Saint Bridget of Sweden
Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
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"Dear Brothers and Sisters
On the fervent eve of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, John Paul II proclaimed St Bridget of Sweden co-patroness of the whole of Europe. This morning I would like to present the figure, the message and the reasons for which/why this holy woman has much to teach — still today — to the Church and to the world.
We know the events of St Bridget's life well because her spiritual fathers drew up/drafted her biography so as to promote the process of her canonization immediately after her death in 1373. Bridget was born 70 years earlier, in 1303, in Finster, in Sweden, a nation of North Europe which for three centuries had welcomed the Christian faith with the same enthusiasm with which the Saint had received it from her parents, very pious/devout people, belonging to noble families close to the reigning House.
We can distinguish two periods in the life of this Saint.
The first was characterized by her condition as a happily married woman. Her husband was called Ulf and was governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted twenty-eight years, until the death of Ulf. Eight children were born, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as a Saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget's commitment to the education of her children. Moreover, her pedagogical wisdom was appreciated to such a point that the King of Sweden, Magnus, called her to court for a time, with the purpose of introducing his young wife, Blanche of Namur, into Swedish culture.
Bridget, spiritually guided by a learned religious who initiated her into the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her own family which, thanks to her presence, became a true “domestic church”. Together with her husband, she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. With generosity she practiced works of charity for the destitute/needy; she also founded a hospital. Next to his wife, Ulf leart to improve his character and to advance in the Christian life. On their return from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, carried out/made in 1341 together with other members of the family, the spouses matured the project of living in continence; but a little while later, in the peace of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf concluded his earthly life.
This first period of Bridget's life helps us to appreciate what today we could describe as an authentic “conjugal spirituality”: together, Christian spouses can make a journey of holiness sustained by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. It is often the woman, as happened in the life of St Bridget and Ulf, who with her religious sensitivity, delicacy and gentleness succeeds in persuading her husband to follow a path of faith. I am thinking with gratitude of the many women who, day after day, illuminate their families with their witness of Christian life, in our time too. May the Lord's Spirit still inspire holiness in Christian spouses today, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived in accordance with the Gospel values: love, tenderness, reciprocal help, fruitfulness in begetting and in raising children, openness and solidarity to the world and participation in the life of the Church.
The second period of Bridget's life began when she was widowed. She did not consider another marriage in order to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and charitable works. Therefore Christian widows too may find in this Saint a model to follow. In fact, upon the death of her husband, after distributing her possessions to the poor — although she never became a consecrated religious — Bridget settled near the Cistercian Monastery of Alvastra. Here began the divine revelations that were to accompany her for the rest of her life. Bridget dictated them to her confessors-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in 8 volumes entitled Revelationes (Revelations). A supplement followed these books called, precisely, Revelationes extravagantes (Supplementary revelations).
St Bridget's Revelations have a very varied content and style. At times the revelations are presented in the form of dialogues between the divine Persons, the Virgin, the Saints and even demons; they are dialogues in which Bridget also takes part. At other times, instead, a specific vision is described; and in yet others what the Virgin Mary reveals to her concerning the life and mysteries of the Son. The value of St Bridget's Revelations, sometimes the object of criticism Pope John Paul II explained in his Letter Spes Aedificandi: “The Church, which recognized Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience.”
Indeed, reading these Revelations challenges us on many important topics. For example, the description of Christ's Passion, with very realistic details, frequently recurs. Bridget always had a special devotion to Christ's Passion, contemplating in it God's infinite love for men. She boldly places these words on the lips of the Lord who speaks to her: “O my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that were it possible I would die many other times for each one of them that same death I suffered for the redemption of all” (Revelationes, Book I, c. 59). The sorrowful motherhood of Mary, which made her Mediatrix and Mother of Mercy, is also a subject that recurs frequently in the Revelations.
In receiving these charisms, Bridget was aware that she had been given a gift of special love on the Lord's part: “My Daughter” — we read in the First Book of Revelations — “I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart... more than all that exists in the world.” Bridget, moreover, knew well and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build up the Church. For this very reason many of her revelations were addressed in the form of admonishments, even severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the religious and political Authorities, that they might live a consistent Christian life; but she always reprimanded them with an attitude of respect and of full fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.
In 1349 Bridget left Sweden for good and went on pilgrimage to Rome. She was not only intending to take part in the Jubilee of the Year 1350 but also wished to obtain from the Pope approval for the Rule of a Religious Order that she was intending to found, called after the Holy Saviour and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of the Abbess. This is an element we should not find surprising: in the Middle Ages monastic foundations existed with both male and female branches, but with the practice of the same monastic Rule that provided for the Abbess' direction. In fact, in the great Christian tradition the woman is accorded special dignity and — always based on the example of Mary, Queen of Apostles — a place of her own in the Church, which, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood is equally important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Furthermore, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect for their specific vocation, is of great importance in the contemporary world.
In Rome, in the company of her daughter Karin, Bridget dedicated herself to a life of intense apostolate and prayer. And from Rome she went on pilgrimage to various Italian Shrines, in particular to Assisi, the homeland of St Francis for whom Bridget had always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, her deepest desire was crowned: to travel to the Holy Land, to which she went accompanied by her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called “the friends of God”.
