A Saint Married to a Saint Saint Birgitta of Sweden — a wife, mother, and widow — is co–patroness of Europe together with our father Saint Benedict, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her feast, falling as it does this year in the middle of the Synod on the Family in Rome, carries a compelling message. Apart from being a saint herself, Birgitta was happily married to a saint, and was the mother of saint. Pope Benedict XVI spoke eloquently of Saint Birgitta's family life at a General Audience on 27 October 201o:
Her husband was called Ulf and he was Governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted for 28 years, until Ulf's death. Eight children were born, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as a Saint. . . . Bridget, who was given spiritual guidance by a learned religious who initiated her into the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her family which, thanks to her presence, became a true “domestic church”.
Together with her husband she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She generously practiced works of charity for the poor; she also founded a hospital. At his wife's side Ulf's character improved and he advanced in the Christian life. On their return from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which they made in 1341 with other members of the family, the couple developed a project of living in continence; but a little while later, in the tranquillity of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf's earthly life ended.
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. It is often the woman, as happened in the life of St Bridget and Ulf, who with her religious sensitivity, delicacy and gentleness succeeds in persuading her husband to follow a path of faith.
Pope Benedict XVI went on to say:
I am thinking with gratitude of the many women who, day after day, illuminate their families with their witness of Christian life, in our time too. May the Lord's Spirit still inspire holiness in Christian spouses today, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived in accordance with the Gospel values: love, tenderness, reciprocal help, fruitfulness in begetting and in raising children, openness and solidarity to the world and participation in the life of the Church.
Holy Matrimony On 18 October next, at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Louis and Zélie Martin will be canonised. Like Ulf and Birgitta in the 14th century, Louis and Zélie Martin were sanctified in and by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. If the Fathers of the Synod currently taking place in Rome should discuss anything, it is this: holiness in and by the Sacrament of Matrimony and family life.
Mercy and Compunction It is not enough to speak only of mercy; mercy is given, and given superabundantly, in order to sweep us upward into a blaze of holiness. And holiness never comes cheaply. All holiness is purchased with the currency of suffering, with tears of compunction, and with repentance.
A Pilgrimage Amidst Darkness and Storms The Collect for today makes us ask that, by the intercession of Saint Birgitta, we may rejoice and be glad in the revelation of the glory of God in heaven. The revelation of the glory of God begins, here and now, in the obscurity of faith. "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face." (1 Corinthians 13:12) The vocation of the Catholic husband and wife is to hold each other by the hand as, together, they make the pilgrimage of faith amidst the darkness and storms of this valley of tears. Saints Birgitta and Ulf, pray for all families. Saints Birgitta and Ulf, pray for the Fathers of the Synod. Saints Birgitta and Ulf, pray for Scandinavia.