JOHN 15:1-8

St. Gertrude of Helfta

"I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES," says the Lord Jesus.  Saint John records this saying of Jesus as part of the Farewell Discourse that took place at the Last Supper shortly before he entered upon his Passion and went to his Death.  He wrote these words more than fifty years after they were so solemnly uttered on that occasion, intending that future followers of our Lord would find assurance from them and take confidence from knowing they hold true through the ages.  To hear them with faith is for us today a beacon of light shinning in the darkness and giving hope.

If this text has been chosen for the mass at which we commemorate Saint Gertrude the Great, it is to fix in our attention the fact that this holy and very intelligent woman bore witness to the enduring nature of the promise contained in Jesus' words.  Her whole life, from her infancy to her death at the height of her powers, only 45 years old, witnesses to the continuing grace of intimate union with the Savior offered to his faithful followers.  The gifts of prayer she received, beginning at the age of 25, made of her subsequent life a concrete instance of what our Lord taught in these words of today's Gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches."  Especially Gertrude repeatedly spoke of the warm love that emanated from the heart of our Savior.  She became an early contributor to the theology and devoted prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which she described as "a storehouse of spices" that gave sweet savor to a person's life.  Gertrude was endowed with a high intelligence and had developed a cultured taste for the writing of various spiritual writers.  St. Bernard above all she considered her teacher, and William of Saint-Thierry too proved an effective contributor to her life of prayer.  Even her Latin style, flexible and lively, reflects her obligation to Bernard's way of presenting his witness to the Lord.  Gertrude carried further, and expressed in more explicit detail the personal love for Christ symbolized by his heart itself.  She gave her experience with a particular focus on that most intimate depth of the person signified by the heart.  One of the high-points of her interior life occurred when our Lord even exchanged hearts with her.

As eloquent and learned as she was, Gertrude was very modest She proved reluctant to reveal to the public the mystical experiences centered first on the Trinity and then, soon after, on the Sacred Heart of the Savior.  She, however, was finally brought to write and publish her account of the special graces received when Jesus himself urged her to do so.  The reason he gave remains of particular significance for us today, as it has for many generations of believers since her own time.  She recorded the encouraging words of our Lord directing her to rite of her mystical prayer: "I desire to have in your writing incontrovertible proof of my divine love, as I propose through them to do good to many souls in these modern times."

Some of Gertrude's most meaningful encounters with the Lord took place at the Eucharistic sacrifice, especially at communion.  By her intercession today as we commemorate her life and recall her teaching may our Eucharist here this morning obtain for each of us a share in the same grace of spiritual love and the courage it gives rise to.  May that same grace be ours so that we remain united with our sister, Gertrude of Helfta, in loving faith with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our Savior.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger