Monday, September 12, 2016

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Preacher of Renewal, Friend of Earth, and Doctor of the Church by Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP

Like Hildegard, we can be prophets as we commit ourselves to justice for the Church and healing of the Earth. We can expand women's roles, listen to women's wisdom and involve women in policy making in all our institutions. Like Hildegard, we can speak truth in love to everyone. 

Tirelessly, Hildegard embarked on four preaching tours, challenging the corruption and abuses of the Church. In crowded cathedrals all over Germany, she proclaimed the gospel and admonished clerics for failing to teach and live the Christian life. Reproving Pope Anastasius IV "Whereof O man, you sit on the papal throne, you despise God when you embrace evil. For in failing to speak out against the evil of those in your company, you are certainly not rejecting evil. Rather you are kissing it. And so the whole world is being led astray through unstable error, simply because people love that which God cast down."

Hildegard, not only preached justice and integrity, but she lived it.  She believed that the law of God took precedence over the law of the church.  On one occasion she made a difficult decision that set her at odds with the local archbishop. Apparently a man who had been excommunicated by the Church was buried in the monastery cemetery. Several days after his interment, Church officials ordered his body exhumed and threatened Hildegard's community with interdict- which meant her nuns could not receive the sacraments or sing the Divine Office- if it did not comply. 

In response, Hildegard defended the dead man's spiritual status, informing her superiors that he had repented and received the sacraments before he died. When this did not work, she made sure that no inscriptions were made that would identify his grave. After consultation with her sisters, Hildegard chose interdict. She wrote about how she arrived at this conscience decision: "I looked, as is my wont, to the true light and saw in my soul with open eyes  that if, according to their instruction, the body of the dead man be cast out, that act would threaten great danger to our place, like a great darkness, and the blackness of a cloud which presages storm and thunder would ever cloud us." 

Admonishing the archbishop for his harsh punishment of her community, Hildegard warned that those who who silence the music of liturgical worship will be condemned in eternal life "without the company of angelic songs of praises in heaven" Soon after, the interdict was removed and the following year Hildegard died- on September 17, 1179.

From the Middle Ages, Hildegard reminds us that women and men are equal partners in doing God's work. She taught that women were called to be prophets in the male- dominated society of her era.

Hildegard is a role model for our international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement because we follow our consciences in prophetic obedience to the Spirit as we break an unjust law in order to lead the Church to live Gospel compassion, justice and inclusiveness in our world today.

As we celebrate the New Story and rejoice that we are all stardust, St. Hildegard of Bingen is a soul sister who proclaims the holiness of our fellow creatures and of our Earth. Her example inspires us to live simply,  peacefully, justly and joyfully as we touch the earth with gentleness and share our resources with needy people around the globe. She awakens us to a powerful vision of an exploration into the depths of God's glory that can be found everywhere on Earth and in the heavens. All we need are ears to hear and eyes to see. Her feast day is Sept. 17th.

Let us pray with our sister and companion Hildegard as we grow in a deeper consciousness of sacred presence indwelling in us and in all creation: "O Holy Spirit,  you make life alive, you move in all things, you are the root of all created living, you waken and reawaken everything." 
Edited from Bridget Mary Meehan, Praying with Visionary Women
pp.30 -32. 

Sister Joan Chittister writes about Hildegard in "A woman for our times": "This is a woman who became for men a guide, for the church a faithful critic, and for women a strong, strong model of what it means to be a full human being, a functioning adult, a person with a purpose in life. She was a mystic, an encyclopedist, an artist, a leader, a public figure, a spiritual teacher, a fearless carrier of the best ideals of her time. And, most of all, a prophetic model of a future church... Biographically, Hildegard is an icon of female leadership and vision in any time and place. Spiritually, she is a model of what creation must mean for the full development of women now when the forces of the past, masking under spiritual values, do their best to stunt them. Morally, she is a tower of integrity in a world where sins against women belie the claims of civilization everywhere. All of which factors may be exactly the reason she was neither canonized nor recognized as a Doctor of the Church before this period."
  "A Woman for our times"  edited from the Foreword: “Hildegard of Bingen: icon and archetype of womanhood” by Joan Chittister, in the book Experiencing Hildegard: Jungian Perspectives by  Avis Clendenen

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