Mother of eight children (including St. Catherine of Sweden), widow, nun, founder of a religious order, noblewoman, giver of alms, critic of kings and popes, pilgrim, mystic, patroness of Europe, and much more – such was saint Bridget of Sweden who died on July 23, 1373. She is an example of a woman saint, like her contemporary St. Catherine of Siena, who does not fit into an image of pious submissive women.
A mystic, she was outspoken against the evils she saw around her – including injustice, wars, and immorality.
A devout founder of the Brigittines, the Order of the Most Holy Savior, she had no qualms in criticizing the popes for abandoning Rome for Avignon. She called Pope Clement VI “a destroyer of souls, worse than Lucifer, more unjust than Pilate, and more merciless than Judas.” Though he didn’t returned to Rome, her order was approved.
A critic of political leaders intent on war and land grabs, she was also, as Margery Kempe said of her, “kind and meek to every creature” who had “a laughing face.”
She received intense revelations of the sufferings of Christ and she suffered in Rome impoverished by her sharing with the poor.
Her life seems full of contradictions or paradoxes.
How could she ever have done all this?
I think the answer lies in this statement of hers:
The poor of the earth have need of a triple mercy: sorrow for their sins, penance to atone them, and strength to do good.
Her love of the God of mercy moved her to respond as she heard God’s call, even though it caused her great suffering. Identifying with the suffering Christ, she could live freely, responding to God’s call in many different ways.
May God grant me that freedom.