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St. Gertrude, is one of the greatest saints in the Church. She is the only female saint honored with the title “the Great.” A woman of the Middle Ages, St. Gertrude the Great lived in the 13th century, the golden century of the medieval age, when the Church was rich in both scholars and mystics, including St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Clare of Assisi.
Gertrude was born in Germany on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, in the year 1256. Records of her origins are very minimal, and it is said she may have been orphaned at an early age. At the age of five, she was placed with the Benedictine nuns at their abbey in Helfta to be raised and educated. She was described as a lovable, quick-witted child by the nuns of Helfta. During her academic studies, St. Gertrude stood out for her intelligence and became accomplished in philosophy, literature, singing, and miniature painting. When she reached the proper age, Gertrude joined the community as a Benedietine nun.
She continued her intellectual pursuit, and around the age of 24, she wrote that she began to find the daily routines of her community monotonous and experienced a lack of meaning in her accomplishments, as well as feelings of anxiety and depression. However, at age 26 she received the first of many visions, also described as revelations, from the Lord which transformed her. He called to her saying “I have come to comfort you and bring you salvation.” She then changed her views and priorities in life, seeking comfort in Jesus alone.
St. Gertrude was blessed with a loving relationship with the Lord as a Bride of Christ. In her writings they often refer to each other as “spouse” or “beloved.” In her most well known vision, she is laying on Christ’s bosom with St. John the Apostle. The two lay on either side of the Lord, Gertrude on the right, John on the left, hearing the beating of His Heart. The Lord, sharing His Love with Gertrude, says, each time someone merely looks upon a crucifix with devotion, the mercy of God looks down upon their soul. Then they must remember these tender words,
“My Heart is so passionately enamored of thee that, were it necessary in order to save thee, I would again willingly endure, for thee alone, all that I have suffered for the salvation of the whole world” The Lord shares countless times the desires of His Heart, not just for Gertrude but for all peoples.
The Lord reveals His divine love to Gertrude in multiple visions. God enlightened and softened her mind, detaching her from her love of literature and all vanities, which no longer appealed to her. From now on, God alone was pleasing to her soul, and the yoke of Our Lord became to her sweet and His burden light, whereas before, Gertrude says she had found them hard, and almost unbearable. She praised God for bringing about this wonderful transformation in her soul, by “composing a beverage suitable to my temperament.”
Gertrude placed the Lord into all that she did, just like St. Therese of Lisieux. The mundane tasks of life turned sweet when she invited Him into them. I try my best to include the Lord in my daily tasks in life, and when I do I often feel His love and peace enter.
Today, we celebrate St. Gertrude’s feast day on November 16th and she is known as the patroness of the dead because of her special devotion to the souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude’s “little way” was to regularly pray for the souls in purgatory. Catholic tradition says that Jesus promised St. Gertrude that 1,000 souls would be released from purgatory every time the following prayer is recited with devotion:
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.