This week Holy Church celebrates St Gertrude the Great (d circa 1302). There are many great saints, but not many saint “Greats”. In their sparse ranks are popes Leo, Gregory and Nicholas, all Firsts. Some now place St John Paul II with them, thus breaking the Firsts trend.

Benedict XIV (d 1758) named Gertrude “Great” in part to distinguish her from a homonymous saint, but mostly to emphasise the excellence of her spiritual writings, including Herald of Divine Love and Spiritual Exercises.

Gertrude’s writings describe mystical visions of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. She was perhaps influenced by the works of St Bernard of Clairvaux and by St Mechtilde, to whose care she was confided at the monastery when she was presented as an oblate at the age of four. She also embraced what some call bridal or nuptial mysticism, a complicated topic, focused on the intimate joining of soul (bride) and Christ (bridegroom).

Bernard taught of degrees of love in his sermons on the Song of Songs, using its strong, sensuous imagery. Those who desire the spiritual kiss of Christ first must prostrate themselves and learn to kiss His feet and then His hand.

Speaking of the Sacred Heart, Daniel Mitsui, a Catholic artist in Chicago, home of the World Series-winning Cubs (their first triumph in the same number of years as there are stitches in a baseball – Eamus Catuli!), made a hauntingly intense image of the Lord and His Sacred Heart, inspired in part by Gertrude’s writings. Look him up on the internet: search for “Millefleur Press”. Be sure also to look for his lovely etching of Our Lady of Walsingham.

As I write, it is All Souls, thus beginning the days when we pray for the richly hopeful Poor Souls in the Church Suffering being purified in purgatory of the last vestiges of temporal punishment due to sin or attachments to anything unworthy.

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