Hildegard, Hackeborn and Hungary

Fact: I am reading a book written by a pope on the subject of saints and it has neither put me to sleep nor made me feel woefully under-educated or intellectually lacking.

Not that anything written by any holy father has done that to be before--it's just what I assumed would happen should I, a person who knows more about Instagram than infallibility, try and be a decent Catholic who reads things written by popes. The fault lies solely with me.

But Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Holy Women has taken nap time by storm here. And I'm ever so glad.

My kind friend Anna gave it to to me as a Christmas present, and I made prompt use of it by unwrapping it, then setting it on my kitchen counter to admire (decor was not exactly the intention of the gift, I'm sure).

I checked Mansfield Park out of the library as an excuse to avoid picking up Holy Women, but after 20 pages of Fanny and Mrs. Norris, I just.. couldn't. So I dropped it back in the return box of the library and picked up the pretty book in my kitchen.

(I know. In one post I've admitted to being bored with Austen and presuming to be bored with the Pope. I'm on a roll.)

To be fair, this isn't technically a book-written-to-be-a-book by the Pope Emeritus but rather a collection of weekly general audiences he gave about five years ago. Each of the book's 17 chapters looks at a different holy woman from the last millennium, ranging from St. Hildegard of Bingen (born in 1098) to St. Therese of Lisiux (1873).

Six chapters in, I now know that St. Matilda of Hackeborn and St. Gertrude the Great (the only German woman to be called "great") both lived in the renown Monastery of Helfta and experienced decades of visions and mystic insights. Blessed Angela of Foligno married and had children, but when through tragedy and illness they all died, she sold every possession and turned to God and the Cross.

St. Clare of Assisi, the beautiful young woman who ran off in the night to join St. Francis and had her long hair chopped off by torchlight, has been my favorite to learn about thus far. Her instructions of a fellow future saint, St. Agnes of Prague, had me running for a highlighter:

"Happy, indeed, is the one permitted 
to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined 
with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ)
 whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire ... 
because the vision of him 
is the splendor of everlasting glory, 
the radiance of everlasting light, and 
a mirror without tarnish.

Look into this mirror every day, 
O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, 
and continually examine your face in it, 
so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly... 
In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, 
and charity beyond words..."

(Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903)

Many moms, myself included, make the effort to get dressed each day, to look in a mirror slap on some lipstick and mascara--it just makes a person feel better. But thanks to St. Clare I have a reminder to look in the mirror that is Christ's face and find the "poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words" and make sure that those things, along with the lipstick, are clearly visible.

Thank you, B16. Or PE-B16, rather. Either way, many, many thanks.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderfully important reminder. I have been very intimidated about reading books written by our popes as well, but I'll have to put this book on my "to read" list!