Gertrude the Great
St. Gertrude is one of the greatest and most wonderful saints in the Church of God. Holy Church has distinguished her from all others of her sex by adding to her name the honorable title, the Great. Saint Gertrude is the diadem, the queen-flower of the Benedictine Order, the most beautiful lily among the holy virgins who flourished during the glorious middle ages. For hundreds and thousands of pious Christians, St. Gertrude has become a guide in the spiritual life, a teacher of the most intimate spirit of prayer and familiar intercourse with God. Who can enumerate the hosts of elect souls that have obtained union with God through the pious reading and consideration of her writings? Countless numbers of the blessed jubilantly praise and extol this privileged, favored virgin in whom Our Lord takes His special delight.
St. Gertrude was the herald of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesusthat sacred cult which has become so dear and which has proved a fountain of consolation and graces to millions of Christians. Our Divine Savior repeatedly disclosed to her His Divine Heart, the furnace of love, as though for her sake He could not await the time decreed by His eternal wisdom for the revelations of his Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was the special characteristic of St. Gertrudes piety. The mystery of mercy and love contained in that Divine Heart had been revealed to her by the Son of God Himself four centuries before it became an object of special devotion to the Church at large. St. Mechtilde, a contemporary of St. Gertrude, and also a Benedictine, shared with St. Gertrude this glorious privilege. Thus the Heart of Jesus had long been an object of adoration and love to the sons and daughters of St. Benedict when, in the 17th century, it pleased God to procure for It, through St. Margaret Mary, that more solemn worship with which It is now surrounded. One thing is particularly remarkable in the life of St. Gertrude, the like of which cannot be found in the life of any other saint: it is the extraordinary promises made to her by our Savior in favor of those who venerate her.
Testimonies of Gertrudes Sublime Sanctity
Even during St. Gertrudes lifetime, Our Lord revealed her sublime sanctity to many holy souls. Once He addressed these words to a person bound to the saint by the bonds of a holy friendship:
She for whom thou prayest is My dove who has no guile in her, for she rejects from her heart, as gall, all the guile and bitterness of sin.
She is My chosen lily which I love to bear in My hands, for it is My delight and My pleasure to repose in the purity and innocence of this chaste soul.
She is My rose whose fragrance is full of sweetness, because of her patience in every adversity and the thanksgiving which she continually offers Me, which ascend before Me as sweetest perfume.
She is that spring flower which never fades; and I take pleasure in gazing upon her, because she keeps and maintains continually in her breast an ardent desire, not only for all virtues, but for the utmost perfection of every virtue.
She is a sweet melody which ravishes the ears of the blessed, and this melody is composed of all the sufferings she endures with so much constancy.
To another person our Divine Savior thus praised the favorite of His Heart: I have borne her (Gertrude) in My arms from her infancy. I have preserved her in her baptismal purity and innocence, and she, by her own free choice and will, has given herself to Me entirely and forever. As a recompense for the perfection of her desires, I, in return, have given Myself entirely to her. So pleasing is this soul to Me that when I am offended by men I often enter her heart to repose, and I make her endure some pain of body or of mind, which I inflict on her for the sins of others. She accepts this suffering with the same thanksgiving, humility and patience as she receives all that comes from Me, and offers it to Me in union with My sufferings. Thereby she appeases My anger and obliges My mercy to pardon, for her sake, an immense number of sinners.
Jesus showed to another soul a precious stone, the beauty of which cannot be described. This jewel, said Our Lord, I always wear as a pledge of My affection for My spouse. By its brightness the whole celestial court knows that there is no creature on earth so dear to Me as Gertrude, because there is no one at this present time amongst mankind who is so closely united to Me by purity of intention and uprightness of will. There is no soul still bound by the chains of flesh and blood whom I am so disposed to enrich with My graces and favors. There is no soul who refers to My glory alone the gifts received from Me, with such sincerity and fidelity as Gertrude . . . You can find Me in no place where I delight more, or which is more suitable for Me, than in the Sacrament of the Altar, and after that, in the heart and soul of Gertrude, My beloved.
Jesus Himself condescended to reveal to St. Mechtilde: I have united My Heart so closely to Gertrudes soul by the ties of My mercy, that she has become one spirit with Me.
A similar revelation was made about the same time to another saintly person. Our Savior said that Gertrude would become still more perfect and would attain to so intimate a union with God that her eyes would see, and her lips would speak only what God willed, and all her other senses would be equally submissive to Him.
