St. Mary Magdalene and St. Bridget of Sweden represent perhaps the widest spectrum for female saints. St. Mary Magdalene was considered a harlot, a woman who was possessed of demons. It was only because she lived in a gentile town that she had not yet been stoned to death, the punishment for such sins for Jews. By contrast, St. Bridget of Sweden was a virtuous wife and mother.
Yet these women show us much about how to live lives that lead us to become counted among the company of the blessed. For such should be our life’s ambitions. Nothing less fulfils the high promise of our baptism.
St. Mary Magdalene
She was a Jew living in exile in the gentile town of Magdala, five miles south of Capernaun, where Jesus’ ministry thrived. Magdala was a thriving port, near the summer residence of King Herod. In an era when women were completely identified by the husband they married and by the children they bore, Mary Magdalene had no husband or children. Other accounts suggest that Mary was identified as Magdalene because this means “curling the hair,” a term identified with adulteresses. All accounts confirm that Jesus healed her of seven demons.
The next we hear of St. Mary Magdalene, she is sitting at Jesus’ feet, having been forgiven, and washing his feet with her hair, mixed with tears and expensive perfumes. Her sister, Martha, is furious because Mary’s not helping serve the guests. But Jesus reminds Martha that Mary “has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke:10:42)
Mary Magdalene was there when Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. She stood at the foot of the Cross at the Lord’s Crucifixion. She was among the first to whom the Lord revealed his Resurrection, speaking to her in the form of the gardener. She pronounced to the others: He is Risen. She walked with Our Blessed Mother amidst her sorrows.
Fourteen years after the Crucifixion, legend has it that Mary Magdalene was put in a boat, along with her sister, Martha, her brother, Lazarus, and the body of St. Anne, the Blessed Mother’s mother, along with a few other notable Christians. Accounts say the Jews pushed the boat off, without sail or oars, and this blessed company landed in southern France. Mary Magdalene lived as a contemplative hermit in a cave at Sainte Baume, where she survived on the Eucharist brought daily to her by angels for 30 years.
St. Maxim, who had baptized Mary Magdalene, served a Christian community nearby. Mary Magdalene was transported miraculously to his chapel to receive Last Rites, just before she died at age 72.
Mary Magdalene’s life provides us with a pattern to emulate:
- She converted from sinfulness to holiness.
- She devoted herself wholly and courageously to the Lord.
- She lived a life of passionate witness and abiding love for the Lord.
Add this prayer to St. Mary Magdalene to your prayers:
Saint Mary Magdalene,
woman of many sins, who by conversion
became the beloved of Jesus,
thank you for your witness
that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.
You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that some day
I may share in the same everlasting joy.
St. Bridget of Sweden
St. Bridget lived more than 1300 years after those like Mary Magdalene, who walked with Jesus. Bridget was raised in a royal Swedish family, devout in practice: Daily Eucharist, Friday Confession, and frequent pilgrimages. She married at age 13, and raised eight children to full adulthood (miraculous in that time period), with a husband she loved. Women praying for their infants to survive often call upon St. Bridget’s intercession.
At a young age she had a dream about a sorrowing man, whom she came to know was Jesus. Her husband nearly died on a pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela , wherea bishop miraculously appeared amidst her all-night prayer vigil, and saved his life. The Revelations and Prophesies of St. Bridget were recorded, and can be purchased in book form.
Years later, after her husband died, she set out to found a religious community, with a land-grant from the King. She had all the pieces arranged, and a clear plan worked out, when Our Lord came to her and told her to go to Rome to call the Pope back from France. This was during the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, when the King of France held the Pope in Avignon.
What seems ironic about this great saint’s life is that she failed to achieve any of the goals she sought. She never returned to Sweden, and she never got her order up and running, though this was achieved after her death and beatification: the Ordo Sanctissimi Salvatoris. She never got the Pope back to Rome, though she died having shared letters with the powerful, filled with messages from Our Lord. She always wrote in the third person, only claiming to share what Our Lord wished told, not her own thoughts.
She was known as the Patroness of Failure, because of all that was left undone in her life. Yet, what a pattern for us to relate to and emulate:
- She devoted herself to her state in life: as wife, mother and obedient Christian.
- She sought to do all that she felt the Lord called her to do.
- She did not measure her life by success, but by faithful effort.
Lessons for Women Today
In this season of Ordinary Time, when we are reminded to reflect on how we order our days to the Lord, and when our Church provides us with extraordinary feasts and saints, Sts Mary Magdalene and Bridget stand back-to-back in the Liturgical Year, though 1300+ years separate them in history.
We are reminded that the measure of our virtue as women is in our relationship to Our Lord. Whether we begin in abject sinfulness, like St. Mary Magdalene, or in virtuous Christian womanhood, like St. Bridget, it is all the same before the Lord.
We each are given a measure in which we are to order our days. We are asked to turn toward the Lord, whether this requires a 360 degree turn or a slight shift in focus. We must remain open to the unfolding mystery of the Lord’s plan for our lives. Our lives are meant for His glory, and we must be open to see where the Lord will take us, day-by-day and in the course of our whole lives. In the end, we will not be measured by our successes, but by our steadfast perseverance.
Because St. Bridget of Sweden is the Patroness of Europe, see Pope Benedict XVI’s concerns about the de-Christianization of Europe, and add St. Bridget to these prayer requests.