On St. Bridget of Sweden
"Together, Christian Spouses Can Follow a Path of Sanctity"
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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 27, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the fervent eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II proclaimed St. Bridget of Sweden co-patroness of the whole of Europe. This morning I would like to present her figure, her message, and the reasons why this woman has much to teach -- even today -- to the Church and to the world.
We know well the events of the life of St. Bridget because her spiritual fathers wrote her biography to promote her process of canonization immediately after her death, which took place in 1373. Bridget was born 70 years earlier, in 1303, in Finster, Sweden, a nation of Northern Europe that had received the faith three centuries earlier with the same enthusiasm with which the saint received it from her parents, who were very pious individuals, 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 he was governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted 28 years, until Ulf's death. Eight children were born to them, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget's educational commitment in regard to her children. Moreover, her pedagogic wisdom was appreciated to the point that Magnus, the king of Sweden, called her to the court for a certain time, in order to introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture.
Bridget, spiritually guided by a learned religious who initiated her in the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her own family that, thanks to her presence, became a true "domestic church." Together with her husband, she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She practiced works of charity towards the indigent with generosity; she also founded a hospital. Together with his wife, Ulf learned to improve his character and to advance in the Christian life. On returning from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, taken in 1341 with other members of the family, the spouses matured the plan to live in continence, but shortly after, in the peace of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf concluded his earthly life.
The first period of Bridget's life helps us to appreciate what today we could define an authentic "conjugal spirituality": Together, Christian spouses can follow a path of sanctity, supported by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. Not infrequently, as happened in the lives of St. Bridget and Ulf, it is the wife who with her religious sensibility, with delicacy and gentleness, is able to make the husband follow a path of faith. I am thinking, with recognition, of so many women who, day in day out, still today illumine their families with their testimony of Christian life. May the Spirit of the Lord fuel the sanctity of Christian spouses, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the values of the Gospel: love, tenderness, mutual help, fecundity in generating and educating children, openness and solidarity to the world, participation in the life of the Church.
The second period of Bridget's life began when she became a widow. She renounced further marriage to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and works of charity. Hence, Christian widows can also find in this saint a model to follow. In fact, on the death of her husband, after distributing her goods to the poor, though without ever acceding to religious consecration, Bridget established herself in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra. Here is where the divine revelations began, which were with her for the rest of her life. They were dictated by Bridget to her confessor-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in an edition of eight books entitled "Revelationes" (Revelations.) Added to the books was a supplement, entitled "Revelationes Extravagantes" (Supplementary Revelations).
St. Bridget's Revelations present a very varied content and style. At times the revelation is presented in the form of dialogue between the Divine Persons, the Virgin, the saints and also the demons; dialogues in which Bridget also intervenes. At other times, instead, it is the narration of a particular vision; and at others she narrates what the Virgin Mary revealed to her on the life and mysteries of her Son. The value of St. Bridget's Revelations, sometimes the object of doubt, was specified by the Venerable John Paul II in the letter "Spes Aedificandi": "Yet there is no doubt that the Church," wrote my beloved predecessor, "which recognized Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience." (No. 5).
In fact, reading these Revelations we are faced with many important topics. For example, the description returns frequently, with very realistic details, of the Passion of Christ, to which Bridget always had a special devotion, contemplating in it the infinite love of God for men. On the mouth of the Lord who speaks to her, she puts these words: "O, my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that, if it were possible, I would like to die many times again for each one of them, in the same way that I suffered for the redemption of all" (Revelations, Book I, c. 59). Also Mary's sorrowful maternity, which made her Mediator and Mother of Mercy, is an argument that is repeated often in the Revelations.
Receiving these charisms, Bridget was conscious of being the recipient of a gift of great predilection on the part of the Lord: "My daughter," we read in the first book of the Revelations, "I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart ... more than everything that exists in the world" (c. 1). Moreover, Bridget knew well, and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build the Church. Precisely for this reason, not a few of her revelations were directed, in the form of warnings, including severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the religious and political authorities, so that they would live their Christian life coherently; but she did this with an attitude of respect and complete fidelity to the magisterium of the Church, in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.