Gertrude in the Sacred Convent-Garden
In the year 1261, Gertrude, then a mere child of five years, entered the cloistered convent of Helfta, in Germany. This convent had been founded but a few years previously. The community was composed of angelic religious, who with unsullied hearts and childlike faith conversed with Jesus in the most intimate love. An old cloister chronicle relates:
From the foundation of this religious community, its members led an uninterrupted angelic life for almost ninety years. The Lord Jesus was so familiar with persons of this convent that they conversed with Him as with their dearest Lord and Bridegroom, as a friend speaks to a friend. Also the entire heavenly host had a particular joy and exultation in this blessed community of religious.
Yes, the secluded community at Helfta was Our Lords holy family. Entirely separated and detached from the world, those pious virgins surrendered themselves, soul and body to their Divine Master, whom in holy love and innocence they had chosen as their Spouse from their tenderest years. They knew that He was really and truly present in their little church in the Blessed Sacrament, just as He is in heaven. From this faith sprang their love for the Divine Office. With burning love their hymns of praise resounded day and night. How those noble virgins loved silence and recollection! The sweet voice of their Beloved attracted them to loving meditations and affectionate intimacy. As industrious bees draw honey from flowers, so those angelic souls flew to the great, beautiful Eucharistic Flower, immersed their whole being into the depths of Its infinite love, and extracted from It the honey of celestial joy.
Words failed them to express the sweetness and kindness of their Lord, the inexpressible delights of His Heart! If holy obedience hindered them from visiting their Beloved, the Lord sought them instead. Everywhere the Heavenly Bridegroom found His chosen souls and held tender converse with the loved ones of His Heart. In them was fulfilled our Saviors promise: If any one love Me . . . My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him (John 14:23).
In this sacred convent-garden, Gertrude flourished as a resplendent white lily. I delight so much in her, said Jesus, that I have chosen her as My abode. All that others see and love in her is My work; and whoever loves My work in her, loves Me. I have decreed that she stand alone, without friends or relatives, that none may love her from ties of relationship, but that I Myself may be the sole cause of her being loved and esteemed.
The Wonderful and Privileged Life of St. Gertrude
Truly, this little convent-maid, whose birthplace, parentage and ancestry have remained shrouded in obscurity, became, in the bloom of her youth, the loving confidante of the Divine Master. Gertrude had won not only the Heart of God, but the wonderful charms and innocence of her refined disposition soon made her a favorite also among the pious sisterhood. She was, states a religious of that community, wise and prudent of mind, far beyond her age; clever and full of gentle grace. In school she quickly out-stripped her companions. It was marvelous to see how easily she mastered the sciences. Despite Gertrudes cheerful, open disposition, however, she did not care to take part in play. She preferred, if permitted, to withdraw into the dark, silent church, and there, by the glimmer of the perpetual light, to converse with the heavenly Playmate of her pure childish soul. It was thus Gertrude grew from childhood to womanhood, full of loving innocence.
When Gertrude had reached the proper age, she answered the call of heaven which beckoned her to the venerable Order of St. Benedict. Like the great Patriarch, she, too, was to be filled with the spirit of all the just. Worldly science and heavenly knowledge were freely imparted to her. The Lord crowned her with the diadem of His richest and most precious graces, but upon her heart He impressed, as the sacred liturgy so significantly expresses it, the seal of His Divinity. Gertrude had now reached her twenty-fifth year. Her piety and her many eminent qualities of mind and heart combined to make her the ornament and the treasure of the monastery of Helfta. On the 27th of January, 1281, she was favored for the first time with a vision of her ardently loved Bridegroom. In her own charming words we give the account of this great event of her life:
Since the preceding Advent my heart had been filled with an indescribable longing and unrest, whose salutary effects were to give me a disgust for the frivolities and levity of youth. This was the first step of Thy love in preparing my heart for Thyself . . . I was in the dormitory, just at the beautiful hour of evening twilight. According to the rule, I inclined toward an aged Sister in token of respect. Raising my head, whom should I behold but Thyself, O my Beloved, my Redeemer, the most beautiful among the children of men! Thou didst appear as a most charming youth, who in a friendly and pleasant manner didst approach me.
Standing before me, Thou didst say in accents of indescribable sweetness: Thy salvation is at hand! Why art thou consumed by grief? Then I felt myself transported to the choir and heard these wonderful words: I will save thee and deliver thee; fear not. Thou hast sucked honey amidst thorns, but return now to MeI will inebriate thee with the torrent of My celestial delights.
