Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Gertrude the Great

…you have led me to know and consider the interior of my heart, which until then I had heeded as little as, if I may put it thus, the interior of my feet.” (Herald of Divine Love, Book 2, Chapter 2).
This lovely quote is from the mystic Gertrude the Great talking about her relationship with Christ. It is one of my favorite quotes from Gertrude because it so honest and real.
Gertrude was born January 6, 1257 in Helfta, Germany. Her birth was on the feast of the Epiphany which is telling because all of Gertrude’s visions were centered on the liturgical year. When she was five years she was admitted to the Benedictine monastery school of Helfta. Ten or eleven years later she joined the Benedictine community at Helfta.
The abbess of Helfta was another Gertrude, Gertrude of Hackborn. She fostered the intellectual life of Helfta and the monastery became famous for several important nuns/mystics who lived here. The community gave sanctuary and solace to Mechtild of Magdeburg, a former Beguine whose criticism of the church dignitaries and theological writings led to her oppression by the church. The abbess’ younger sister, Mechtild of Hackeborn was also a visionary. Between the three (Mechthild of Magdeburg, St. Gertrud, and Mechtild of Hackeborn), they produced over 1200 pages of mystical writing.
Mechtild of Hackeborn &
Gertrude the Great
(Watercolor by Sr. Emmanuel
Pieper, OSB)
The love of Christ represented by
his Heart was central to the spiritual
life and understanding of both.
In Advent of 1280 Gertrude entered a period of emotional and spiritual distress. On January 27 of 1281 she experienced what she called her conversion in an encounter with the Risen Christ. She writes “And suddenly you appeared unexpectedly, imprinting a wound in my heart with these words, ‘May all your affections be centered here: all sweetness, hope, joy, sorrow, fear and all other feelings be fixed in my heart.
She began writing about her visions and spiritual experiences in 1289.These experiences were recounted in the second book of the Herald of Divine Love. (The first book of the Herald of Divine Love was written after Gertrude's death by sisters at Helfta who knew her.) Some time after, she wrote her Spiritual Exercises. She died in 1302 and was never officially canonized although a Liturgical Office of prayer, readings and hymns in her honor was approved by Rome in 1606.
The Feast of St. Gertrude was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Clement XII in 1738 and today is celebrated on November 16, the date of her death.)
Gertrude’s writings are enthusiastic and almost breathless, at first glance appearing a little childish. When I try to imagine her, I picture a very young sister full of energy and idealism. Her theme is always the goodness, mercy and generosity of God. She always tries to convey her experience of God and her relationship of a God who is infinite and she who is a finite creature. You are inebriated, if I may say so, to madness, that you join to yourself one so unlike you. But it would be more apt to say that the total goodness of your nature flows naturally toward the salvation of the human race.” (Herald of Divine Love, Book 2, Chapter 8.)
This is just a short introduction to Gertrude the Great. She and her sisters at Helfta are important contributors to the history of Christian mysticism and spirituality.

Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Presence and Peace

          Jesus stood in the midst of the disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” Alleluia
         This passage from the Gospel of John was repeated often this past weekend as the community gathered to elect a prioress. The process included several hours of individual and group discernment.          During that time, and in meetings beforehand, we discussed our hopes, concerns and directions for the future. All of this led to the election of our new prioress, Sr. Aileen Bankemper.

The Doubt of Thomas by James He Qi
           Recalling that Jesus is in our midst as his disciples today, giving us his peace, was both a guiding force and a consolation. Every day, not just during elections, Jesus gives us his support and sustenance. We but have to believe and receive it.

          A bookmark I use every day carries a similar sentiment:
                Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.

Let us glory in the peace of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, ALLELUIA!

                                       Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On the Way to Emmaus

       Today, we are being invited to accompany two companions on their way to Emmaus, a town approximately 6-7 miles from Jerusalem [Lk.24:13-35]. The first companion is Cleophas. According to Hegesippus' record, he may have been the brother of Joseph, Mary’s husband. This theory is supported by St Jerome. The Church History by Eusbuius of Caesarea written in 324 AD  notes the second companion was Simon, the son of Cleophas.
         Both were members of the chosen 70 sent out to preach the Coming of the Kingdom.  They were very sad and depressed on the suffering and death of Jesus literally heartbroken.
         Another stranger has joined us on this journey.  His eyes locked onto ours.
We could not recognize him so heavy were our hearts.
          As we walked along this stranger began to review all the scriptures beginning with Moses and all the prophets.  How did He get this knowledge?  As He spoke 
the eyes of our hearts were beginning to open and and a solace began to burn
within us.
          As we reached Cleophas' home in Emmaus, he invited the stranger to join us for a supper meal. As He blessed the bread at the table, our physical eyes were opened wide and we truly recognized Him as Jesus our friend and savior and our joy and gratitude overflowed.  Then He vanished from our sight.
          We knew we had to return to Jerusalem this very night and let the others know
what had taken place and that Jesus had truly risen within the 3 days as promised.
Other thoughts to ponder:
1.     How do we welcome those who accompany us in our daily duties?
2.     Do we walk with another in pain and in sorrow?
3.     As we meet Jesus in disguise, how long before we recognize Him?
4.     Cleophas means “proclaimer” in Greek.  How will we proclaim Jesus?

