Ever Think You Were Not Making a Difference?
St. Bridget was not "successful" in her day.
By Jennie Guinn, Spiritual Chair
It is a common belief that saints are extraordinary people who do amazing things. Things that seem impossible for ordinary people like you and me. It is easy to think that the path to sainthood includes countless miracles, triumphs and victories.
In the month of July, we celebrate the feast day of St. Bridget of Sweden. She was born into a noble family in the 1300s. She married at a young age and gave birth to eight children. Bridget and her husband, Ulf, were devout Catholics. They prayed together and spent much time caring for the poor and sharing their faith with those in their community.
St. Bridget appeared to live an ordinary life as she looked for ways to serve God. The truth is that she could be called the Patroness of Failures. St. Bridget has a long and unsuccessful past. In fact, as you read about her life you see a string of failures and tragedies versus successes.
Tragedy and pain were a normal part of Bridget’s life. Her mother died when she was a young child, so she and her siblings were sent to live with their aunt. Bridget’s beloved husband, Ulf, died suddenly leaving her a widow in a country far from their home. In the pain of her losses and being homesick, Bridget had visions of a man of sorrows. In these vivid dreams of Jesus, she was able to relate to the immense pain that he felt. These visions impacted and guided Bridget for the rest of her life.
It is recorded that she had a vision of Jesus on the cross and heard him say, “Look at me, my daughter."
"Who has treated you like this?" cried Bridget. Jesus answered, "Those who despise me and refuse my love for them.” From that moment on, Bridget tried to stop people from offending Jesus.
Bridget’s piety allowed her to connect with Jesus in a deep and intimate way. She could hear his voice calling her to step out in faith. At 41 years of age, God called Bridget to found a religious order for women. She had a desire in her heart to become a nun. God showed her the abbey he wanted her to build, how he wanted the order to be organized and the specific type of clothing he wanted the nuns to wear. As Bridget began working to create this vision, God called her away from this unfinished project to go to Rome and see the Pope.
When Bridget arrived in Rome, she realized that the Pope was in France. God used her time in Rome to evangelize and reform the church, but the Pope never returned to Rome during her time there.
At the end of her life, St. Bridget took a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. As she walked from shrine to shrine, she had visions of what Jesus had said and done in each place. All of her writings on the sufferings and death of Jesus were published after her death.
Her life was not one of comfort and success. In fact, nothing she set out to accomplish happened in her lifetime. She never became a nun, she didn’t complete the building of the abbey, she never met the Pope, her writings seemed insignificant at the time, and she never made it back to her home, Sweden. The lesson that we can learn from St. Bridget is that God’s plans and dreams are always more intricate than one can ever imagine!
St. Bridget died in Rome on July 23, 1373. She was proclaimed a saint by Pope Boniface IX in 1391. Her string of failures became huge successes in God's time. The abbey that she started was completed and the order of nuns is known as the Birgittines. They can be found in several different countries. Pope John Paul II declared her the patroness of Europe and called her a model for today’s woman. Her life and her writings are a powerful witness to the Gospel while reflecting the goodness and mercy of God. She received divinely inspired messages from God the Father, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and countless saints for a period of 30 years. St. Bridget’s legacy is one of living the Gospels and going where God leads, even when it doesn’t make sense at the time.