Thou didst open Thy arms invitingly. I endeavored to approachbut, lo! a great hedge of sharp thorny bushes barred the way. Dismayed, I stood there, bewailing my sins and defects. In a moment, Thou, O Lord, didst extend Thy hand to me, and immediately I was beside Thee and reposed on Thy Heart. My gaze fell upon Thy hands and feet, and I saw, good Jesus, those five glorious Wounds with whose Blood Thou didst pay the ransom of the whole world. From this moment, adds the saint, I commenced to taste only Thyself, O my God. With new spiritual joy I began to follow in Thy footsteps, and I found Thy yoke sweet and light. Though hitherto Gertrude had been very pious and a model of religious observance, after the above mentioned grace she considered the previous time lost, and believed that, as the prodigal son, she had just returned to her God. From this hour she discontinued all secular studies.
One book alone became very dear to her, and its contents daily engraved themselves more deeply upon all the powers of her soul: it was the Holy Scripture. To meditate thereon was her greatest delight. God taught her heart to penetrate the most hidden sense of the Inspired Books. She possessed a wonderful facility to use texts from the Holy Scripture to comfort and refresh all who came to her, according to each ones need.
How Our Lord loved His chosen bride! He poured abundant graces in ever-increasing fullness into Gertrudes heart. The humble virgin herself declares: Thou hast so often melted my soul by loving caresses that if I did not know the abyss of Thine overflowing condescension, I should be amazed were I told that even Thy Blessed Mother received such extraordinary marks of tenderness and affection. That which filled and animated her interior could not remain concealed. The warmth and fervor which emanated from her was poured out upon all her associates. The Perfect Spouse of Christ It seems Our Lord raised Gertrude in a short time to that degree of perfection where the soul has no other will, no other thought, no other life, than Christ. This was certainly indicated by the mysterious grace of Our Lords exchanging His Heart for hers. From this union sprang the sublime virtues which distinguish this incomparable virgin. She was remarkable, above all, for an unlimited abandonment to the Divine will, a love for Gods decrees, even the most severe, a perfect peace of heart, boundless desires for the glory of God and the salvation of the world, and that holy, evangelical liberty which is extolled as the noblest inheritance of the true children of St. Benedict.
Gertrudes heart sought God alone, and found Him everywhere. To please Jesus in all things was the one aim of her life. A saintly person once prayed earnestly that he might know what virtue attracted Our Lords greatest complacency in His well beloved spouse, Gertrude. Our Savior deigned to respond: Her liberty of spirit. This priceless gift includes the deepest self-knowledge and love of God, and leads the soul to the heights of perfection. It disposes the heart of Gertrude to receive, at every moment of her life, graces of inestimable value, and prevents her from attaching her heart to anything which could either displease Me or impede My work in her soul.
Jesus was her allher constant thought day and night. Every movement of her body and soul was offered to God and directed to His glory. Unceasing union with her Beloved was Gertrudes life. Yet she did not neglect her exterior occupations. The happy manner in which she combined active labor with interior union was once manifested to Saint Mechtilde. This saint beheld Jesus seated on an elevated throne in the church. St. Gertrude was actively engaged in exterior occupations, walking to and fro. But her countenance was always steadfastly fixed upon the Lord and she seemed to drink in with burning ardor the graces which flowed to her from His Most Sacred Heart. At the same time she appeared to fulfill her exterior duties with utmost zeal. St. Mechtilde was amazed at this vision.
Behold, said Our Savior, such is the life which Gertrude, My beloved, leads before My face. She walks ever in My presence, never losing sight of Me for an instant. She has but one desire: to know the good pleasure of My Heart. As soon as she has ascertained this, she executes My will with care and fidelity. Her whole life is an unbroken chain of praise consecrated to My honor and glory.
The sanctity of Gertrudes soul diffused itself even over her bodily faculties and irradiated her whole being. She seemed to the exterior eye, like one from a higher world. An indefinable charm hallowed her countenance, which at times transformed itself into a mysterious, superhuman beauty. Gertrudes life became daily more supernatural; at times she received Divine directions and profound illuminations, whose inspiration seemed to carry her spirit into the fathomless depths of the Divinity; again she was transported into heaven to anticipate its delights, to enjoy its beauty. Often, in holy ecstasies, she was vouchsafed the most delightful intercourse, not only with her Heavenly Spouse, but also with the Blessed Virgin, her Mother and protectress. Gertrude had her favorites among the beatified friends of God, and frequently the saints came to converse with her. A special attraction drew her toward Saint John, the disciple of love, to whom she bore so striking a resemblance. Her spiritual Father, St. Benedict, was honored by her with the most filial affection, and he, on his part, rewarded her piety with marks of true paternal tenderness. He chose her to reveal to the faithful the promise he had made, to give special aid at the hour of death to all those who, during life, should have rejoiced with him in the graces that attended his blessed death. St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine and St. Bernard were particularly dear to St. Gertrude. She loved with a love of preference St. Agnes, the tender spouse of the Divine Lamb, the virgin-martyr, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Mary Magdalen.
