Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
We are called to be saints
(or, Hedwig is more than just an owl)
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Oct. 26, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
I didn’t think to bring tissues. After all, it was a happy occasion. My friend Anna Keim would profess her first vows as a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. But as she approached the alter carrying her vow candle, tears filled my eyes. Her faith touched me deeply.
The Mass included a reading from the Acts of the Sisters of the Holy Names: “We dare to dance from indifference to love, from division to communion, from fragmentation to wholeness. We dare to dance justice in the face of oppression, reverence in the face of exploitation, beauty in the face of brokenness, tenderness in the face of violence. And in the face of doubt and death, we dance our belief in the living God.”
Anna’s profession before God, Community, family and friends aroused the desire in my heart to live strongly committed to the Gospel. Then I thought, “Hey, I have made vows like Anna’s.” In marriage, couples promise to live this same holiness. Whatever our situation in life, through baptism, we are called to this same dance.
It’s tempting to think we are not called to be saintly. Maybe because the ways many of the saints in history lived seem extreme and foreign. A little digging is necessary to find our common ground with saints.
I discovered St. Hedwig (Feast Day, Oct. 15) an example for modern families, and not just because she shares her name with Harry Potter’s owl. Born to a noble family in Bavaria in 1174, Hedwig married the Duke of Silesia, Henry I, at the age of 12. In some ways, her life was quite different than ours. But she faced some of the same challenges as modern women. She married, bore children, advised her husband, had her own ideas, and refereed fights between her sons.
Hedwig and Henry I are known for establishing hospitals, monasteries and the first school for young women in Silesia, today a region split between Poland and Germany. At one point, the couple sold all the gold and silver in their house in order to help the poor. Henry was considered a wise ruler and known to rely on the judgment of Hedwig. The couple had a strong marriage and raised seven children.
Parents who struggle with rivalry between their children may take heart when they hear the story of Hedwig and her sons Henry and Conrad. In 1212, the duke divided his estates between the two. They quarreled over the land and declared war on each other. Hedwig’s efforts to reconcile them failed, though she was known for her ability as a peacemaker. When young Henry defeated Conrad, Hedwig did not give up, and years later reunited Conrad with the family.
After Hedwig’s husband died, she lived in the convent of the Cistercian nuns at Trebnitz, which her husband had founded. There she dedicated herself to prayer and service to the poor and sick. Hedwig never actually joined the Cistercian order, wanting to keep control of her wealth and make sure it was spent helping the needy.
St. Hedwig’s mortifications might be considered unhealthy today. Living in the convent, she grew so thin and weak from fasting that people were amazed she could continue her work. Whenever she saw a person barefoot, Hedwig gave away her shoes, often returning with her own feet bleeding from her missions to aid lepers, prisoners and orphans. After the birth of her last child, she and Henry had agreed to live celibate for the rest of their lives, a vow we might consider strange today.
When I heard Sister Anna vow chastity, poverty and obedience, I was inspired to re-imagine these commitments. We can choose to act radically different from the cultural norms just as Hedwig did. We can live chastity by loving our spouse more. We can embrace a spirit of poverty by refusing to buy into consumer society. We can practice obedience by having faith that God calls us to be saints.
© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and
children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been
published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at www.marycronkfarrell.com)
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