“Soon the entire dismemberment and devastation of the Church was cast upon her… as Christianity for forty years was divided between popes and anti-popes, so, too, was Lidwina’s body literally separated into two parts.
“Her shoulders had to be bandaged to keep them from falling asunder… As the Pope could no longer guard the entire flock, Lidwina lost the use of her right eye, and the left was so weak that she could not endure the light.”
(The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich by Very Rev. Carl E. Schmöger, C.SS.R).
Although we are all called to take up our cross, not everyone is called to be a victim soul.
Throughout internal Church attacks, dioceses falling apart, confusion spreading like wildfire, and the laity losing faith, God hand-picked St. Lidwina to become a powerful instrument of expiation for the good of His Church.
St Lidwina was invited to share in Christ’s great mystery of suffering and love from a very young age.
While ice skating during a bitter winter, a friend knocked over 15-year-old Lidwina, causing her to break a small rib in her right side. A hard abscess grew around the broken rib which never healed.
From that point on, she was bedridden, could not eat or drink without vomiting, suffered from burning fevers, ulcers and tumors, and her organs suffered terribly. She also fractured her forehead, which extended to the middle of her nose and a cleft from her lower lip to her chin that would often bleed.
She could not see from her right eye and had a weak left eye. For thirty-three years, until her death, St Lidwina’s body deteriorated, and became a spectacle of pure suffering, defying the laws of nature.
Several years passed. Lidwina was deprived of a spiritual director, receiving communion Holy Communion only at Easter when she was carried to Church.
She laid in darkness and spent many nights sobbing to herself. Like a forsaken home that was once a place of excitement and warmth, so too did Lidwina temporarily depart from her joyful and lively self, for suffering and abandonment moulded her into a vessel of despondency and despair.
But St. Lidwina’s world was set on fire when she finally understood the potent mystery of love: love that is willing to suffer is life-giving.
In the words of Mother Teresa, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
By meditating upon the Passion of Christ with the aid of her new-found spiritual director, Fr. John Walters of Lyden, a spark ignited within St Lidwina, allowing her to find happiness in her pain through fortitude, patience and trust in God’s will.
True peace came upon St. Lidwina after she received the gift of tears. She then comprehended God’s unconditional love and care, which opened the floodgates to renewal and consolation.
One day after receiving the Eucharist, she cried uncontrollably for fourteen days. This experience inundated her her spirit with perfect consolation.
Like a spring of cleansing water, Lidwina’s discovery of the redemptive strength of love allowed her to recommit to prayer, fasting and penance. The more suffering she endured, the closer she was to the Cross of Christ.
After eight years of suffering, she said: “It is not I who suffer; it is my Lord Jesus who suffers in me!”
St. Lidwina’s Visions
Eventually, St Lidwina was graced with the supernatural gift of ecstatic visions.
She was often visited by her guardian angel and the saints, and saw Heaven and Purgatory. In his book Saint Lydwine of Schiedam, Thomas à Kempis described St. Lidwina’s incredible visions:
“She saw also how the holy martyrs, confessors, prophets, virgins, and other orders of the blessed enjoyed their glory in themselves…
“When she gazed upon these joys, many saints, addressing her sweetly, comforted her and, exhorting her to patience, spoke thus: ‘What trouble or harm is it to those who are here now, that in the world they suffered many adversities for Christ?’
“After many familiar colloquies…Christ’s Mother addressed these words to her: “Most dear daughter… let your heart be strengthened in the bearing of sorrows; because for these things which you suffer now, you shall gain wondrous and great glory.”
In one vision, she was shown a rose-bush and heard the words “when this shall be in bloom, your suffering will be at an end”.
In 1433 she said, “I see the rose-bush in full bloom!”
That year on Easter Sunday, she saw Jesus coming towards her to administer the the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. St Lidwina then died peacefully and completely wrapped in God’s love.
After she died, her house was turned into a hospital, and a stone chapel was built near her grave.
Although St Lidwina courageously bore the wounds of the persecuted Church, God abundantly rewarded her through Eternal Life. He allowed her to receive all that she had sacrificed for the good of the Church and salvation of souls.
Saint Lidwina’s legacy lives on, her story echoing across the centuries to give hope to all the silent victims and patient sufferers throughout history.
Just as Christ turned to His Father in his vulnerability, crying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” St. Lidwina also turned to God, with weeping eyes, but full of hope.
She united her despair, abandonment and expiatory pains to Christ’s Passion for the good of humanity. She was a victim of love.
Today, St. Lidwina’s message can be heard loud and clear: suffering that is embraced with love is life-giving, fruitful and salvific.
St. Lidwina’s story of perseverance through adversity is often the key to unlocking our extraordinary destinies. We sometimes must fall to our lowest point, so that through God’s help, we can stand up tall.
To all those grappling with chronic illness, sickness, abandonment and hopelessness, may you also look to God in the same way that Saint Lidwina did, weeping but hopeful, uniting your sufferings to Christ, knowing that you can one day partake in His infinite glory.