In Pope Francis Easter Vigil's homily, He stated:  “To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our
conventions and our fixed ways of thinking and acting that could end up paralyzing us.”
Let us joyfully ‘celebrate Easter’
       Sr. Joan Gripshover, OSB

Friday, March 30, 2018

Black Elk Speaks

          In a recent search of the library shelves I chose a biography Black Elk Speaks  subtitled “Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux.  I have not reached the adult stage in Black Elk’s life yet but I am fascinated by his maturing process. So far in the story the strong beliefs have not been revealed.  But the sacredness of nature is always present. What I really want to share are some of the names of the months as they carry their own spirituality.  Enjoy!
Black Elk card by Robert Lentz
   Moon of the Snowblind (March)—leaving this behind
   Moon of the Red Grass Appearing (April) welcoming this month
   Moon of the Popping Trees (December)
   Moon of the Changing Season (October)
   Moon of the Falling Leaves (November; October in another site)
   When the Plums are Scarlet (September)
   Moon of the Red Cherries (July) 
   Moon When the Cherries are ripe (Late July)
   Moon of Making Fat (June)
   Moon of black Cherries (August)

 I also have to share an additional phrase that is such a lovely sight: ”the bitten Moon” 
          Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Little Food for Thought from an Ancient Rule

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say:  I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.”* As we celebrate the Feast of St. Benedict today, over 1500 years after the death of our patron, let us consider briefly the ministry of hospitality in our lives now.
Who is the stranger, the poor, the pilgrim today - in our society, our city, our neighborhood?  How do we collectively and individually welcome others?  How do I identify with the underserved, the neglected, the persecuted?  How do I reverence the Divine in everyone?  Each of us will answer in our own way, as our circumstances vary.  We may perceive a need to widen our vision, stretch our borders, take a risk, read the Church’s social encyclicals** or just listen with the ear of our heart… and respond.
Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB  
*(RB1980 53: 1, 15)   Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN  c 1981                                                                                                        

**U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Social Justice Encyclicals

Monday, March 19, 2018

Overshadowed by St. Patrick

          On March 17 most of the world, especially the United States, celebrates the Feast of St. Patrick. But there is another saint whose feast day is March 17. I found this representation of that saint on the Episcopal Memes Facebook page. The representation is from an original work by Carolee Clark, King of Mice Studios.

         Gertrude of Nivelles (c625-659)  lived in the 7th century in Belgium and was a younger daughter of Saint Pepin of Landen and Saint Ida of Nivelles; sister of Saint Begga of Ardenne. It seemed to be a saintly family. They lived in the pre-Charlemagne era (the Merovingian era) when the Western Roman Empire was in tatters and there were many local kings and small local states. Very little is known of Gertrude’s early life.

        The chief source of Gerttude’s life is the Vita Sanctae Geretrudis and the Additamentum Nivialense de Fuilano probably written before 670 and after 663 (very soon after Gertrude’s death). The Vita indicates that when Gertrude was ten years old, she rejected a royal suitor and declared vehemently that she would take neither him or any other earthly spouse but only Christ the Lord.
          Her parents seem to have honored her wishes. It was only after her father died in 639 that her mother shaved Gertrude’s head, leaving only a crowned shape tonsure in order to repel any other suitors who might wish to marry her daughter for wealth and power. Ida then built a Benedictine double monastery at Nivelles where she retired with her daughter. When Ida died, Gertrude at the age of twenty became abbess of the monastery.

          Gertrude was known for her hospitality and the aid given to Irish missionary monks . St. Patrick had lived almost 200 year previous and Ireland was then in need of more evangelization. She also was helpful to St. Follian by giving him land on which to build his monastery at Fosses, Belgium.

          In 656 she resigned as abbess in favor of her niece St. Wilfretrudis and devoted the rest of her life to studying Scripture. She had the gift of visions and was known as an ascetic visionary. She fasted so rigorously and slept so little that her health became precarious. She died at the age of 33 in 659. It was said that St. Patrick watched over her deathbed.

          Gertrude was not formally canonized but in 1677 Pope Clement declared her universal feast day to be March 17.

          Gertrude’s iconography is flexible and evolving. Originally she was considered the patron of travelers because of her hospitality and then patron of gardeners and the mentally ill. As time went by, she became the patron of rats or mice because she was known to pray for souls in purgatory, and medieval artists frequently portrayed those souls as mice. Many drawings and statues of Gertrude showed her with a crozier symbolizing her position as abbess and mice or rats at her feet or running up her robes or the crozier. Since mice or rats have never had a good reputation, she later became the saint who would intercede when there was infestation of mice or rats.

           Recently people have associated the saint who warded off mice or rats as a patron of cats  We have no story that Gertrude even owned a cat but cats were useful in medieval times to keep the rats and mice away from food supplies and even out of houses whose floors were “rushes”( mats made of straw or any dried pieces of greenery) that caught and held food droppings and were only changed every season. Many authors point to the 1981 Metropolitan Museum of Art's catalog, Metropolitan Cats, as the beginning of her status as  patron of cats.

          Gertrude of Nivelles is not to be confused with another Benedictine saint and mystic, Gertrude the Great, who lived from 1256 to 1302 at Helfta in Germany. Perhaps I’ll do a future post on her.

                                         Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Beauty in Brokenness

               Kintsugi is a Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. It seems a fitting image during this Lenten season. We enter this season with our brokenness and fragility. God
takes our broken pieces, filling the cracks with grace and healing.
                As we journey through Lent may we in our brokenness allow God to bring us healing.   May we witness to the Gospel through acts of compassion and understanding as we encounter brokenness in one another and the world and which we live. 
May we each grow in the art of seeing beauty where once we only saw brokenness. 
        Sr. Kimberly Porter, OSB