In those years the Pontiffs lived at Avignon, a long way from Rome: Bridget addressed a heartfelt plea to them to return to the See of Peter, in the Eternal City.
She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome definitively. She was buried temporarily in the Church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna in Rome but in 1374 her children, Birger and Karin, took her body back to her homeland, to the Monastery of Vadstena, the headquarters of the Religious Order St Bridget had founded. The order immediately experienced a considerable expansion. In 1391 Pope Boniface IX solemnly canonized her.
Bridget's holiness, characterized by the multiplicity of her gifts and the experiences that I have wished to recall in this brief biographical and spiritual outline, makes her an eminent figure in European history. In coming from Scandinavia, St Bridget bears witness to the way Christianity had deeply permeated the life of all the peoples of this Continent. In declaring her Co-Patroness of Europe, Pope John Paul II hoped that St Bridget — who lived in the 14th century when Western Christianity had not yet been wounded by division — may intercede effectively with God to obtain the grace of full Christian unity so deeply longed for. Let us pray, dear brothers and sisters, for this same intention, which we have very much at heart, and that Europe may always be nourished by its Christian roots, invoking the powerful intercession of St Bridget of Sweden, a faithful disciple of God and Co-Patroness of Europe."
BXVI - General Audience - Wednesday, 27 October 2010 - © Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Blessed John Paul II's Homily on 7th centenary of St Bridget's birth
Ecumenical Celebration of Vespers - Friday 4 October 2002
English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
1. "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him cruciied" (I Cor 2,2). The Apostle Paul's words that rang out during this ecumenical celebration found a special echo in the activity and mystical experience of St Bridget of Sweden; this evening we observe the 7th centenary of her birth. In the different stages of her life, that saw her first as wife, mother and educator of her children, then as widow, and, finally, as foundress of a new form of consecrated life, the saint was constantly inspired by the mystery of Christ's passion and death. She never tired of contemplating the face of the Crucified One.
We remember her this evening, as we thank the Lord for giving us this distinguished and holy daughter of the noble land of Sweden, who was linked to the city of Rome and was a unique witness to the deep Christian roots of European civilization.
2. With great pleasure I extend heartfelt greetings to you, dear brothers and sisters, who are taking part in this solemn evening liturgy in honour of St Bridget. My thoughts go in particular to my Brother Bishops, to the clergy and to the men and women religious present.
In a spirit of brotherhood and friendship I greet the distinguished representatives of the Lutheran Churches. Your presence at this prayer is a cause of deep joy. I express the hope that our meeting together in the Lord's name will help to further our ecumenical dialogue and quicken the journey towards full Christian unity.
I wish to send a special greeting to Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Sweden, represented here by their daughter, Princess Victoria.
I respectfully greet the other religious and civil authorities taking part, as well as the organizers, speakers and participants in the symposium on "The path of beauty for a more just and dignified world", commemorating the 700 years since the birth of St Bridget. My affectionate greeting goes to the dear Sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget, gathered here with the Abbess General.
3. Here, at the tombs of the Apostles and in the places sanctified by the blood of the martyrs, St Bridget spent many hours in prayer during the time she was in Rome. Here she drew strength and steadfastness in order to be able to fulfil that extraordinary charitable, missionary and social commitment which made her one of the most notable people of her day.
Contemplating the crucified Lord and in intimate union with his Passion, she was able, with prophetic determination, to complete the mission which Christ had entrusted to her for the good of the Church and society at that time.
The marble statue situated on the outside of the Vatican Basilica, near the entrance commonly called the "Door of Prayer", aptly expresses the ardour of her life and of her spirituality. St Bridget is portrayed in an attitude of pryaer, with the book of her "Revelations" open, carrying a pilgrim's staff and scrip, intent on contemplating the crucified Christ.
4. I strongly desire to bring out another aspect of the personality of this great missionary of faith whom I wished to proclaim co-patronness of Europe: her active and zealous longing for Christian unity. In a difficult and complicated age of the history of the Church and of Europe, this indomitable disciple of the Lord never stopped working for the cohesion and genuine progress of the unity of believers. I wish to repeat what I recently wanted to recall to the Brigittine Sisters in a Message for the Seventh Centenary of her birth. I wrote of St Bridget "as a woman of unity, comes before us as a witness of ecumenism. Her harmonious personality inspires the life of the order that traces its origins to her in the direction of an ecumenism that was both spiritual and active". I offer it as a spiritual heritage to be maintained, a common commitment to be continued with joyful generosity. However, because the unity of the Church is a gift of the Spirit, we are conscious that we must first implore it constantly in prayer and then build it with tireless tenacity, each making his own personal contribution.
5. Dear Brothers and Sisters, today is the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. Everyone knows of the admiration and devotion of this Franciscan Tertiary to the "Poor Man" of Assisi. Among the pilgrimages that she made to the chief sanctuaries of her day, her pilgrimage to Assisi in the summer of 1352 is notable. The visit left in her mind and heart an indelible memory.
May these two great saints who have had such an influence on the life of the Church and on the history of the european continent, help us to be, like them, courageous witnesses of Christ and of his perennial message of salvation. May Mary, to whom St Bridget was always deeply devoted, intercede for us so that we may contribute effectively to establishing the Kingdom of Christ and building the civilization of love..
JPII - Homily, Friday, 4th October 2002