NOVEMBER 16, 2007, ST GERTRUDE: LUKE 17:26B37

 

WHOEVER TRIES TO SAVE HIS LIFE WILL LOSE IT; WHOEVER SEEKS TO FORFEIT IT WILL KEEP IT. These words of Jesus were spoken as a warning from our Lord as how to survive the disastrous days to come when God=s judgment on the world breaks in unexpectedly. Value life over possessions, take heed to escape imminent danger rather than trying to save material goods, however important they seem, or you will be held back and miss your one chance of deliverance. Life means more than anything you may happen to be attached to. Do not put off these matters but now make your choice. Be single-minded in preserving true life, let the rest go.The Son of Man comes. In fact he compares the situation he has in mind with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and with Noah=s flood.  The point our Lord makes in today=s Gospel is that we must make our choice for life even now; when the critical time comes we shall spontaneously act in keeping with our inner concerns. See to it that you go to be with the Lord, led by the dispositions you now form within yourself, like eagles whose instinct leads them to the carrion that is their food.

  

Today we commemorate one of the outstanding women who lived according to the same spiritual teaching that we strive to follow. Saint Gertrude was never an official member of the Cistercian affiliation, for the Order had determined it could not take responsibility for any more women who dedicated their lives to God in a monastery. But her monastery of Helfta adopted the practices and the spirituality of Citeaux. Gertrude was formed under the influence of Saint Bernard=s doctrine and welcoming his spirit, she, in close association with her sisters followed the traditions that had evolved in the Cistercian lifestyle during the hundred years since the death of the Abbot of Clairvaux. It was in 1260 that she was given to the community at Helfta in Saxony, as a four year old oblate. From that time till her death in 1302 she knew no other home. One of the reasons we celebrate her memory today is that she received a solid intellectual formation and had learned well as a young girl how to write effective Latin and so later, after she had uncommon mystical graces she was able to communicate something of her experience effectively. Of course, it is the content of her writings and those of her close associates in the community who were also gifted intellectually as well as spiritually, that has preserved her memory alive all these centuries. She had a message to give out and was constrained by the Lord himself, to see it was preserved in writing, though she felt averse to speaking of her inner life with its extraordinary manifestations.

Gifted with special revelations that regularly took place during the Liturgy she united in her person the life of common, liturgical prayer with the most intimate interior contemplation.

 

It is the nature of her Liturgical contemplative prayer that is one of the more striking features of her life. The Eucharist was central for her and she experienced particular manifestations of our Lord=s presence in that sacrament even during the mass in the presence of the community. In her the Office and Mass, far from conflicting with personal, interior prayer, were the source and occasion of some of the most intimate revelations and most interior union with the Lord Jesus. At the same time, living with other sisters, such as Mechtild of Hackeborn, like herself, highly gifted and well educated , Gertrude=s inner life was based on sound theological understanding. Her studies were a form of lectio divina, undertaken with a view to union with the Lord. She incorporated as well the affectivity that St. Bernard had made so prominent a feature of his devotion to Jesus, but did not yield to sentimentality. And so Gertrude=s heritage to the Church was the integration of Liturgy, theology and contemplative prayer in the service of a loving union with the Lord Jesus. It is not surprising then that she became an significant contributor to the devotion to the Sacred Heart. As a result of certain of her revelations she felt her soul to be firmly fixed in the heart of the Savior, as at the most personal, interior center of his humanity. She understood well that this heart Ais substantially united to the Word of God@ in the Blessed Trinity.

 

Gertrude then is a major figure in Cistercian and Benedictine spirituality. She teaches us how to integrate the most intimate, contemplative prayer with the Liturgy,with theological study and lectio divina. As we glorify God for giving her as a teacher and model of fhe inner life and of the place of Liturgy in contemplation, may we in turn receive the light and strength to follow her in the way that brings us to union with the Lord in life eternal.         .   

 

                 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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