Meet Marcos. Click on the picture to watch L’Arche international’s beautiful video.
Gertrude was born on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1256. At the age of four, she entered the monastery school at the monastery of St. Mary at Helfta, where she was confided to the care of St. Mechtilde, and joined the monastic community in 1266.
At the age of twenty-five, she experienced the first of a series of visions that continued throughout her life, and which changed the course of her life. Her priorities shifted away from secular knowledge and toward the study of Scripture and theology. Gertrude devoted herself strongly to personal prayer and meditation, and began writing spiritual treatises for the benefit of her monastic sisters. Gertrude became one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Together with her friend and teacher St. Mechtild, she practiced a spirituality called “nuptial mysticism,” that is, she came to see herself as the bride of Christ.
Gertrude produced numerous writings, though only some survive today. The longest survival is known in English today as The Herald of Divine Love or The Herald of God’s Loving-Kindness, partly written by other nuns. There also remains her collection of Spiritual Exercises. A work known as Gertrudian Prayers is a later compilation, made up partly of extracts from the writings of Gertrude and partly of prayers composed in her style.
One of the most esteemed woman saints of the Christian West, she was a notable early devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Book 2 of the Herald of Divine Love is notable within the history of Christian devotion because its vivid descriptions of Gertrude’s visions show a considerable elaboration on the long-standing but ill-defined veneration of Christ’s heart. This veneration was present in the belief that Christ’s heart poured forth a redemptive fountain through the wound in His side; an image culminating in its most famous articulation by St Bernard in his commentary on the Song of Songs. The women of Helfta—Gertrude foremost, who surely knew Bernard’s commentary, and to a somewhat lesser extent the two Mechthilds – Mechthild of Magdeburg and Mechthild of Hackeborn — made this devotion central to their mystical visions. Saint Gertrude had a vision on the feast of John the Evangelist. She was resting her head near the wound in the Savior’s side and hearing the beating of the Divine Heart. She asked Saint John if on the night of the Last Supper, he had felt these pulsations, why he had never spoken of the fact. Saint John replied that this revelation had been reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would have need of it to rekindle its love.
On this day, lift before God:
- those who are orphaned.
- all who experience visions and visual disturbances.
- all mystics and those who find their work inspiring.
- all who pray for those who have died and all who are grieving.
Anthony’s is another life deeply coloured by grief. He was born in 1477 in a Russian village near Archangel. From an early age he devoted himself to reading sacred books and making icons. When his parents died, he worked for a wealthy lord in Novgorod, eventually marrying the lord’s daughter. Less than a year later, however, he was widowed. The hagiography then writes: “Despairing of earthly consolations, he gave his wealth to the poor and, owning only the clothes that he wore, went to become a monk at the Monastery of St Pachomius.”
Anthony is clearly deep in grief and maybe in depression. He found solace in a life of prayer, vigil and ascesis. He prayed for most of the night, took on the heaviest work by day, and (in a time when this would be praised as a virtue, not questioned as an eating disorder) ate only every second day. After a short time he was ordained to the priesthood.
Some years later he and two companions, seeking a still more secluded life for prayer, travelled to the frozen shores of the White Sea and established a small monastic brotherhood where the River Siya enters Lake Mikhailov. They lived in utter poverty, staying alive by gathering mushrooms and wild berries. This phenomenal lack of worldliness impressed and intrigued others that were seeking deeper relationships with God. In time, therefore, other brethren were attracted to the site, and a monastery was founded with the help of the Grand Prince of Moscow.
Anthony’s response was to withdraw into the forests, living alone for many years. God however, who exists in the community of the Trinity, is always calling us back into community to share our lives with our neighbours as well as in communion with the divine. Anthony’s spiritual children called him back to serve as the monastery’s abbot.
Let us give thanks to God for taking even our most distressing experiences and using them to shine light into the world.
On this day, lift before God:
- those who are widowed.
- all who cannot imagine being happy.
- all who find visual arts helpful in exploring faith, whether as onlookers or creators.
Nicholas was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Whilst he may simply have been quiet, an introvert by nature, I can’t help but wonder whether Nicholas had autistic traits, especially given the combination of his preference for silence and solitude alongside his sudden violent outburst at the Council of Nicea, where he struck Arius on the face. This act should have led to Nicholas being deposed as a bishop, but the other 316 bishops were convinced during prayer that Nicholas had acted out of love for truth and not through malice or anger and so allowed him to remain a bishop.
Nicholas had wanted to be a hermit in the Holy Land; but was ordained priest by his uncle, the then Archbishop and told to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. His desire for a life of simplicity led Nicholas, when his parents died, to give away all of his inheritance to the needy, taking particular care that this charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to send them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).
Let us give thanks that a man who spoke and wrote so little can still be God’s instrument to inspire us in faith and generosity today.
On this day, lift before God:
- those, who do not speak, or do not speak often.
- all who poor, hungry or in danger.
- all charged with steering the course of the church, according to God’s will.
This piece of our potter’s work is Saint Barbara, whose life in one way epitomises all that Peter is saying about how our actions grow from our convictions, with our convictions growing from faith and love. On the other hand she has an impulsiveness that shows a complete lack of fear or lack of understanding of the consequences of her actions.
Barbara lived during the third century. At some point in early adulthood she secretly began to believe in the Holy Trinity. Nobody knows why she began to believe. She hadn’t been visited by preachers, although she might have heard tales. She is reported to have begun by believing in the mystery of the Trinity, an amazingly complex notion to be revealed into her heart or apprehended during prayer.
When her father, Dioscorus, was required to go away in the middle of a bath-house building project, Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. This action is both bold and oblique. Changing her father’s orders was likely to bring trouble, but the addition of a third window would not have an obvious meaning to the uninitiated. Something in Barbara clearly needed to express what she was coming to understand, to make solid something unseen and mysterious.
When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added. Barbara could simply have argued her desire for more light or the artistic merits of an arrangement of three windows, instead Barbara began to tell him all the wonders of the mystery of the Trinity. Perhaps she had consciously, or unconsciously put the third window there to provoke the question, to enable her to speak about a topic she didn’t know how to bring up.
Sadly Barbara did not meet with a loving acceptance, nor a sense of wonder at where his daughter would get such strange ideas. Her father tortured her inhumanly, but she refused to renounce her faith. Finally he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.
On this day, lift before God:
- those, who believe secretly.
- all who find meaning and pleasure in the placement of windows and patterns of light.
- all who can be driven to anger and/or violence in defence of their beliefs.