Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Solemnity of St. Bridget of Sweden
Wisdom 7:7-14; Ps 25; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Luke 10:21-24
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Which Swede is more world famous than Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Who has more listeners than ABBA and more followers than any of our social media influencers? Who has affected more people’s everyday life worldwide than the founder of IKEA? The answer to all these questions might perhaps be a little unexpected: St. Bridget, or Birgitta, of Sweden, the 14thcentury saint.
She married very early and had eight children. When she became widow, still quite young, she decided to dedicate her life to Christ. She went to a monastery and would later found her own monastic order, “The Order of the Most Holy Saviour”, also known as the Bridgettines, still active today andrecognized by their veil being held in place by a white crown with five red dots, symbolizing the five wounds of the crucified Christ. This is a reminder of the many revelations God gave St. Bridget and that she collected in eight volumes of books; revelations in which she experienced the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in a particularly intense way.
St. Bridget’s revelations have been translated to many languages and read throughout the whole Christian world during the last 700 years. They have helped countless numbers of faithful to deepen their trust in God in difficult times and exercised influence on the development of Catholic theology.
Being such a well-known Swede, we understand why St. Bridget is one of Sweden’s patron saints, i.e. someone who particularly prays for the country that also was her home. But she is also one of the patron saints, in an exclusive group of six, of Europe, for her contributions to faith and society in all of our continent. Her religious order, originally also with a male branch, spread throughout Europe and had great impact on the continent’s religious, cultural and economic life. But above all: together with another female saint, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridget conducted a successful lobby campaign, speaking in today’s terminology, to make the Pope and the leadership of the Church move back to Rome from Avignon in southern France, where they had been residing, as prisoners of the French kings, for most of the 14thcentury.
The Pope’s move back to Rome had great political consequences in Europe of those days, contributing to a period of peace and stability between the European powers. But most importantly, it was decisive for the Catholic Church becoming what she is today, how we know her, and how her founder, Christ himself, wanted her in this regard: independent of worldly political rulers and with Popes that are spiritual leaders and not politicians. One can go on describing how important St. Bridget has been – but what does that have to do with us? What does God want to tell us, sitting here today in Stockholm 700 years later, through St. Bridget? I would like to stress two important points:
First of all, with her visions of the passion of Christ, St. Bridget gives us a counter image to the idea that suffering and evil in the world would be a proof against God’s existence. Instead, she reminds us that God through becoming man has shared the suffering that we humans cause each other; shared it with us in order to open a path out of, and beyond, it, for us. St. Bridget reminds us that Jesus Christ has liberated us from the fear of death as final end. With this fear truly gone, we can start living for real.
We also can see how experiences of pain and sorrow might make us discovering not God’s distance but his total proximity to us, and so grow in a steadfast trust that God the Father – who sees eternity, and thus “how it ends” as it were, where our sight is limited by space and time – just like he did to Jesus, will do everything well. Even if this does not happen in a way we could imagine. This trust is exactly what Jesus refers to when he praises the insight of those who are like children in our Gospel reading for today. We are called to trust God so certain as a child trusts its mum and dad. We are called always to count on love, on God’s gift of himself for our communion with him, just like a child originally counts on being loved, and only loved. As explained by our second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, this childlike attitude is paradoxically the spiritually mature, i.e. the most mature there can be.
Secondly, St. Bridget is a strong and concrete example of how decisive influence in the Church, and over other Christians, not is about being a priest standing “there in the front”, leading the celebration of the sacraments. Just like many other holy women throughout the history, St. Bridget has influenced the Church, the society and indeed history far more than most of the deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals and popes, i.e. far more than most of the men in the Church ever have done, taken together! Thus, she shows how the one who allows Jesus Christ change and transform himself or herself literally will change and transform the world; no matter status, gender or background.
In other words, if you want to influence the direction of the worldwide Church, i.e. the direction of the lives of all the faithful in the sense that they more truly turn to Christ, hundreds of years after your death, in a way that popes, bishops and priests need to adjust to and take into account – then there is one, clear way: become a saint! Not that anyone can assure of his or her canonization. But to be a saint is not about being canonized, for very few of all the saints actually are. No, to be a saint is to live a holy life, i.e. to order everything that you can influence in your life after Christ’svalues, and thus to truly know, i.e. let him help you internalize, God’s wisdom, as described by our first reading from the Book of Wisdom. Only one thing is required of you in this regard: a total surrender to God, so that everything you are and everything you do will be done to God’s greater glory. Then you will let God work entirely through you. Then you will be holy. And thus a powerful role model for all the rest of us.
Let us today particularly ask for the intercession of St. Bridget of Sweden; not only for the country and the continent that also were hers, but for us, ourselves. Let us pray in her own words, inspired by our responsorial psalm today, with the little, simple but so great prayer saying: “Lord, show me your way and make me ready to follow it.” Amen.