Benedict XVI holds up St. Hildegard as model for nuns

pphildegarda St. Hildegard of Bingen

Every gift from the Holy Spirit is meant for the edification of the community of believers, taught the Pope at Wednesday's general audience. Dedicating his catechesis to St. Hildegard of Bingen, Benedict XVI praised her as a model for modern women religious, and noted that she benefited the faithful by her willingness to submit her supernatural visions to the interpretation of the Church.

The Holy Father addressed an estimated 5,000 people in the main square of the town of Castel Gandolfo. According to L'Osservatore Romano, it is the first time any Pope has ever held a general audience there. Benedict XVI did so seated in the doorway of the Apostolic Palace, a little above the eye-level of the crowd.

Referring first to Venerable John Paul II's Apostolic Letter on the role of women in the life of the Church, entitled "Mulieris dignitatem," Benedict XVI noted that the letter "gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history." The Pontiff then focused in on the figure of St. Hildegard of Bingen as one of the saintly women who stood out nearly a millennium ago.

Born into a noble German family in the year 1098, she began her studies in human and Christian formation at a Benedictine convent in the town of Bingen, took her vows to cloistered life and, 30 years after she began her formation, became a mother superior.

Carrying out this role competently, she was able to found an additional convent nearby where she spent a great part of her life, recalled the Pope. The way she exercised authority there continues to be an example for religious communities today, he said, explaining that she was able to create an atmosphere of "holy emulation in the practice of the good, so much so that ... the mother and daughters competed in respecting and serving each other."

Benedict XVI also recalled her mystic visions which she first shared with people in confidence, including her spiritual director, a fellow sister and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. "As always happens in the lives of the true mystics," said the Pope, "Hildegard also wished to submit herself to the authority of wise people to discern the origin of her visions."

St. Bernard, whom the Pope said held "maximum esteem" in the Church at the time, "calmed and encouraged" the sister about the visions, and eventually Pope Eugene III gave her the authorization to write and speak about the visions publicly.

"This," taught the Pope, “is the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: the person (who is the) repository of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not flaunt them and, especially, shows total obedience to the ecclesiastical authorities.

"Every gift distributed by the Holy Spirit, in fact, is destined for the edification of the Church, and the Church, through its pastors, recognizes their authenticity."

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