St Bridget

Widow, Foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Savior (entered heaven this day in 1373)

Dear Birgitta,

As you say, following Christ is onerous indeed (that’s why so few people do it), especially in the middle of the summer when you have spent the last seven weeks giving in to your selfish desires for pleasure and comfort more and more.  To follow Christ we must take up our cross every day – he said so himself (see Luke 9:23, if you doubt me). That means we have to do what is pleasing to God even when it is far from pleasing to us. Responsibility, charity, patience, kindness to people we don’t like, chastity, temperance (that means avoiding extremes in food and drink, in case you had forgotten), prayer, Sunday Mass – heavy burdens every one, if you try to do them all by yourself.  And that’s your problem. You have let your faith degenerate into a routine, into a few behavioral formulas. Your heart is not in it anymore; you have let the devil make you forget that following Christ is about following Christ, not following rules. Jesus Christ is a person. You get to know him. (He is alive, by the way.) He knows you, he addresses you, he invites you, he accompanies you. The more you get to know him (especially in heartfelt prayer – not empty formulas, but conversation from the depths of your soul), the more you come to perceive his beauty, his strength, his passion, and the more you love him.  And when you start to love him, say goodbye to onerous Christianity. Today’s saint understood this.

Bridget was a Swedish noblewoman who married when she was 14 (common practice back then).  They had eight children (one of whom has also been canonized, St Catherine of Sweden), and Bridget spent most of her young life as a lady in waiting to the young queen of Sweden, Blanche of Namur.  These were hard years for her, since both the king and queen were lukewarm Christians (they too thought our Lord’s demands “onerous”) and remained impervious to her energetic efforts and prayers for their conversion, even when God repeatedly granted her visions in order to verify her entreaties (such visions continued on throughout her life).  After her husband died, Bridget entered the cloister and dedicated herself to serving God instead of King Magnus. A few years later, she founded her own religious house and drafted a rule for a new religious order, still in existence today. She continued to stay heavily involved in public affairs, however, chastising kings and nobles (and even popes), inviting moral reforms among the people, and serving the poor and sick.  She was so well-loved that when she departed on a pilgrimage to Rome (whence she did not return alive), the people of Sweden wept. Upon arriving in the Eternal City and continuing her life of service and prophecy, she won equal esteem (and equal conversion) from the dissolute Romans (as well as calumny from enemies who resented her rebukes and reforms). A pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she was blessed with special visions of the events of our Lord’s life as she passed through the location where each one took place, preceded her final days in Rome, where she passed away at age 71.

Europe was never the same after this Swedish widow helped to rekindle in its heart that burning love for the Lord that alone brings Christian habits to life.  For that, she was recently named co-patroness of the continent. The engine which drove her every effort, perhaps her every breath, was nothing more (and nothing less) than a personal, passionate love for Jesus Christ.  She learned this love at the foot of the crucifix, the school of love. Once, after hearing a sermon as a child, she seemed to see Jesus hanging from the cross, and she thought she heard him say, “Look upon me, my daughter.”  She looked, and responded, “Alas, who has treated you thus?” It seemed that he answered, “They who despise me, and spurn my love for them.” It was love that was her secret, and she learned it from Love himself. Perhaps that’s why one of the newest statues in the Vatican depicts St Bridget holding her crucifix.

And, my dear niece, if they were to make a statue of you, what would you be holding?

Love, Uncle Eddy

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