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Memorial of St. Hildegard of Bingen

by Sep 17, 2021Friar Reflection

Today is the Memorial of St. Hildegard of Bingen. From the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear

Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away

A very appropriate selection for this Rhineland saint.

Abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian—where to begin in describing this remarkable woman? Born into a noble family, she was instructed for ten years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta. When Hildegard was 18, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Saint Disibodenberg. Ordered by her confessor to write down the visions that she had received since the age of three, Hildegard took ten years to write her Scivias (Know the Ways). Pope Eugene III read it, and in 1147, encouraged her to continue writing. Her Book of the Merits of Life and Book of Divine Works followed. She wrote over 300 letters to people who sought her advice; she also composed short works on medicine and physiology, and sought advice from contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Hildegard’s visions caused her to see humans as “living sparks” of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. Sin destroyed the original harmony of creation; Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection opened up new possibilities. Virtuous living reduces the estrangement from God and others that sin causes. Like all mystics, Hildegard saw the harmony of God’s creation and the place of women and men in that.

It was from that unquenchable, blazing fire that Hildegard confronted Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for supporting at least three anti-popes. She challenged the Cathars, who rejected the Catholic Church claiming to follow a more pure Christianity. And that fire was evident on 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.

May our love for God be as unquenchable.

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