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Monday, January 4, 2010

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Founder of the Parochial School System

Today is the feast of the Elizabeth Seton and also the first day of school for most children returning after Christmas vacation. What an appropriate alignment. Elizabeth, a widow converted from the Episcopal faith after her husband's death. She was rejected by her anti-Catholic relatives and left destitute because her husband's import business had failed. To support herself and her five children she began a school in her home, but was unsuccessful. Archbishop John Carroll encouraged Elizabeth to found a school for girls and she did, in Emmitsburg, MD. Other women joined her in the venture and she began the Daughters of Charity. The Seton shrine in Maryland and the nearby grotto tell the story of the challenging early years.

The first reading for today's Mass, taken from the first letter of St. John, provides an interesting insight into what real education should do for the soul: make us critical thinkers who "test the spirits" and recognize the "spirit of truth" from the "spirit of deceit."

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist who, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them. We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

A major part of the spiritual journey is discernment of spirits. Why? Because it helps us recognize when we are being tempted toward evil or encouraged toward good. As St. Peter says, the devil is like a lion roaming the earth seeking prey. But he'd be a fool to expose himself in all his ugly evil, so he often appears as an angel of light or he dresses in sheepskin to blend in with his lunch. "This is so good for you," he says in a melodious voice pushing us toward the cliff. "Jump off; you can fly." And so we think the lustful or greedy or selfish choice is the quick road to bliss when it's a sure path to ultimate misery.

To recognize him and his tricks, we need to understand how he works, as well as knowing the good spirits who attempt to help us. Fr. John Hardon, S.J. who often gave retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius wrote about Discernment of Spirits in his book All My Liberty. This chapter would make an excellent meditation for January. Think of how much you could progress in the spiritual life this year if you chose a specific spiritual subject each month to meditate on and study. Discernment of spirits would be a good place to begin the journey. And take St. Elizabeth, St. Ignatius, and Fr. Hardon along with you as mentors and teachers. As a wife and mother St. Elizabeth knew all about the struggles and hardships of family life. St. Ignatius was a master of the interior life whose Spiritual Exercises have transformed the lives of many. And Fr. Hardon was a tireless worker in the vineyard. Persecuted by his own religious order, he never failed in seeking God's will through obedience. Take these great souls with you on your journey.

P.S. Anything written by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. will lead you to God by a short path. Please pray for his canonization.

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