St. Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is July 23rd, was a 14th century mystic who strongly influenced Christian spirituality and art, She was a woman who challenged the powerful of her day, first the court of Sweden and later the papal court in Rome.
Born into an influential Swedish family with ties to the royal court. Bridget married Ulf Gudmarrson when she was 14. They had 8 children, one of whom is also honored as a saint, Catherine of Sweden. Bridget was known for the care she took of the sick in her neighborhood. She brought her children with her on her visits, to teach them this work of mercy.
As a child of 10 Bridget was attracted to the mystery of the Passion of Jesus and that mystery inspired her prayer and spirituality ever afterwards. Her deep understanding of his mystery made her fearless in challenging injustice when she saw it. Bridget protested the wanton living of Swedish royalty and its uncaring attitude towards the poor. After her husband’s death in 1334 Bridget founded a religious community, continuing to speak out fearlessly against the lifestyle and privileges of the powerful.
In 1350 Bridget went to Rome to gain approval for her Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Brigittines. There she was inspired to confront the papacy. The pope , fearing the turmoil in the Papal States, had fled to in Avignon in France. Bridget strongly urged him to return to Rome. The pope was a shepherd, she said, who should be with his sheep, especially in times of turmoil.
Bridget’s prayers and revelations, widely circulated in her time, were reminders of what Jesus said and did, especially the example he gave in his Passion. She inspired people to meditate on the mysteries of Christ and gain wisdom from them.
She also inspired artists in their portrayals of the mysteries of Christ. An example is her vision of Mary and Joseph adoring the Child lying on the ground; by his Incarnation he made this world his home. Previously, Mary was portrayed at the crib, lying down after giving birth. Now she joins Joseph, the shepherds (humanity) and the earth itself adoring the Word made flesh.
Bridget also inspired the portrayal of Mary holding the body of Jesus after his crucifixion and the devotion of the Pieta. Holding him then, she recalls holding him at his birth in Bethlehem, Bridget says.
In 1371, Bridget and some of her family went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her vivid accounts from there further stimulated the religious imagination of her contemporaries. On July 23, 1373 she died in Rome. Bridget is a patron of Sweden and of Europe.
The church always needs strong women like Bridget, firm in faith and unafraid to speak out. Society too needs women like her in politics and business to steer its course into the future.
Prayer of St. Bridget
Jesus, true and fruitful Vine! Remember the abundant outpouring of blood shed from your sacred body as juice from grapes in a wine press. From your side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, blood and water poured out until there was not left in your body a single drop.
Through your bitter Passion and your precious blood poured out, receive my soul when I come to die. Amen.
O good Jesus! Pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love will be my bread day and night; may I be converted entirely to you, may my heart be your home, may my conversation please you, may I merit heaven at the end of my life and be with you and your saints, to praise you forever. Amen