Christmas, the Life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Growing Up in America

Deborah Sturm
December 31, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

"I will go peaceably and firmly to the Catholic Church: for if Faith is so important to our salvation, I will seek it where true Faith first began, seek it among those who received it from God Himself." - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton[1]

On December 21, 1980, the American Broadcasting Company - ABC for short - featured a movie, A Time for Miracles , a Christmas movie and a biography of the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. No doubt, in the year 1980, there was still an appetite among Americans for an overtly Catholic movie, as movie producers and broadcasting companies typically show what they believe will get them the highest ratings. By the way, Kate Mulgrew, a Catholic who is outspokenly pro-life, was cast as Elizabeth Ann Seton. She has said, "Life is sacred to me on all levels. Abortion does not compute with my philosophy." Mulgrew became pregnant when she was young. But instead of having an abortion, she gave her baby daughter up for adoption. However, they were eventually reunited.[2]

A Time for Miracles is not a "rags to riches" movie, for which modern Americans seem to have an appetite. Rather, this movie is about a woman, a widow with five children, who went from "riches to rags."[3]

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1774 to 1821, whose feast day is January 4, and who lived in New York, was an educator, founder of the parochial school system, religious sister, and Episcopal convert. She was married to a wealthy man, William Seton, whose shipping business went bankrupt. He became very ill with tuberculosis. The movie shows William, accompanied by Elizabeth and their oldest child Anna, dying in Italy around Christmas time while he was in quarantine - because there was a yellow fever outbreak in New York - in a stone tower. Afterward, Elizabeth and her five children eventually went into poverty. However, before returning to America, Elizabeth was exposed to Catholicism while spending time with the Filicchi family - who had a private chapel in their home - in Leghorn, Italy. The movie frequently draws the viewer to the Tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament. Quotes from the saint's life indicate her devotion to the Holy Eucharist, for example:

"God is everywhere, in the very air I breathe, yes everywhere, but in His Sacrament of the Altar He is as present actually and really as my soul within my body; in His Sacrifice daily offered as really as once offered on the Cross"[4]

After being exposed to Catholicism, Elizabeth's primary focus - in addition to her five children - was Jesus Christ and His Eucharistic Presence. This focus was instrumental in her embracing poverty. After all, Elizabeth Seton was a beautiful, accomplished socialite who could have remained in her social circle of wealthy friends. She could have remained materially comfortable. But her soul was drawn like a magnet to a Divine Presence. She intuitively knew that material comfort would not bring her contentment, as she once wrote, "I think the greatest happiness of this life is to be released from the cares of what is called the world."[5] Because of her decision to become Catholic, she became an outcast to her wealthy Episcopalian friends.

Seton and her children eventually relocated to Maryland, and under the direction of Bishop John Carroll, she founded the Sisters of Charity and a parochial school. The road to establishing this religious order was met with spiritual, physical and emotional hardships. Christmas, in the movie, is bittersweet, as Seton, her children, students, and her religious following, were dealing with the freezing cold of winter as well as hunger. Yet at the same time, they joyously celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When there was a knock on the door of their humble dwelling, and someone showed up with food or a simple loaf of bread, Elizabeth's face lit up with gratitude and joy because she knew that her Father in Heaven was meeting their needs.

Good luck trying to find an overtly Catholic movie on television in the year 2021.

Life in Small Town America in the Year 1980

In the year 1980, the same year that A Time for Miracles was featured on national television, I graduated from high school in a small town in West Virginia. Only eight years previously, in 1972, when I was in the fourth grade, our teacher led the students every morning in the recitation of The Lord's Prayer . And in 1979, our public high school choir sang many overtly Christian Christmas songs, including medieval carols dating back to the fifteenth century. For example, we sang "Adam lay ybounden," which speaks of Adam disobeying God by eating an apple, an act which eventually brought to Earth a savior born of a Virgin in order to save the world from sin. The song ends with the victorious words, "Deo gracias, Deo gracias!"[6] Our choir also went Christmas caroling throughout local neighborhoods.

None of the aforementioned activities were met with virulent objections from parents, teachers, students, or school boards. During the six years that I was in a public high school - from 1974 to 1980 - I never saw a cop on the school campus. We had a few "bomb threats," and I heard through the grapevine that the local police came to the campus. Still, I never saw them. Today, I cannot drive by a school without seeing a police cruiser parked outside of the school building. My late mother, who attended public schools, and who died in 2019, once told me that the worst thing children and teenagers did when she was growing up was "chew gum and run down the halls." And only a few years before she died, she lamented, "I don't recognize my country anymore."

The Culture of Death Enters America: The Beginning of Unequal Rights

"Disorder in the society is the result of disorder in the family." -St. Elizabeth Ann Seton[7]

In September 1970, ten years before I graduated from high school, California Medicine published an editorial that candidly admitted that the Judeo-Christian ethic was being eroded at its core and would be replaced by a "quality of life" ethic. EWTN accurately sums up this editorial:

This article is presented as a resource for those interested in the pro-abortion movement in the United States . . . It illustrates that even as abortion was being legalized and abortionists were denying that they were killing children, in reality they were well aware of what they were doing and justified it with the claim that this " schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected."[8] (Emphasis added)

The article admits that "It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives . . . "[9] In other words, human beings need to embrace that human beings are not equal. The "progressive" physicians behind this discrimination were essentially pushing for materialism and its accompanying utilitarianism. People will be discarded when they are no longer useful.

By the way, I strongly advise reading the entire editorial. It is chilling.

Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated for equal rights among all human beings, also alluded to a schizophrenic nature in modern man. One tries to do good, he writes, while something inside of us is pulling us toward evil:

"There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or psychiatrists would call it within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll in us . . . There's a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it."[10]

Alveda King, the niece of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., a pro-life activist, who, ironically was born on January 22, 1951 - exactly twenty two years before the egregious Roe vs. Wade SCOTUS decision - links abortion and unequal treatment of human beings:

"Abortion and racism are both symptoms of a fundamental human error. The error is thinking that when someone stands in the way of our wants, we can justify getting that person out of our lives. Abortion and racism stem from the same poisonous root, selfishness."[11]

Materialism and the Culture of Death

This selfishness stems from materialism, the worldview that values material goods and physical comfort over spiritual values. Materialism has destroyed families as people value wealth over persons. Materialism drives the contraceptive mentality. Materialism is driving the global collective anxiety over COVID. Materialism has blinded the Church as many bishops closed parishes causing the laity to be denied the Sacraments - all in the name of "health." Materialism is driving the "smash and grab" robberies in California - yes, that same state where the "progressive" physicians, in 1970, brazenly advocated for human inequality. Materialism is driving the propaganda of "critical race theory," a racist, diabolical ideology that devalues human beings based on the color of their skin. Again, Alveda King said that abortion and racism stem from the same fundamental error. Furthermore, show me a pro-abortion governor, and I'll show you a state with the most restrictive COVID lockdowns.

Abortion was not an issue during Elizabeth Ann Seton's time, but she would have understood its intrinsic evil and the threat it would have been to the integrity of family life. She knew that focusing on material goods would have distracted her from her mission as a religious sister and a mother as well as from fully appreciating the Divine Presence shrouded in the Tabernacle. She embraced a Culture of Life because it is antithetical to materialism.

And it is no coincidence that pro-abortion politicians are not being denied the Eucharist. The Church is lacking supernatural Faith. The priests who have been the most outspoken about abortion manage to come under fire and scrutiny. Fr. James Altman, e.g., has been insistent in making sure his parishioners had access to the Sacraments during COVID lockdowns while asserting that politicians be held accountable for their egregious pro-abortion positions. Fr. Altman was "canceled" by his bishop. Fr. Robert Altier, who is outspoken on abortion, came under fire by his bishop for his controversial statements about the COVID vaccines.[12] Another priest, Fr. Robert Morey, in Florence, South Carolina, held Joe Biden accountable by denying him the Eucharist in 2019.[13] Yet Biden, to the bewilderment of many Catholics, recently claimed that Pope Francis told him he was a "good Catholic" and that he should continue receiving Holy Communion.[14]

Threats of Atheistic Communism, a Materialistic Worldview

"All of us experience the sad effects of blind submission to consumerism. In the first place it represents crass materialism . . . the more one possesses, the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled." - John Paul II (encyclical letter Solliitudo Rei Socialis , December 30, 1987)[15]

St. John Paul the Great's statement echoes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who knew the greatest happiness comes from being released from the cares of this world.

Many Catholic priests believe the messages of our Lady of Fatima are coming to fruition - that the errors of Russia would spread around the globe - the errors of abortion, communism, atheism, etc. Remove the doctrine of original sin - the sin of every human being on the planet, and which makes everyone equal - and something must rise up to take its place to explain perceived injustices. After all, nature abhors a vacuum. "Critical race theory" has risen up to fill the void. Sacred Scripture is clear about the problem of evil, "For all have sinned and do need the glory of God." (Romans 3:23, Douay Rheims) (Emphasis added) "Critical race theory" puts the burden of evil primarily on white people. Thus, racial discrimination is the inevitable result. Communism in the former Soviet Union focused on class. Communism in the United States is - and will be - focused on race. It doesn't matter what the focus is. Communism divides people into "the oppressed" and "the oppressors." Furthermore, under communism, there will be "fat and happy" rulers while many will starve. Look no further than North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. Poverty will be forced onto the masses. The poverty of holy people like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was chosen, not forced by external factors.

Atheistic communism also leads to genocide. Why? The materialistic view of communism sees many people as disposable. And if the rulers have goals they believe they need to achieve, they will be more than happy to enslave people, as the Soviet Union did in their Gulags.

Communism will more than likely lead to a "state sanctioned" church, the "ape of the church" devoid of authentic Catholic teaching, particularly regarding human sexuality. It may have the outward appearance--"the smells and bells" - of Catholicism, unless, of course, incense is outlawed because it is considered a threat to "global climate change." The authentic Catholic Church will go underground. I have actually talked to people who know priests who are preparing for this scenario.

This Lead Us Back to the Eucharist

"I got in a side pew which turned my face towards the Catholic church in the next street, and found myself twenty times speaking to the Blessed Sacrament there instead of looking at the naked altar where I was or minding the routine of prayers . . . " - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton[16]

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was hearing a "still, small voice" within her. That "still, small voice" is in all of us, beckoning us to get into the Sacrament of the Present Moment where Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, meets us. That voice easily gets drowned out by dwelling on the past - where we can become distracted by perceived injustices--or speculating anxiously about our future. Fear of dying or sickness - the distractions of COVID - can rob us of our serenity.

Jesus Christ in His Eucharistic Presence is like the burning bush who Moses met: "I am who am." (Exodus 3:14). We must remember that no matter how bad things can become - and indeed, it looks like things could get bad - nothing and nobody can take us away from our Lord Jesus Christ. For even if the secular world tries to deprive us of our Eucharistic Lord, that "still, small voice" will be there. But we must not let ourselves be distracted. As Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, Douay Rheims)