St. Gertrude the Great, Abbess and Virgin
The Roman Martyrology commemorates, today, the virgin St. Gertrude, who is to be distinguished from another virgin of the same name, whose life is recorded in the month of March. The Breviary relates of her, as follows: Gertrude was born at Eisleben, in Saxony, the same place where, two hundred years later, the unhappy Luther came into the world. When hardly five years old, she went into the Benedictine convent at Rudersdorf, to consecrate herself entirely to the service of the Most High. From that time, she despised all that was worldly, and striving only after virtue, led an almost heavenly life. The meditation of the divine mysteries, to which she was much devoted, served her as an incitement to virtue and perfection. In all her actions, she sought only the honor of God. Her conversations on our Lord and His holy life were most edifying, and her devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and the bitter passion and death of Christ was so fervent, that she frequently shed floods of tears in contemplating them. The Virgin Mother, whom in a vision, Christ had given her as mother, she venerated with filial affection. She daily offered all her prayers and other good works for the souls in purgatory, many of whom she freed from their sufferings.
When thirty years of age, she was chosen abbess or superior, and successively governed two convents, with so much mildness, wisdom and zeal for the maintenance of the Rule, that the houses under her charge were justly regarded and praised as true dwellings of religious perfection. Although the holy virgin, as superior, stood above all, she would be the least of them, and endeavored to show those under her all possible kindness. The Almighty favored her with extraordinary gifts. She had many visions of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and other Saints. The revelations which she had of secret and future events were almost numberless. She often went into ecstasy during her prayers and continued in it a considerable length of time. But notwithstanding these and other divine gifts, she was so humble that she frequently said that one of the greatest miracles of divine goodness was the fact that God suffered her to serve Him.
Quite different was the judgment of heaven; for, to say nothing of many other proofs of the favor with which she was regarded, we will only relate, that Christ Himself revealed to another holy person, that He had chosen for Himself a most lovely dwelling in the heart of Gertrude. God made the hour of her death known to her; and the nearer it approached, the more her zeal in the Lord’s service increased; until a happy death called her home, in 1292. She was during her life, venerated as an example of all virtues, among which her love of God was the brightest. This love was so great, that her death was caused rather by its ardor than by the sufferings of her malady. Before and after her death, God wrought many and great miracles by her intercession.
The nearer the hour of her death approached the more zealous St. Gertrude became in the service of God. Many persons are aware when their lives are drawing to a close, either because they are very old, or because they perceive that their strength leaves them, or because God visits them with a mortal sickness. If these persons wish to act sensibly they will endeavor to employ the time left to them to the best advantage. They ought to prepare themselves carefully and in time for death; bear the pains they suffer patiently, in the spirit of penance, and offer them to the Almighty; practice good works daily; repent daily and hourly of the sins of their past life, in order to atone, at least in some measure, for their former negligence, and yet gather some treasures for eternity, during the few days of life that still remain.
“Work while it is day,” admonishes the Lord; “the night cometh when no man can work.” (John ix.). The laborers in the gospel who did not begin to work until the eleventh hour, received the same wages as those who had worked longer, because in their zeal they had done as much in the last hour, as the others during the whole day. St. Chrysostom says: “At the eleventh hour are called those who are advanced in age. This parable is intended to encourage those who do not reform until they are old, that they may not think that their happiness in heaven will not be as great as that of others.” But Christ gave this parable to comfort not only the aged, but all those who have been negligent in the service of the Most High. Such people especially when they feel that their end draws near, should employ all their strength to serve the Lord, in order to repair, in a short time, what they have neglected. They will surely gain eternal life by acting thus. St. Chrysostom says: “The older we are or the nearer we are, for other reasons, to eternity, the more eagerly must we run along the way to Heaven.”
The special devotion of St. Gertrude to the passion and death of our Lord, prompts me to say a few words more. Harder than a stone must you be, if, considering not only who He was who suffered and died for your sake, but also, how He suffered in soul and body and how painful a death He died–harder than a stone, I say, must you be, if, considering all this, you are not moved with love and devotion towards your Savior. But you must prove your gratitude and love, especially, by earnestly repenting of your sins, which were the cause of Christ’s sufferings and death.
“He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins,” says the Prophet. (Isai. liii.) “See, O man!” says St. Bernard, “the greatness of your wounds, in the awful suffering of the Lord.” And if you recognize the enormity of sin, tell me, how can you dare to sin again? “The son of God died for our sins;” says Origen: “and canst thou, O Christian, delight in sinning?” You know that Christ, true God and Man, sweat blood for your crimes, in the garden of Olives; that He was made a prisoner, was derided, scourged, crowned with thorns, and finally crucified; and you dare to sin anew? Is then hell itself enough to punish such abominable wickedness? The holy Apostle curses all those who do not love our Lord Jesus Christ. What then does he deserve who even dares to offend Him anew? “If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” (1 Cor. xvi.)
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.