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Saint Gertrude the Great

St. Gertrude was born in Germany on January 6, 1256 and was orphaned at an early age. When she was five years old, she was taken to the Benedictine Abbey at Helfta in Saxony to be educated by the nuns there. She was a lovable, quick-witted child who responded well to those who taught her.

Upon completion of her studies, at the age of 15 or 16, Gertrude entered the community of Helfta. She was strong in character and personality and became a life-giving presence in the monastery. As a young woman, however, Gertrude was not overly pious and became so engrossed in her secular studies that she neglected her spiritual calling. By the time she was 24, she was beginning to find the routines of the monastery tiresome. During the Advent season of 1280, she endured a severe trial emotionally and spiritually. Shortly after her 25th birthday, on January 27, 1281, Gertrude experienced a sudden and unexpected encounter with the risen Christ, which she calls her "conversion." In her deepest heart she heard Christ say to her, "Do not fear. I will save you and set you free."

In 1289, Gertrude heard Christ ask her to write an account of the many graces she had received. Reluctantly, Gertrude wrote a short spiritual autobiography, called "The Herald of God's Loving-Kindness." In it, she describes her awakening, which made Christ so real for her that she was able to overcome all resistance within herself and gradually move toward unconditional surrender to God's love. Her spiritual life was based in the scriptures and nurtured in the liturgy. Her prayer was Christ-centered, especially on His humanity represented by the image of the Sacred Heart, the divine treasury of grace. St. Gertrude experienced an intense love of the Eucharist, a loving embrace of the sinner, friendship for the outcast, and an enduring trust in God's mercy. As she matured, her eyes opened to the mystery of Christ's love in the Church and to its evangelizing mission in the world.

St. Gertrude died on November 16 in 1301 or 1302, but her spiritual legacy lives on in the Church especially in her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

"O heart that diffuses gentleness;
O heart that runs over with loving-kindness;
O heart that overflows with charity;
O heart that distills pleasantness;
O heart full of compassion!
O dearest heart, absorb my heart totally in you.
Grant me, dear Jesus, to love you alone in all things and above all things, to cling to you fervently, and to have hope in you always.

St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us!