VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org): The example of the 13th-century nun St. Gertrude offers much more than a lesson in history, says Benedict XVI. Her testimony shows that the center of a happy life is friendship with Jesus.
The Pope affirmed this Wednesday when he continued with his series of general audiences dedicated to women religious of the middle Ages.
He again brought his listeners to the monastery of Helfta, this week to consider in depth a saint he mentioned last Wednesday during his address on St. Matilda.
Wednesday's lesson was about St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1301 or 1302), "the only woman of Germanic descent to be called 'the Great,'" he noted, "because of her cultural and evangelical stature."
The Holy Father summarized the life and spiritual depth of the saint, emphasizing such facts as that "nothing is known about her parents or the place of her birth," but that Gertrude accepted this early uprooting as a gift from Christ. "She said that the Lord said: 'I chose her for my dwelling because it pleases me that everything that is pleasing in her is my work. [...] Precisely for this reason I removed her from all her relatives so that no one would love her for reasons of blood relationship and I would be the only motive of the affection that moves her.'"
Gertrude was an extremely intelligent woman, and she pursued her studies from a young age, having been entrusted to the monastery at age 5 for education and formation.
The Pope observed: "[S]he had a strong character, determined, decisive, impulsive; often negligent, she says; she acknowledges her defects and humbly asks for forgiveness of them. With humility she asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. There are features of her temperament and defects that stayed with her until the end, to the point of astonishing some persons, who wondered how it was possible that the Lord preferred her so much."
Her success at study made her stand out among her sisters, Benedict XVI continued, and "she was tenacious in consolidating her learning in various fields."
However, he said, in the Advent of 1280, she began to sense the vanity of all worldly accomplishments and felt a deep turmoil, until the Lord enlightened her with a vision of a youth who helped her to "surmount the tangle of thorns that oppressed her soul." In this vision, the Pontiff recounted, "she recognized the One who on the cross saved us with his blood, Jesus."
Citing her biographer, the Pope traced her conversion, in which, "with the tireless and careful reading of all the sacred books that she could have or obtain, she filled her heart with the most useful and sweet sentences of sacred Scripture."
"She dedicated herself to writing and spreading the truths of the faith with clarity and simplicity, grace and persuasion, serving the Church with love and fidelity," he added. Unfortunately, however, most of these writings have been lost, the Pope noted.
The Bishop of Rome concluded his reflection on St. Gertrude by saying that it seems obvious "these are not only historic things of the past, but that the existence of St. Gertrude continues to be a school of Christian life, of the straight path, which shows us that the center of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with Jesus the Lord."
This friendship, he continued, "is learned in love for sacred Scripture, in love for the liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so that one will increasingly really know God himself and thus true happiness, the goal of our life."