I got to know Gertrude of Hefta a few years ago because I was searching for someone who could help me recognize heaven more while I am on earth. Of course, recognizing heaven while we live on earth is the whole point of Christianity but Gertrude had a very graphic way of describing her experiences with God and reading her accounts heightened my awareness of being with God everyday, which is what heaven is after all. Through her writings, Gertrude also anticipated devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which wasn’t popularized until three centuries later by St. Margaret Mary.
Like Benedict XVI has told us, “Thanks to the Holy Spirit, believers are able to know the intimacy of God himself, discovering that he is not an infinite solitude but a communion of light and love and life…In this world, no one is able to see God but he has made himself known so that, with the Apostle John, we are able to affirm ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.'(1 Jn 4:16).”
Our Lord affirmed that his desire isn’t for “infinite solitude”, as our Holy Father says, by appearing to St Gertrude once after Communion in the form of a pelican. When she asked him why, he said, “I wish that everyone would consider the excess of love which required Me to present you with such a gift. For after having thus sacrificed Myself, I would rather remain dead in the tomb than deprive a soul who loves Me of the fruit of My Mercy. Consider that, as the blood which comes from the heart of the pelican gives life to its little ones, so also the soul whom I nourish with Divine Food which I am, receives Divine Life in this world which will never end.”
On another occasion after receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist, Gertrude asked if she might share his presence with the souls detained in purgatory. Jesus replied, “It is not easy for everyone to approach a king who stays in his castle but, when love for his queen induces him to go forth, all may behold, through her, his magnificence. Thus, when I am moved by love to visit one of the faithful in the Sacrament of the Altar, all who are in heaven, on earth or in purgatory receive immense benefits thereby.”
By these teachings and many many others, Gertrude plainly communicates how God “has made himself known”, as the Pope says, to her. In so doing, this remarkable woman who died in 1302, has made heaven, God’s presence, more known to me in the 21st century too. What a wonderful consolation to realize that, when I receive Communion worthily, I am able to share that joy not only with the people in purgatory but also with loved ones who live in heaven now! Truly uniting us now in Christ’s Body as, hopefully, we will all be when this world-that-is-passing-away ends.
No wonder Gertrude the Great is on the short list of review to be declared a Doctor of the Church. Let’s ask for her help to grow in our faith on her feast day, November 16.