first lessons is that we, like Elizabeth, must let go of fear, trusting that God will provide. Although William was sure he was headed for debtors’ prison, she maintained a steadfast conviction that somehow it would all work out. When we are faced with mounting debt and no way to pay it off, we have two choices—either we can despair or we can trust that we will be shown a way. Despair only will increase our suffering, adding unnecessarily to our pain. Trust allows us to think more clearly and thereby see options that might not have been visible when we were blinded by fear. However, as with many things, the choice between trust and despair is always ours.
A second lesson from Elizabeth is that while trusting that God will provide is important, we also have to do our part on a practical level. Elizabeth needed to find a way to support her family. She hadn’t planned on being a teacher, but when the opportunity to teach arose, she took it. Moreover, even though she had a gift for teaching, she didn’t give it away; she charged her students. She realized that she had to make money, not just expect it to come out of thin air.
Sometimes we get the mistaken idea that it isn’t “spiritual” to use our talents to make money, but even the Scripture says that the workman is worthy of hire. If we are in financial difficulty and we have an ability or a talent, we are duty bound to use that in order to support ourselves and our families. Since using our talent is always the will of God, it’s a sure and safe place to begin.