>St. Bridget of Sweden: No Shrinking Violet

>Let it never be said that The Courtier fails to provide something, whenever possible, for his dear readers’ delectation. In the middle of the night he awoke feeling rather ill, with a sore throat, headache, and achy joints, and had difficulty in getting back to sleep. Yet upon rising at his customary hour after some fitful sleep, and considering the possibility of taking a sick day, he also thought that on such a miserable Friday, the gentle reader would appreciate having something at least marginally interesting to scroll through over their morning or afternoon beverage – depending on how quiet one’s office/home happens to be.

And so it is that this writer directs your attention to the fact that today is the Feast of St. Bridget of Sweden. Though The Courtier rarely if ever needs an excuse to go into panegyrics over anything Scandinavian, despite not being of viking stock himself, today is a particularly fitting occasion on which to do so, for two reasons. First, because St. Bidget is the patron saint of Sweden, and two, thinking about Scandinavia may prove to be something of a mental air conditioner unit – all of those lovely, cool and dark forests and fjords and so on.

Catholics and others who are devotees of praying the rosary may be interested to read and reflect upon St. Bridget’s “Fifteen Prayers”, revealed to her while in Rome and approved for the use of the faithful by Blessed Pius IX. However of particular interest to a broader audience may be the work known variously as the “Liber celestis”, “Liber celestis imperatoris ad reges”, or “Tractatus de summis pontificibus”, but more commonly referred to by their Spanish title, the “Revelaciones” of St. Bridget. Belying the oft-repeated myth (typically on the Left) that medieval Europe was a place of ignorance and provincialism, the Swedish St. Bridget entrusted the editing of the revelations made to her while deep in prayer at the Basilica of St. Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls in Rome to her confessor Alfonso Pecha, a retired bishop from Spain; indeed, St. Bridget herself made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. She also spent a great deal of time, like St. Catherine of Sienna, trying to convince the Popes to leave Avignon and return to Rome – whether they wanted to hear it or not.

Because her private revelations are personal visions which St. Bridget experienced, and are not to be considered Church Dogma, the interested reader should take them with a grain of spiritual salt. However, there are many passages within them that should be profound points of reflection, in particular when one thinks of the state of Christianity today, and how tainted by moral relativism it has become. Even in St. Bridget’s day this was a problem, and her words from nearly seven centuries ago certainly ring as a call to action in our own time.

Take for example, this portion, in which the Blessed Virgin explains to St. Bridget why it is that Jesus continues to be crucified today by people within the Church itself:

But perhaps you ask: ‘How do they crucify him?’ Well, first they put him on the cross they have prepared for him. This is when they take no notice of the precepts of their Creator and Lord. Then they dishonor him when he warns them through his servants to serve him, and they despise this and do as they please.

They crucify his right hand by mistaking justice for injustice, saying: ‘Sin is not so grave and odious to God as it is said nor does God punish anyone forever, but his threats are only to scare us. Why would he redeem us if he wanted us to perish?’ They do not consider that the least little sin a person delights in is enough to send him or her to eternal punishment.

Since God does not let the least little sin go unpunished nor the least good go unrewarded, they will always have a punishment inasmuch as they have a constant intention of sinning, and my Son, who sees their heart, counts that as an act. For they would carry out their intention, if my Son permitted it.

They crucify his left hand by turning virtue into vice. They want to continue sinning until the end, saying: ‘If we say at the end, just once, “God, have mercy on me!” God’s mercy is so great that he will pardon us.’

This is not virtue, wanting to sin without making amends, wanting to get the prize without having to struggle for it, not unless there is some contrition in the heart, not unless a person really wants to mend his ways, if only he could do so were it not for illness or same other impediment.

They crucify his feet by taking pleasure in sinning without once thinking of my Son’s bitter punishment or without once thanking him from the bottom of their hearts and saying: ‘God, how bitterly you suffered! Praise be to you for your death!’ Such words never come from their lips.

The contemporary reader, if he has been paying attention to what has been going on in society in general over the past several decades, will no doubt be astounded in reading this passage to recognize the splintering and cracking of the universal Church, in part because of a substantial movement since the 1960’s to declare sin not to be sinful.

In naming St. Bridget as one of the six patron saints of Europe, Pope John Paul II wrote that:

She spoke unabashedly to princes and pontiffs, declaring God’s plan with regard to the events of history. She was not afraid to deliver stern admonitions about the moral reform of the Christian people and the clergy themselves (cf. Revelations, IV, 49; cf. also IV, 5)…Yet there is no doubt that the Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience. She stands as an important witness to the place reserved in the Church for a charism lived in complete docility to the Spirit of God and in full accord with the demands of ecclesial communion. In a special way too, because the Scandinavian countries from which Bridget came were separated from full communion with the See of Rome during the tragic events of the 16th century, the figure of this Swedish saint remains a precious ecumenical “bridge”, strengthened by the ecumenical commitment of her order.

Because Sweden has been Lutheran-Calvinist for such a long time, it is very easy to forget that it had a Catholic past which is still very much visible in its architecture and customs. Yet because of immigration from other parts of Europe and the rest of the world, the number of Catholics in Sweden is growing. With the passage of time, it may be that native Swedes themselves may want to reconsider their views on the Catholic Church and to come home to it; such a dream is by no means outside the realms of possibility. After all, did any of us think we would live to see the day when so many Anglicans would be coming home?

In an age when few Catholics anymore feel sufficiently convicted to call a spade a spade, perhaps the example of this strong and unafraid woman whose memory we honor today will inspire not only her countrymen but also many of us to witness to truth, rather than to remain silent.


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