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Thursday, 7 July 2011

Patrons of Europe: Rediscovering Christian Heritage

Over the next few weeks we shall celebrate the feasts of three patrons of Europe: St Benedict (11th July), St Bridget of Sweden (23rd July) and St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (9th August). Each of these saints, who take us from the fifth to the 20th century, had a deep love for the Scriptures.
The ‘Rule’ of St Benedict is punctuated by references to the Scriptures. In the Prologue we read: ‘The Lord in the gospel teaches us when he says:

I shall liken anyone who hears my words and carries them out in deed to one who is wise enough to build on a rock; then the floods came and the winds blew and struck that house but it did not fall because it was built on the rock.”
It is in the light of that teaching that the Lord waits for us every day to see if we will respond by our deeds, as we should to his holy guidance.’

In the final chapter of his ‘Rule’ Benedict asks: What page, what saying from the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is not given us by the authority of God as reliable guidance for our lives on earth?’
St Bridget of Sweden founded the Bridgettine order in about 1350. The order was dedicated to the Passion of Christ. Each convent was to have attached to it a community of canons to act as chaplains, all under the government of the abbess. The members of the order are allowed one luxury, that they like for study. While the sisters were enclosed and dedicated to scholarship and the study of the word of God, the fathers were preachers and missionaries of that word.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) gives a powerful witness to the importance of the word of God because of her Jewish roots. Edith was born in Germany in 1891 into an observant Jewish family. After a period of unbelief in 1922 she embraced the Carmelite order. She moved to the Netherlands to be safe from Nazi persecution, but because she was Jewish she was arrested and taken with her sister Rosa and many other Catholic Jews from the Netherlands to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, were she died in the gas chambers in 1942.
It was Blessed John Paul II who canonized Saint Teresa Benedicta in 1998. In his homily he said: ‘Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached. She understood that it was very important for her ‘to be a daughter of the chosen people and to belong to Christ not only spiritually, but also through blood’.’
Blessed John Paul II has already named Saints Cyril and Methodius as new patrons of Europe, alongside Saint Benedict, in 1980 in order to represent the countries of the East. In 1999, at the opening Mass of a special Synod of Sweden and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, along with Catherine of Siena, to this list of patrons. The document produced in the wake of the Synod is entitled ‘Ecclesia in Europa’. It takes as its theme ‘Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, the source of hope for Europe’.
The teaching of ‘Ecclesia in Europa’ is just as relevant some 10 years later. Europe needs to rediscover its spiritual heritage in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It needs to rediscover the power of the word of God.
Towards the end of the document (paragraphs 120- 121) Pope John Paul addresses a series of imperatives to Europe in the following words:

‘Europe, as you stand at the beginning of the third millennium, open the doors to Christ! Be yourself! Rediscover your origins! Relive your roots! Down the centuries you have received the treasure of Christian faith. It has grounded your life as a society on principles drawn from the Gospel, and traces of this are evident in the art, literature, thought and culture of your nations. But this heritage does not belong just to the past; it is a project in the making, to be passed on to future generations, for it has indelibly marked the life of the individuals and peoples who together have forged the continent of Europe.

Do not be afraid! The Gospel is not against you, but for you. This is confirmed by the fact that Christian inspiration is capable of transforming political, cultural and economic groupings into a form of coexistence in which all Europeans will feel at home and will form a family of nations from which other areas of the world can draw fruitful inspiration.

Be confident! In the Gospel, which is Jesus, you will find the sure and lasting hope to which you aspire. This hope is grounded in the victory of Christ over sin and death. He wishes this victory to be your own, for your salvation and your joy.

Be certain! The Gospel of hope does not disappoint! Throughout the vicissitudes of your history, yesterday and today, it is the light which illumines and directs your way; it is the strength which sustains you in trials; it is the prophecy of a new world; it is the sign of a new beginning; it is the invitation to everyone, believers and non-believers alike, to blaze new trails leading to a ‘Europe of the spirit’, in order to make the continent a true ‘common home filled with the joy of life.’
Fr Adrian Graffy recalls the creation of new patrons of Europe by Blessed John Paul II and his deep desire that Europe should receive new life and hope and recover its Christian roots.
The beautiful painting by John Armstrong of Our Lady protecting Europe illustrates the Christian roots of Europe, and shows Our Lady surrounded by six patron saints of Europe: SS Cyril and Methodius , St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St Benedict, St Bridget of Sweden, and St Catherine of Siena. Robert Schumann, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, looks on. St Benedict offers the monastery of Canterbury to the Blessed Virgin and St Cyril writes of the conversion of the Slavs.

1 comment:

  1. Great lines, "The teaching of ‘Ecclesia in Europa’ is just as relevant some 10 years later. Europe needs to rediscover its spiritual heritage in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It needs to rediscover the power of the word of God."

    This should also apply universally for all Catholics to read and share.

    Thanks for such an awesome piece.