All the extraordinary graces received from God and the many tokens of love from His saints were no detriment to Gertrudes humility. She, the marvelously beautiful celestial flower in this barren terrestrial garden, was in her own eyes nothing but a withered blade of grass. The more the bright rays of Divine Light flooded her soul, the meaner and viler did she seem to herself. O Master, she once exclaimed, as she walked through the field, Thou dost work no greater miracle than this, that the earth supports meme, an unworthy sinner! Ah! whispered the voice of her Beloved immediately, with joy should the earth offer to bear thy footsteps, since the whole heavens await with inexpressible impatience the happy hour when thou wilt tread its precincts!
St. Gertrudes Unlimited Confidence
Blind trust in Gods mercy, unlimited confidence in His love, is one of the secrets to obtain sanctity. The Holy Fathers have always taught that the measure of our hope and confidence is the measure of the graces which we receive from heaven. They have realized that, through our unreserved confidence, God is most honored and glorified. Nothing will be denied to an unlimited confidence. Our Lord revealed: It is impossible that anyone should not receive all that he has believed and hoped to obtain. It gives Me real pleasure when men hope great things from Me and I will always grant them more than they expect.
Saint Gertrude understood that confidence is the key which opens the treasures of the infinite mercy of God. To her confidence alone she attributed all the gifts she received, and she invited all to place boundless confidence in our Savior in order to receive from Him immeasurable graces. All that I have received, she affirmed, I owe to my confidence in the gratuitous bounty of God. Yes, Gertrude knew that Jesus is an infinite Treasure placed by the Eternal Father at the disposition of all, and that it is His supreme delight, as Savior, to distribute His gifts to those who trust in Him. He frequently complained to the beloved of His Heart of mans want of confidence.
To a religious who had long prayed in vain for a particular favor, Jesus revealed how pleased He was with Gertrudes boundless trust in His goodness. Why dost thou not act like Gertrude, My chosen virgin? Our Lord inquired of the nun. She is so firmly established in My Providence that there is nothing which she does not hope for from the plenitude of My grace. Therefore, I will never refuse her anything. Alas! we creatures have too little knowledge of Gods kindness, love, and mercy! Our distrust arises because we compare God with ourselves. Oh, that all hearts would realize that Jesus is all love, all mercy. He has treasures of grace for all, but few come to bear them away by means of their confidence.
In all things, Gertrude had recourse to Jesus as a child has to its mother. Nothing, in her eyes, was too trivial to be recommended to Him. On one occasion, having lost a needle in a pile of straw, she besought Him to find it for her. O dear Jesus, she said, vainly, indeed, would I search for this needle. It would be lost time. Please get it for me Thyself. Extending one hand, and turning away her head, she immediately found the needle between her fingers.
Again and again, Our Lord encouraged this confidence so dear to Him. O Jesus, what should I add to these prayers to make them yet more efficacious? Gertrude once asked. Turning to her with a countenance full of sweetness, Our Savior replied, Confidence alone easily obtains all things! . . . Once when St. Gertrude was troubled with temptations, she implored the Divine assistance. Our Lord, in His exceeding mercy, spoke thus to her: Anyone suffering from human temptations, who flees to My protection with firm confidence, belongs to those of whom I can say: One is My dove, My chosen one out of thousands, who has pierced My Heart with one glance of her eyes. And this confidence wounds My Heart so deeply that were I unable to relieve such a soul, it would cause My Heart a sadness which all the joys of heaven could not assuage . . . The confidence that I truly have the power, the wisdom and the goodness to aid a soul faithfully in all her miseries, is the arrow which pierces My Heart, and does such violence to My love that I can never abandon her.
St. Gertrudes Special Graces
Of the many favors bestowed by the Lover of virgins on His spouse, we may single
out four of special importance. The first grace, Gertrude never mentions definitely.
She always calls it the great grace, and when she attempts to speak of it, her
heart immediately overflows with praise and gratitude toward the Divine Giver.
From a careful study of her life, however, it is easy to surmise that this grace
was the impression of Our Lords Sacred Wounds upon her heart. It was through
ardent desire and constant prayer that Gertrude received this marvelous grace.
