Memorial of St. Gertrude the Great
Scripture Readings: Rev 1:1-4; 2:1-5; Lk 18:35-43
St. Gertrude is the only Cistercian woman saint to be given the title “the Great”. She also has the distinction of never being formally canonized. She had graced visions from the age of 25 until her death in her late 40’s. So far, the only thing any of us have in common with her is that we have never been formally canonized! But there is one thing about her that makes her worthy of our notice: she practiced what is called “nuptial mysticism” (sometimes referred to as “Bridal Mysticism”). She considered herself a “Bride of Christ.” Such status is not gender-specific.
“Nuptial” has become a popular word in modern spirituality, especially since Pope St. John Paul II taught about “the nuptial meaning of the body.” “Nuptial” refers to the most intimate aspect of a relationship that is not to be experienced outside of marriage. Within that commitment, the pope notes that “nuptial” takes on the core meaning of “self-gift.” And that seems to be what it means for St. Gertrude the Great.
A few weeks ago, we talked about our attraction to “the noble” that brought us to the monastery. It is hard to imagine anything more noble than making a gift of self…whether in marriage or in monastic life. It is very significant that this gift of self is made in a relationship, in a community. It requires a receiver.
Within the intimacy of this nuptial gift, one pursues the good of the other. St. Benedict calls this “preferring.” In pursuing the others good, one’s own good is assured; it need not be deliberately sought. In doing this it creates the potential for the greatest beneficiary: a new life. It is something like the blind man in today’s gospel. The restoration of sight is not for his own good alone. With sight restored he follows Jesus giving praise to the Father and on-lookers also benefit by joining him in praising. This is what Jesus came for: to manifest the Fathers generosity to the world. We are to carry that on.
St. Gertrude’s practice of being a gift began as a receiver. She sought to return the gift of being, a gift received from God. This is for all of us to do. She –and we- were first given existence by God, made in His image and likeness. We become “perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” to the extent that we actively receive His giving as His gift and participate in His generosity by giving to others. Thus, one’s own good is found in seeking the good of another. Our existence is received and unfolded, through others, for the purpose of generosity. It awaits our response, our decision to use our freedom to practice the nuptial mysticism of being a self-gift.
Memorial of St. Gertrude the Great
Scripture Readings: Wis 7:22b-8:11; Lk 17:20-25
Can anyone, other than the saints, approach death with tranquility and happiness? A 13th century Cistercian mystic, Saint Gertrude the Great, received comforting assurance from Christ concerning the moment of our deaths. He said to her, “When I behold anyone in agony who has thought of me with pleasure, or performed any works deserving reward, I appear at the moment of death with a countenance so full of love and mercy that the sinner will repent from the heart for ever offending me, and will be saved.” 1
Gerard Manley Hopkins was so encouraged by this promise that he put it into poetic form for all of us in this way: “To him who ever thought with love of me, or ever did for my sake some good deed, I will appear looking such charity, and kind compassion at his life’s last need, that he will out of hand and heartily, repent he sinned, and all his sins be freed.” 2
1. St. Gertrude the Great, Revelations, Book Three. Also quoted in Scholars and Mystics, by Sister Mary Jeremy, O.P., Henry Regnery Co., Chgicago, 1962, 92.
2. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems, 1st edition, 1918, by Robert Bridges, Unfinished Poems and Fragments # 74.