St. Gertrude the Great
(c. 1256 - 1302)
The lives of St. Mechtilde and St. Gertrude the Great seem to have been one long series of visions and conversations with Our Lord and His Mother, whom they loved and served in the Cistercian convent of Helfta in central Germany during the second half of the thirteenth century. At the express command of Christ Himself, despite all the humble objections of the two Saints, their beautiful revelations were carefully recorded in two precious books, The Book of Special Grace of St. Mechtilde, and The Herald of Divine Love of St. Gertrude, "in order that in the far future," as Jesus said to the latter, "these writings may be a pledge of My Divine bounty... through them I will benefit innumerable souls." In this article we will consider the life of St. Gertrude the Great.
After St. Mechtilde's holy death, Jesus made this revelation to another nun: "I have done great things in Mechtilde; but I will accomplish still greater things in Gertrude."
St. Gertrude the Great, the famous forerunner of St. Margaret Mary in devotion to the Sacred Heart, had entered the convent school as a five-year-old orphan. There little "Truda," in her miniature nun's habit, was trained in knowledge and sanctity by St. Mechtilde. Gertrude, too, was a brilliant student. In fact, she later repented for having studied secular topics so much during her youth that she neglected her prayers. At the age of twenty-five, her heart was filled with an indescribable longing and unrest, and she began to feel disgust for the worldly vanity and curiosity which pride had raised in her soul, despite her being a Religious.
Then on January 27, 1281, as she later wrote, "just at the beautiful hour of twilight, raising my head, Whom should I behold but Thyself, O my Beloved, my Redeemer! Thou didst appear to me as an amiable, modest youth. Standing before me, Thou didst say, in an indescribably sweet tone: 'Thy salvation is near at hand... I will save thee... With My enemies thou hast been attached to the world... Return to Me. I will welcome thee tenderly...' And now, from this moment, my soul was enlightened, my heart softened, Thy powerful grace extinguishing within me all inordinate passion for worldly reading, and detaching me from all my vanities, so that I came to sacrifice those things which formerly attracted me, Thou alone being pleasing to my soul."
Thereafter, for twenty years Our Lord appeared to Gertrude at least once every day, except for a period of eleven days when He withdrew in punishment for a worldly conversation. Very often He urged her, as His Church urges us all, to come to Him through Mary.
When Gertrude asked Him what she could do to please Him more, Jesus answered: "Behold My Mother. Endeavor to praise her worthily." In the early years of her conversion, Our Lord said to the Saint: "I give thee My sweet Mother as thy Protectress. I confide thee to her care." And when during a trial Gertrude called upon Jesus to help her; He replied: "I have given thee My own most merciful Mother for thine, and it is through her that I will dispense My graces to thee." Henceforth Gertrude always begged Mary to prepare her soul for her reception of Holy Communion, during which the Saviour often appeared to her and consoled her.
Once, as the Saint was praying to Jesus to offer His Mother something to make up for her own lack of devotion toward the Blessed Virgin, Our Lord arose, and offering Mary His Sacred Heart, He said: "Most loving Mother, behold My Heart. I offer it to thee with all that Divine and eternal Love which prompted Me to choose thee for My Mother. In this Heart I offer thee all that filial affection of which I gave thee so many tokens on earth, when thou didst nourish and carry Me as a little child in thy arms. In this Heart I offer thee that faithful love which kept Me near thee all My mortal life, obedient to thy wishes, as any true son to his mother. I offer thee especially that love which on the Cross made Me in a measure forget My tortures to compassionate thy bitter desolation and to leave thee in My place a guardian and loving son (St. John, the Beloved Apostle). And lastly, behold in My Heart the love which prompted Me to exalt thee in thy blessed Assumption far above the Saints and Angels and to crown thee Queen of Heaven and earth."
And on a similar occasion, Gertrude saw Jesus go up to His Mother with the greatest respect, kneel down before her and, bowing His head, greet her in a most gracious and tender manner.
Once, when Gertrude prayed to Mary to fill her heart with such virtues that God would take pleasure in dwelling in it, Our Lady stooped down and planted in the Saint's heart various symbolic flowers: the rose of charity, the lily of purity, the violet of humility, the sunflower of obedience, and many others, showing thereby how promptly she assists those who invoke her.
The following day the lovely Mother of God appeared to Gertrude, in the presence of the Blessed Trinity, under the form of a dazzling white lily with three splendid leaves. Mary said to the Saint: "If anyone greets me devoutly as the Immaculate Lily of the Most Holy Trinity, the brilliant Rose of Paradise, I will do for him what I can through the Omnipotence of the Father, the Wisdom of the Son, and the superabundant mercy which fills my heart, flowing from the Love of the Holy Ghost."
From that day Gertrude frequently greeted Mary with this prayer: "I hail thee, Immaculate Lily of the glorious and ever peaceful Trinity, brilliant Rose, delight of Paradise, of whom the King of Heaven wished to be born, and with whose milk He wished to be nourished. Nourish our souls with Divine graces!"
The Blessed Virgin Mary rewarded Gertrude's fervent devotion on one Feast of the Assumption when she rose from her throne in Heaven and beckoned Gertrude to come next to her place. But Gertrude drew back, exclaiming: "O Queen of glory, what can I do to merit so great a favor?" Then Our Lady explained that she could use her merits, especially Mary's purity, humility, and charity, and offer them to God to obtain this privilege. Thus, clothed in Mary's merits, the Saint received her Lord in Holy Communion. Finally, in a marvelous vision she saw the glorious Mother of God conducted up to highest Heaven by her Divine Son amid the rejoicing of all the Saints and Angels. Then with her Son's right hand, Mary blessed Gertrude's convent, and the nun saw a gold cross shine over each of her Sisters' heads.
The last of Mary's many touching favors to St. Gertrude occurred at the latter's death: brilliant with splendor, the merciful Virgin Mary came to console her loving handmaid, and bending down, she gently and affectionately supported the dying Saint's head, as the King of Glory with infinite tenderness descended toward His faithful servant and drew her beautiful soul to Himself forever.
(Based on an account by Raphael Brown)
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