23 July. St Bridget of Sweden, Patron of Europe
1st Reading: 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
Bridget of Sweden was a woman of great compassion for the poor. Born as Birgitta Birgersdotter, in Uppland, Sweden, in 1303, she lived as a wife and mother, then later as a nun and a mystic. She went on pilgrimage to Rome in the Jubilee Year of 1350, to seek papal approval for the new Order she had founded, and remained there until her Rule was confirmed in 1370. She died in Rome in 1373.
After the death (1344) of her husband, Gudmarsson, to whom she had borne eight children, Bridget founded the Bridgettines nuns, with whom she devoted herself to prayer and works of charity. She is one of the six patron saints of Europe, along with Benedict of Nursia, Cyril and Methodius, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein. In a homily on her feast, pope emeritus Benedict XVI told how Bridget exercised a very positive influence on her own family which, thanks to her presence, became a veritable “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.
Pope Benedict’s homily describes the first period of Bridget’s life as illustrating an authentic conjugal spirituality, wherein the spouses followed a path of sanctity, supported by the grace of the sacrament of marriage. He observes how a wife, with her religious sensibility, delicacy and gentleness, can help the husband follow a path of faith. “We think 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 couples, showing the world the beauty of a 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 in her widowhood, when she renounced further marriage to focus more fully on the Lord through prayer, penance and works of charity. On the death of her husband, after distributing her goods to the poor, though without formally consecrating herself by vows, Bridget lived 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 her to her confessor-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in an edition of eight books entitled “Revelations.”
In 1349, Bridget went on pilgrimage to Rome to join in the Jubilee Year of 1350 and to obtain papal approval for the rule of the religious order she wanted to found, made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess. Christian tradition recognizes the dignity proper to women, without, as yet at least, admitting them to the ordained priesthood. Coming from Scandinavia, Bridget attests how Christianity had permeated profoundly to the far north of Europe. Declaring her co-patroness of Europe, Pope John Paul hoped that she, who lived in the 14th century before Western Christianity was divided by the Reformation, can be a powerful intercessor for the reunion of all Christians. “May Europe will be nourished from its own Christian roots, invoking the powerful intercession of St Bridget, faithful disciple of God, co-patroness of Europe.”