Memorial St. Elizabeth Seton
In the first reading today, there’s a sentence that can make us a little nervous, if we’re trying to live a good Christian life. That’s the one where St John says, “No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God”. St John isn’t saying that if we’re baptized, we can’t commit sin. Just last week we heard an earlier passage from the same epistle, and there he writes, “If we say, ‘We have not sinned’, we make God a liar, and his word is not in us. I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin”. St John is well aware that we have all committed individual acts of sin. That’s why, in his Gospel, he reports Our Lord as saying to the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them”, in the sacrament of reconciliation.
So when he says that “no one who is begotten by God commits sin”, he means that no Christian can indulge in a sinful life, because sin is a major disruption of God’s order, and no one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. Sin is not the normal accepted way in their lives, but the abnormal moment of defeat. They still take the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for their own, in spite of lapses.
The great examples of what St John calls “the children of God” are the saints of the Church, many of whom went to confession, including today’s saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. She used to keep a notebook, which today we would call a journal. In her entry for October 15, 1807, she notes that it was the feast of St Teresa of Ávila, and she writes : “Holy Mother, you called yourself a sinner, the worst of sinners. What then am I? The sins of your whole life would be balanced by the sum of any one of my days”.
But she goes on to say: “My Jesus, hide me, shelter me, shelter the shuddering trembling soul that lays itself in thy hand”. Immediately after acknowledging her sins, St Elizabeth Seton did what every saint of the Church has always done: she turned to Jesus, like the two disciples in today’s Gospel. She asked him to shelter her; they asked him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And Jesus simply replied, “Come, and you will see”.
He brought them to his home. Where was that home of his? St John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel. It is the place “nearest to the Father’s heart”. It was there that the disciples were taken, and they stayed there. And it is there that Jesus took Elizabeth Seton, and where he also invites us. May we respond in the words of Ruth: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you live, I will live. Your people are my people, your God is my God. Not even death itself is going to come between us!”
Speaking of death, when was the last time you went to confession?