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Bridget of Sweden, Marriage and Family, and the Need for Canonized Married Saints

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
8/1/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We need canonized married saints in this urgent hour. I believe that is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church is making a pastoral point of promoting the canonization of married couples at the beginning of the Third Christian millennium.

The clear teaching of the Bible, the Christian tradition and the re-emphasis of the last Council in the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, make clear - we are ALL called to holiness in life. That  is what the Catholic Church regularly refers to as a universal call to holiness. Holiness can be birthed, nurtured and matured in every state in life. It is meant to be the eternal fruit of every Christian vocation. This is why, in every age, the Church, good mother and teacher that she is, holds up for us, models to inspire us all to say "Yes" to the continual invitations of grace which are present to every Christian in their real, daily lives.  I will focus in this article on a Christian wife and mother who became the co-patroness of Europe and a wonderful saint- by living out her married vocation in the Lord. Her name is Bridget of Sweden.

St Bridget of Sweden, her husband Ulf, and all the modern Popes call Christian married couples to become the 'Sweet and Smiling Face of the Church' in this age. This is an age which is desperately in need of all kinds of saints. I suggest we particularly need examples of married, canonized Saints. That is precisely because this is an age where faithful marriage is now counter-cultural. We need examples of men and women who not only embraced it in Christ, but lived it as a but a path to heroic virtue.

St Bridget of Sweden, her husband Ulf, and all the modern Popes call Christian married couples to become the 'Sweet and Smiling Face of the Church' in this age. This is an age which is desperately in need of all kinds of saints. I suggest we particularly need examples of married, canonized Saints. That is precisely because this is an age where faithful marriage is now counter-cultural. We need examples of men and women who not only embraced it in Christ, but lived it as a but a path to heroic virtue.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On July 23d in the Roman Catholic Liturgical calendar we commemorate the life of a holy woman named Bridget of Sweden. Her life reveals several important truths. Among them, that all Christians are called to be configured to Jesus Christ and grow into His image. Next, for most of us, that is done within the very environment into which we are called. Finally, most of us are called to Christian marriage and family.

For Bridget, her life as a wife and mother provided the fertile soil for her to participate in what I call domestic kenosis and learn the way of selfless love - right there. It is vitally important - especially in an age which is rejecting the truth about marriage as between one man and one woman, intended for life, open to life and formative of family - that we have examples of married men and women who rose to great sanctity by living a true Christian vocation. That includes heroically   living marriage, motherhood and fatherhood in Jesus Christ.

We need canonized married saints in this urgent hour. I believe that is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church is making a pastoral point of promoting the canonization of married couples at the beginning of the Third Christian millennium.

For example, Louis and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, the 19th century couple who were the parents of several saints, including Therese of Lisieux, are in the process. So too, the cause of  Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, are also in the canonization process. In addition, Paquita Dominguez and Tomas Alvira, a married couple who were members of Opus Dei, with 8 children, are also in process. We need many more.

It is important to remember that the formal process of canonization is not the last word on whether a man or a woman achieved such holiness, and was so configured to Jesus Christ, that they are worthy of imitation and have a great role in the communion of saints as intercessors. Of course there are countless saints who are a part of what the author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews calls that great cloud of witnesses:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."(Hebrews 12:1-4)

The clear teaching of the Bible, the Christian tradition and the re-emphasis of the last Council in the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, make clear - we are ALL called to holiness in life. That is what the Catholic Church regularly refers to as a universal call to holiness. Holiness can be birthed, nurtured and matured in every state in life. It is meant to be the eternal fruit of every Christian vocation. This is why, in every age, the Church, good mother and teacher that she is, holds up for us, models to inspire us all to say "Yes" to the continual invitations of grace which are present to every Christian in their real, daily lives. 

I will focus in this article on a Christian wife and mother who became the co-patroness of Europe and a wonderful saint- by living out her married vocation in the Lord. Her name is Bridget of Sweden.

Luring our contemporary age into deeply destructive form of idolatry is a new golden calf around which many modern men and women now worship - the idol of unbounded choice itself. The truth is that some choices are simply wrong, like the choice of selfishness, the choice that always leads to death. The real question we should concern ourselves with in life is what we choose- and who we become through our choices

Saint John Paul II wrote frequently about of the implications of the exercise of human freedom. In one of his letters of instruction on the Christian family he wrote these insightful words in the letter he addresses to families: "History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better - but rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves - the love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God. (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)"

This conflict between two loves, this event of freedom is played in each of our lives on a daily basis. The recurring questions presented to our first parents in that Garden in Eden echo and call us to respond. How will we exercise our "freedom"? At which tree will we make our decision? Will it be the tree of disobedience and self-centeredness, where the first Adam chose against love or the tree on Golgotha's hill where the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:47), the Son of God, chose the obedience of Redemptive Love?

I use the term "Domestic Kenosis". Let me explain. Kenosis is a Greek word from the New Testament. It refers to emptying oneself of oneself in order to be filled with the life and love of God. It is a voluntary self-emptying out of love. Of course, it is Jesus who shows us the perfect way, and then makes the progress possible by grace.

