St. Benedict and St. Gertrude
St. Benedict of Nursia
“Listen carefully, my daughter, to the master’s instruction, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
Benedict and his twin sister, Scholastica, were born in Norcia, Italy in 480. The Roman Empire was crumbling both physically and spiritually and times in Europe were very unstable.
Deeply affected by the increased tyranny, Benedict retreated into the hills of Subiaco and lived as a hermit for three years. Often depicted with a raven, tradition has it that the birds fed Benedict during this time.
People were drawn to Benedict and his spiritual example. A great number of men gathered around Benedict because they saw his holiness and desired to seek God.
Benedict founded twelve monasteries. As he explored this way of life, he wrote a set of guidelines for the Christians who entered the monasteries. This guide came to be known as the Rule of Benedict. Focusing on stability, respect, prayer and communal living, it offered an example of how life could be lived, even during societal and cultural upheaval.
The Feast of St. Benedict is March 21, but because it falls during Lent, the church celebrates the Solemnity of Benedict on July 11.
St. Gertrude of Helfta
St. Gertrude was born on the Feast of the Epiphany 1256. It is speculated that she was offered as a child oblate to the Church by devout parents. In her own writings, however, Gertrude called herself an orphan.
She was admitted to school at the Benedictine Abbey at Helfta in Saxony in 1261. She entered the Helfta convent upon completion of her studies. Shortly after her 25th birthday, she experienced the first in a series of visions which ultimately transformed her life.
In 1289, Gertrude heard Christ ask her to write a spiritual autobiography. Known as The Herald of God’s Lovingkindness, Gertrude describes her awakening as one which made Christ so real that she was able to overcome all resistance within herself and move toward unconditional surrender to God’s love.
Gertrude also wrote Spiritual Exercises, an arrangement of prayers, hymns, and reflections centered around the themes and rites of the church liturgy. The Exercises were used by the Helfta community, by Gertrude herself, and by those who came to Gertrude for spiritual direction. Today, people seeking a deeper spirituality may find Spiritual Exercises helpful.
The Feast of St. Gertrude is celebrated on November 16, the date of her death in 1301 or 1302.