Monday, November 16, 2020

Saint Gertrude: Living in "Friendship With the Lord Jesus"

November 16 is the feast of Saint Gertrude "the Great," of the 13th century Benedictine monastery in Helfta (Germany). 

She was one of the outstanding women of the medieval Church, a brilliant scholar, a counselor to many, and most importantly a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

In a vision, Jesus said to her, "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end."

Reflecting on Jesus dwelling in her heart, she says, "Your sweetest humanity and unbounded love moved you to seek me in my disturbed state" and, hearing the words of the Scripture of John 14:23, "I perceived your presence in my heart, my most sweet God and my delight. It would be purified from its dross and made less unworthy of your presence...." She desires intimacy with God, who by the grace of her living faith in Jesus has come to dwell in her heart. Nevertheless, she acknowledges her faults and her continued preoccupation with many problems and matters of lesser import (she was a woman of great learning and, especially in her youth, many different interests). Still, God is calling her to himself, beyond any attachment to concerns that cannot fulfill her soul's longing for union with him: "My mind still takes pleasure in wandering and in distracting itself with perishable things. Even so, when I finally return into my heart after some hours, days, or even entire weeks, I still find you there. I cannot complain that you have left me even for a moment."

Moreover, this presence of the Lord is not "passive." Gertrude's dramatic and powerful expression of God's persistence in her own life - the mysterious ways by which God "wins" her heart - gives hope to all of us, even if we do not so clearly experience God's immense ardor for us and his patient determination to purify and transform us: "O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth."

Gertrude is a wonderful witness to the merciful love of Jesus who accompanies us, who always takes the initiative to call us and move us toward a deeper relationship with him. 

In his General Audience of October 6, 2010, Benedict XVI spoke of Saint Gertrude as "the only German woman to be called 'Great,' because of her cultural and evangelical stature: her life and her thought had a unique impact on Christian spirituality. She was an exceptional woman, endowed with special natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, the most profound humility and ardent zeal for her neighbour's salvation. She was in close communion with God both in contemplation and in her readiness to go to the help of those in need.

Although she "often says that she was negligent, she recognizes her shortcomings and humbly asks forgiveness for them. She also humbly asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. Some features of her temperament and faults were to accompany her to the end of her life, so as to amaze certain people who wondered why the Lord had favoured her with such a special love." Yet she lived with "such devotion and such trusting abandonment in God that she inspired in those who met her an awareness of being in the Lord's presence. 

"In fact, God made her understand that he had called her to be an instrument of his grace. Gertrude herself felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure, and confesses that she had not safeguarded it or made enough of it... Yet, in recognizing her poverty and worthlessness she adhered to God's will, 'because,' she said, 'I have so little profited from your graces that I cannot resolve to believe that they were lavished upon me solely for my own use, since no one can thwart your eternal wisdom.'" In gratitude and charity, therefore, Gertrude dedicated herself to making God's love more widely known. She "devoted herself to writing and popularizing the truth of faith with clarity and simplicity, with grace and persuasion, serving the Church faithfully and lovingly so as to be helpful to and appreciated by theologians and devout people." And she wrote of her own experiences in prayer, in particular regarding the love of the Heart of Jesus: "'You wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship by opening to me in various ways that most noble sacrarium of your Divine Being which is your Divine Heart.'

Her mystical and prophetic gifts and her deep contemplative prayer were not experienced in isolation but always in the communion of the Church, rooted in the Benedictine tradition of liturgical worship and works of love. Therefore, Pope Benedict concludes, her story speaks about "not only things of the past, of history; rather St Gertrude's life lives on as a lesson of Christian life, of an upright path, and shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus. And this friendship is learned in love for Sacred Scripture, in love for the Liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life.

Prayer for the day:

O God, who prepared a delightful dwelling for yourself
in the heart of the Virgin Saint Gertrude,
graciously bring light, through her intercession,
to the darkness of our hearts,
that we may joyfully experience you present and at work within us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.