It is the phrase "emptied Himself" which is the English translation of the Greek word kenosis. The choice of freely given "kenotic" - or self-emptying - love is perfectly and completely shown to us in Jesus Christ, the Servant. Paul writes to the Philippians: "Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant'' (Philippians 2:6).

The phrase "emptied Himself" is a loose translation of that Greek word "kenosis". It means to be poured out in love for the other - and to hold nothing back. This choice of self-emptying, of kenosis, demonstrated perfectly by Jesus, the act of pouring out His life, is now meant to become our choice, no matter what our state in life. It is that choice which lies at the heart of the Christian vocation. It is that choice which also leads to a life of true and authentic freedom.

We CHOOSE our future through the exercise of our freedom. In the words of the Catholic Catechism: "Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts" (CCC, n. 1749). This extraordinary "power" of choice, what philosophers sometimes call the reflexive nature of human choice, has been the subject of deep reflection in the Christian tradition. An early father of the Church opined:

"Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew.but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions." - St. Gregory of Nyssa

When we choose in a way that is contrary to Gods plan and the way of love, we sin. Sin is an abuse of the freedom to choose given to us by God (cf. CCC, n. 1730-1738). The New Testament is filled with the insight. We "become" adulterers when we look at a woman with lust (Mt. 5:28); what comes out of our "heart" (The "heart" is the biblical center where freedom is exercised, human choices are made and character formed) is what makes us "unclean" (Mk 7:14-23).

There is a self-determining character to our exercise of choice. In that sense, freedom is not free, it always costs. Our wrong choices corrupt us and enslave us. Our choices for God, for what is ture and noble and good, set us free. Christians understand the heart of that kind of choice because Divine Love became a Man like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15) and made the ultimate choice on the second tree where He emptied Himself so that we might live (see Phil 2:5-11). Because of that we have a higher obligation to continue His choice through our own poured out lives of self-gift. We also have the means, through grace.

Bridget married a man named Ulf. Together, as a fruit of their love, they had eight children. In the hearth of the home she learned the way of selfless, kenotic love. Through the real nitty-gritty stuff of family life, including the tragic loss of a child, she became so configured to Jesus Christ that she became a prophetic voice to the world of the twelfth century, addressing its leaders in a manner which led them to the way of repentance.

She and her husband faced the pressure of a tyrannical leader and the oppression of an unjust governing order. They did not compromise their faith in the face of it. In fact, their very perseverance in the fire of such hostility not only fueled their own progress in deepening conversion to Jesus Christ, but ended up changing the leader. Bridget spoke with courageous prophetic boldness to the King. He did not like it one bit. But, he went on to actually fund the later apostolic church in which Bridget became engaged.

After years learning the way of domestic holiness, what I am calling domestic kenosis, she and her husband Ulf made a pilgrimage which changed the course of their lives. After the death of her husband, Bridget went on to found an order of consecrated religious women named the Order of the Most Holy Savior or the "Bridgettines." 

Bridget had a deep interior life of prayer and lived her married, motherly and domestic life in deep communion with the Lord. She wrote down many of her revelations and inspirations. She died in Rome in 1373 while on another pilgrimage. She is the Patroness of Sweden. Saint John Paul also proclaimed her as a co-patroness of Europe and an example for the New Evangelization.

I suggest it is mistaken to focus only on the life and witness of Bridget AFTER her husband Ulf died. Their life together, as faithful spouses, parents and co-workers in the Gospel, was the fertile ground of the holiness which continued to be manifested after his death. It is also that witness which is so desperately needed in an age which is rejecting God's plan for marriage and family.

In 2012, on the commemoration of Bridget, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invited all Christian married couples to become "the sweet and smiling face of the Church" in a message which he delivered to the eleventh international meeting of the "Equipes Notre Dame" Movement meeting met in Brazil. The theme of the gathering was "Daring with the Gospel". The movement promotes conjugal spirituality and was founded in 1939 by the French priest Fr. Henri Caffarel.

The Pope called married couples to be "the best and most convincing messengers of the beauty of a love supported and nourished by the faith, a gift of God which is given to everyone abundantly and generously, so that day after day they can discover the meaning of their lives".

He reminded them that, "In our world, which is so deeply marked by individualism, activism, haste and distraction, sincere and constant dialogue between spouses is essential to avoid the emergence, development and degeneration of misunderstandings which, unfortunately, often lead to irreparable breaks which no one can then mend".

St Bridget of Sweden, her husband Ulf, and all the modern Popes call Christian married couples to become the 'Sweet and Smiling Face of the Church' in this age. This is an age which is desperately in need of all kinds of saints. I suggest we particularly need examples of married, canonized Saints. That is precisely because this is an age where faithful marriage is now counter-cultural. We need examples of men and women who not only embraced it in Christ, but lived it as a but a path to heroic virtue.

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Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate. Deacon Fournier is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Theology and Philosophy, BA), the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (Theology of Marriage and Family, MTS), and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (JD). He has completed requirements for the PhD in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America and is writing the PhD dissertation on the teaching of St. John Paul II.

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