I am ashamed to admit that for much of my adult life, my prayer life was practically non-existent. I mentally mumbled the same rather lame, made-up prayer every night, which I frequently didn’t even finish before I fell asleep. Basically, I prayed for the same reason I went to Mass on Sundays — so I wouldn’t go to hell. I still retained the childish notion that if I followed a few basic rules, I’d somehow be okay in the eyes of my Creator. After all, He was my friend, right?
Fortunately, I did pray an occasional Rosary, which I think ultimately saved me. The Blessed Mother takes her Rosary promises very seriously, and she sent me a lovely woman who gave me a little booklet that changed my life. It’s called The Pieta Prayer Book, and it’s tucked into a pocket in my purse so that I always have it handy.
This powerful prayer book begins with a short biography of St. Bridget of Sweden. Born 700 years ago, she was obviously destined for greatness. At the moment of her birth, the Blessed Mother appeared to the local parish priest and announced, “A child has been born in Birger; her voice will be heard by the entire world.”
St. Bridget lived a pious and virtuous life. She gave birth to eight children, including the future St. Catherine of Sweden. St. Bridget is best known for her devotion to the Passion of Christ. Throughout her life, she received many visions of Our Lord’s sufferings. During one such vision, St. Bridget asked Jesus how many blows he received during His passion. He replied, “I received 5480 blows on My Body. If you wish to honor them in some way, say 15 Our Fathers and 15 Hail Marys with the following prayers (which He taught her) for a whole year. When the year is up, you will have honored each one of My Wounds.”
These words of Jesus touched me tremendously. In my lazy prayer life, I had never even thought of His Passion, let alone honored it. As I read through the prayers for the first time, tears rolled down my cheeks. I had no idea how much Jesus had suffered for me, and at that moment I was determined to pray those 15 prayers every day for one year.
I decided to offer the prayers for a person very dear to me who was experiencing a great deal of difficulty in her life. I had hurt her very deeply at one time, and I hoped to make some reparation for my actions as I honored the blows Our Lord had received.
The first few weeks were easy. Although the prayers required about half an hour of my time, I began a habit of praying them before bed. My baffled husband wondered why on earth I was going to bed early to pray. I explained what I was doing and why, but he didn’t look too convinced.
As the weeks turned into months, the prayers became more difficult for me. My busy life interfered with my plans to get to bed early, and I’d often have to quietly leave my bedroom to slip into another room where I wouldn’t keep my husband awake. I found a better strategy by occasionally dividing up the prayers throughout the day.
There were many nights when I was exhausted and dreaded the thought of another half hour cut from my precious sleep. Yet I persevered. I was driven by the thought that I was praying for someone dear to me as well as honoring the thousands of cruel blows dealt to Our Lord. I didn’t realize it then, but for the first time in my life, I was practicing penance.
The year finally came to a close, but I continued the prayers for another month. They had become part of my life, and I wasn’t ready to give them up. I finally moved on to new prayers and devotions, confident that I could now persevere in real prayer and meditation. I owe it all to the Blessed Mother and St. Bridget, whose voice is still heard nearly 700 years after her death.
St. Bridget was canonized in 1391. Her feast day is celebrated on July 23rd. She is the patron saint of Sweden, Europe and widows.
Note: As with any private revelation, these visions of St. Bridget are not associated with Church teaching. The prayers were approved by Pope Urban VI in the 14th century as suitable for private devotion among the faithful. The 21 promises traditionally associated with the devotion, on the other hand, have not been proven to be of supernatural origin.