During the winter after Our Lords first visit, she
found this very beautiful prayer in honor of His Passion.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, grant that I may aspire towards Thee with my whole heart, with yearning desire and with thirsting soul, seeking only Thy sweetness and Thy delights, so that my whole mind and all that is within me may ardently sigh to Thee, who art our true Beatitude. O most merciful Lord, engrave Thy Wounds upon my heart with Thy most Precious Blood, that I may read in them both Thy grief and Thy love; and that the memory of Thy Wounds may ever remain in my inmost heart, to excite my compassion for Thy sufferings and to increase in me Thy love. Grant also that I may despise all creatures, and that my heart may delight in Thee alone. Amen.
This prayer, writes Gertrude, pleased me very much. I memorized it and recited it frequently. One afternoon, during the same winter . . . I suddenly became conscious that Our Lord had deigned to hear me. I felt, O my God, how Thou didst imprint on my heart Thy adorable Wounds, even as they are on Thy Sacred Body. Notwithstanding my exceeding unworthiness, Thy infinite bounty has even to this hour preserved therein the impression.
It is certain that, as a result of this sacred stigmata, Gertrude suffered excruciating pains the remainder of her life. These pains were inexpressibly alleviated, however, by the new relationship she had contracted with her most tenderly loved Jesus, through love and mutual suffering. Of the second grace, frequent mention is made in her book of revelations. This event occurred during Advent, seven years later, while she was in church assisting at Holy Mass. Gertrude thus describes the favor: After I had received the Sacrament of Life, I saw a ray of light, like an arrow, dart forth from the Sacred Wound in Thy right Side, on the Crucifix . . . It advanced toward me and pierced my heart. Then Thou didst say to me: May the full tide of thy affection rise to Me, so that all thy pleasure, thy hope, thy joy, thy grief, thy fear and every other feeling may be sustained by My love!
During the last year of her life, our saint listened to the discourses of a Dominican Father who spoke most impressively on the love of our Heavenly Master. Love is like an arrow, he said, whatever we shoot with it, we may call our own! Gertrudes heart glowed with vehement love when she heard these words. Ah! she exclaimed in the ardor of her love, who will grant me that I may obtain such an arrow! Immediately I would transpierce Thee, the Only-beloved of my heart, that I might possess Thee eternally! Scarcely had she uttered these words when she beheld her celestial Spouse. He carried a golden arrow in His hand, and said: Thou didst desire to wound Me; but I have a golden arrow with which I will pierce thee so that thy wound may never heal.
The arrow sank deeply into her heart and wounded her soul in three ways: First, by rendering all earthly pleasures distasteful, so that nothing in this world would afford her soul enjoyment or consolation. Secondly, by exciting an ardent desire in her soul to be united to God, so that she felt she could not breathe or live apart from Him. Thirdly, by so transfixing her soul as almost to separate it from her body, and overwhelming her with the torrent of Divine delights. As the third special grace, we may regard the interchange of hearts between Our Lord and St. Gertrude.
Writing of this, our saint says: Thou hast granted me Thy secret friendship, by opening to me the sacred ark of Thy Deified Heart in so many different ways as to be the source of all my happiness. Sometimes as a special mark of our mutual friendship, Thou didst exchange It for mine! After the ineffable revelation during which Jesus exchanged His Heart for hers, the holy virgin felt her Divine Spouse live and love within her. This interchange of hearts conceals operations of grace beyond our understanding. The transforming and deifying visit of the Infant Jesus to Gertrudes heart may be called the fourth special favor of our saint. Her own account of this grace is exquisitely beautiful: It was the anniversary of the blessed night of Our Lords Nativity. In spirit, I tried to fulfill the office of servant of the glorious Mother of God when I felt that a tender, new-born Infant was placed in my heart. At the same instant, I beheld my soul entirely transformed. Then I understood the meaning of these sweet words: God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). My soul, which was enriched by the presence of my Beloved, soon knew, by its transports of joy, that it possessed its Spouse. My thirst for Thee was satisfied by these words: As I, in My Divinity, am the figure of the substance of My Father, so also shalt thou be the figure of My substance in My Humanity. As the sun communicates to the air its own brightness and light, thus will I deify thy soul, penetrating it with the rays of My Divinity to prepare thee for the closest union with Me.
God not only granted inexpressible graces to St. Gertrude herself, but He also
promised great graces to all who, after her death, should venerate her. Glorious
Promises Even during her life, Saint Gertrudes prayers were miraculously
answered. Through her intercession, many were delivered from long and serious
illnesses. Others were admonished in their dreams to disclose their troubles
to her, and were delivered from their afflictions. Our Lord once said to her:
If anyone, being oppressed by sorrow and grief, humbly and sincerely seeks
consolation in thy words, he will not be deceived in his desires; for I...
Taken from Saint Gertrude the Great by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.
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