I was in 8th grade when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation. During the preparation process you are supposed to choose a patron saint, and I was having trouble picking one. I grew up reading about the saints but no particular one was really sticking out to me. If it were now, I probably would have picked St. Paul or St. Philip Neri, or maybe even Zelie Martin. But at the time, I chose St. Bridget of Sweden.
What did I know about her? Not all that much. (Keep in mind, this was before the wealth of information on the internet.) I’d love to be able to go to back in time and read my essay on why I chose her. I knew she was of royal blood, that she was married, and that she had 8 kids. I knew that she started a religious order after her kids were older and her husband had died, and that one of her children was also canonized.
Growing up, just about all the saints in my “Children’s Book of Saints” were in some religious order. While I couldn’t articulate it well at the time, I think I chose St. Bridget because she was a mother, and she literally raised saints. As a 14 year old who was only starting to pray and read the bible on my own, I somehow instinctively felt like holiness should be for everybody and not just an elite few nuns and priests. I wanted to know that sainthood could be for married people too, and I think that’s why I chose her. Also, Bridget is a pretty cool name (I was 14).
In the next few years, I started to learn more about her. Someone had given me a little blue “Pieta” book of prayers, and I learned about her devotion to the passion of Christ and how she often meditated on Jesus’ suffering. Her desire was to help people stop offending Jesus. I remember sitting on my top bunk in the bedroom that I shared with my sister and reading St. Bridget’s prayers on the passion of Christ. I felt the immensity of his pain and my sins, and I had this presentiment that I was going to die before I was 16. My newfound love of Christ was so strong that I wanted to be ready for that.
I entered high school, and would mentally make note of how many times God’s name was said in vain and try to say a Hail Mary for each time. It didn’t last too long because I lost track of how many Hail Mary’s I needed to say (and I also needed to pay attention in class). Now I look back and see that the quantity wasn’t as important as the quality and sincerity with which I prayed.
Well, age 16 came and went and I didn’t die. While I was wrong about that, I do think during that time of deep conversion for me that there were things I did need to die to. I also think that through St. Bridget’s patronage Jesus wanted me to know that lay people can indeed become holy, too.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shares this same sentiment about St. Bridget when he said, “This first period of Bridget’s life helps us to appreciate what today we could describe as an authentic ‘conjugal spirituality’: together, Christian spouses can make a journey of holiness sustained by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage.”
Now as an adult and a mother of four children, I’m appreciating new things about my Confirmation saint, such as the love she devoted to her husband and children and how hard it must have been to be a widow to 8 kids at the age of 41. I admire her great charity towards the poor even in the midst of raising her own children.
I am realizing how marriage is truly a journey of holiness, and how much I need the grace of Matrimony to become more loving and more generous.
The other thing I have been pondering in my heart is her obedience to the will of the Lord, even though in the second half of her life that meant leaving Sweden and speaking up about moral reform to the highest ranking of the Church. Because of this, many loved her but it seems that just as many despised her. She went to confession every day, though, and always had a smile on her face.
Well, if I could always have a smile on my face while raising half as many children as she did, that’d be a great start! But it’s this commentary on her life from www.catholic.org that I feel like I can relate to the most:
“Birgitta left Sweden at the end of 1349 never to return. For the rest of her life she saw visions concerning the reform of the Church, messages to kings and popes and many other persons in high places, directing them to work for the Church. It may be noted that Birgitta never wrote in the first person. She always said the she carried a message from a very High Lord. Although she had longed to become a nun, she never even saw the monastery in Vadstena. In fact, nothing she set out to do was ever realized. She never had the pope return to Rome permanently, she never managed to make peace between France and England, she never saw any nun in the habit that Christ had shown her, and she never returned to Sweden but died, worn out old lady far from home in July 1373. She can be called the Patroness of Failures. In this she was like her Lord. He was also classed as failure as He hung on the Cross. Birgitta was a successful failure as she was canonized in 1391.”
Every day there is something about motherhood that make me feel like a failure. Chores on my to-do list that never got accomplished, a moment to evangelize that I let slip by, or a promise to not yell at my kids that didn’t last long. Yet if I strive to be obedient to the Lord in each of these moments, I can be a successful failure too by sharing in Christ’s sufferings. I don’t have to be a religious nun to do that because holiness is for everyone, even married people.
St. Bridget of Sweden, Patroness of Failures, pray for us.