23rd of July (Wednesday) St Bridget of Sweden, Patron of Europe
Saint Bridget of Sweden.
Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) was a mystic and saint, famous for her works of charity and founder of the Bridgettines nuns after the death of her husband, Gudmarsson, to whom she had borne eight children. She is one of the six patron saints of Europe, along with Benedict of Nursia, Cyril and Methodius, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein.
1) Galatians 2:19-20.
(“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”)
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Gospel: John 15:1-8.
(Christ is the vine; we are the branches.)
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Bridget’s wide life-experience
St Bridget of Sweden, co-patroness of Europe, was born in 1303, in Sweden, which had received the faith three centuries earlier with the same enthusiasm with which Bridget received it from her parents, who were of noble families close to the reigning House.
In a homily on her feast, pope emeritus Benedict XVI told how Bridget, “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 illustrates 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, can help the husband follow a path of faith. I am thinking gratefully of so many women who 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 by 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 “Revelations.”
“Bridget was conscious of receiving a gift of great predilection on the part of the Lord: “My daughter,” He said, “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 join 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.
Bridget’s sanctity, characterized by the multiplicity of gifts and experiences that I wished to recall in this brief 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, faithful disciple of God, co-patroness of Europe.