Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Illustrious for the Gift of Revelations

Today is the feast day of a number of interesting saints in the Catholic liturgical calendar. One of them is St. Margaret of Scotland. I talked about her a bit last year. But I wavered over whether I would do a post on St. Edmund Rich of Abingdon and Canterbury or on St. Gertrude of Helfta, both of whom also have their feast today. I decided on Gertrude, who is best known as St. Gertrude the Great.

Gertrude lived in the last half of the thirteenth century. We know almost nothing about her background, but we do know that she was sent as a child to live and study at the monastery at Helfta. There she was looked after by Mechtilde von Hackeborn-Wippra, who would later become known as St. Mechtilde or St. Matilda. The two would become lifelong friends. Gertrude was an exemplary student and eventually joined the convent as a nun.

At the age of twenty-six she began to have the visions that gave her the description, "illustrious for the gift of revelations," in the Roman Martyrology. It was also about this time that she began to focus on helping her sisters in the convent to understand theological matters, writing paraphrases of Scriptural passages, collecting notable sayings of the saints, and designing guides for meditation. She seems to have written quite a bit, but only two works have survived: the Herald of Divine Love and the Spiritual Exercises.

In one of her visions she saw Christ upon his throne and the Apostle John at his feet writing down the devotions that her community made day in and day out, that they might be noted when all people came to judgment. Some of these were written in black: these were done out of mere custom. Some were written in red: these were done in true memory of Christ's Passion. Of the red letters, some were given decoration in black, others in gold; those decorated in black were done for one's own salvation, while those in gold were done simply for the glory of God. After every two paragraphs, the Apostle left a space, and when she asked why, she was told that everything was written down in a particular order. First came thoughts, then came words, then came deeds. The space was because people were forgetting to offer their deeds, as well as their thoughts and words, to God in memory of Christ's Passion.

She died in her mid-forties in 1301.

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