In 1349, Bridget left Sweden for the last time and went on pilgrimage to Rome. Not only did she wish to participate in the Jubilee of 1350, but she also wished to obtain from the Pope the approval of the rule of a religious order that she wanted to found, dedicated to the Holy Savior, and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess. This is an element that should not surprise us: In the Middle Ages there were monasteries founded with masculine and feminine branches, but with the practice of the same monastic rule, which provided for the direction of an abbess. In fact, the great Christian tradition recognizes the dignity proper to women, as well as -- taking as an example Mary, Queen of the Apostles -- her own place in the Church that, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is also important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Moreover, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect toward their specific vocation, is of great importance in today's 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 several Italian shrines, in particular to Assisi, homeland of St. Francis, to whom Bridget always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, she crowned her greatest desire: her trip to the Holy Land, where she went in the company of her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called "the friends of God."
During those years, the Pontiffs were in Avignon, far from Rome: Bridget addressed them earnestly, urging them to return to the See of Peter in the Eternal City.
She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned definitively to Rome. She was buried provisionally in the Roman church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna, but in 1374 her children Birger and Karin, took her back to her homeland, to the monastery of Vadstena, headquarters of the religious order founded by St. Bridget, which immediately enjoyed a notable expansion. In 1391, Pope Boniface IX canonized her solemnly.
Bridget's sanctity, characterized by the multiplicity of gifts and experiences that I wished to recall in this brief biographic-spiritual profile, makes her an eminent figure in the history of Europe. Coming from Scandinavia, St. Bridget attests how Christianity had permeated profoundly the life of all the peoples of this continent. 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 -- can intercede effectively before God, to obtain the much-awaited grace of the full unity of all Christians. We want to pray, dear brothers and sisters, for this same intention, which we consider so important, so that Europe will be able to be nourished from its own Christian roots, invoking the powerful intercession of St. Bridget of Sweden, faithful disciple of God, co-patroness of Europe.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today is on Saint Bridget of Sweden. Born in thirteen hundred and three, she grew up steeped in the faith. She and her husband had eight children, and dedicated themselves with great fervour to the spiritual life and their children's Christian formation. Bridget was the driving force behind her and her husband's "conjugal sanctity," and became a model for many women through the ages of how to be the spiritual centre of the family. Following her husband's death, Bridget renounced further marriage in order to deepen her union with the Lord, through prayer, penance and works of charity. She gave away her possessions and lived in a monastery. In her prayer, she experienced many intense mystical experiences. In thirteen forty-nine, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, to obtain Papal approval for a religious order of both men and women which she intended to found, and, while in Rome, she lived a life of intense apostolic prayer and activity. Bridget died in thirteen seventy-three, and was canonized eighteen years later. She is a significant reminder of a united Western Christendom, a powerful example of feminine sanctity, and was proclaimed co-Patroness of Europe by the Venerable John Paul the Second, during the great Jubilee. May her intercession help unite all Christians, and draw the people of Europe to an ever greater appreciation of their unique and invaluable Christian heritage.
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today. In particular, I extend greetings to the Bridgetine Sisters here for their General Chapter. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
Finally, I turn to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Beloved, tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Holy Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddaeus. May their glorious testimony sustain all of you in responding generously to the Lord's call.
[The Pope then made a final appeal]
In the last hours, a new terrible tsunami has struck the coasts of Indonesia, also hit by a volcanic eruption, causing numerous dead and dispersed. To the families of the victims I express my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of their dear ones and to all the Indonesian population I assure my closeness and my prayer.
I am, moreover, close to the dear population of Benin, struck by continuous floods, which have left many people homeless and in precarious hygiene-health situations. Upon the victims and upon the entire nation I invoke the blessing and comfort of the Lord.
I appeal to the international community to provide the necessary aid to alleviate the afflictions of all those who suffer because of these devastations.
[Translation by ZENIT]