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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Tuesday of the 24th Week in ordinary time; memorial of St. Hildegard of Bingen

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

How could someone not be interested in learning of a person described as a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath? (I had to look up polymath. It is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects.)

Hildegard of Bingen was such a person. She was also a German Benedictine abbess and is one of four women numbered among the 35 doctors of the Church. Pope Benedict said of Hildegard that she is “perennially relevant” and “an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music.”

St. Hildegard was the youngest of 10 when she was born in 1098 near the banks of the Rhine River in Germany. In her autobiography she states that she began receiving visions from the Lord from a very young age. Her parents believed her and encouraged her to enter into the religious life.

She joined a Benedictine monastery near her home at the age of 14. Hildegard entered at the same time as an older woman named Jutta. Jutta was also a visionary who attracted many followers to the visit her at the cloister. The two women confided the Lord’s messages to each other and became best of friends. Jutta taught Hildegard how to read, compose music, and interpret the Bible. Upon Jutta’s death in 1136 Hildegard was unanimously chosen to take her place as abbess.

She was to describe her visions as “The Shade of the Living Light” and explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses. At first Hildegard shared her visions only with Jutta, but at the age of 42 she believed she received an instruction from God to “write down that which you see and hear.” Even with such a clear instruction from the Lord, she still hesitated to share and record her visions. After becoming physically ill, she realized that her sickness was a result of not obeying the Lord’s command.

The following is an excerpt from her autobiography: “Sometime later I saw an extraordinary mystical vision, about which all my inward parts trembled, and my body lost all capacity of feeling . . . It was as if the inspiration of God were sprinkling drops of sweet rain into my soul’s knowing, the very same with which the Spirit instructed John the Evangelist when he drank in from the breast of Jesus the most profound of revelations.”

Between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier, Pope Eugenius heard about Hildegard’s writings. She received papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit, which gave her instant credence. On September 17, 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the sky and cross over the room where she was dying.

Hildegard is yet another example of the depth of our Christian spirituality. When we use our gifts and talents as completely and unselfishly as Hildegard, we will truly be traveling the same path to holiness.

St. Hildegard, healer, composer, scientist, mystic, and doctor of the Church, pray for us.

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.