On Wednesday morning Pope Benedict focused his weekly address on the extraordinary life of a 13th-century German woman and saint, St. Gertrude the Great. From her life, the Holy Father said that modern Christians can see that true happiness still springs from a friendship with Christ.
More than 15,000 faithful and pilgrims joined Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square for Wednesday's general audience. Among the crowd were candidates for the diaconate from the Pontifical North American College, accompanied by hundreds of family members and friends.
Continuing his series of catecheses on 13th-century monastic saints, the Holy Father chose to recount the life of St. Gertrude the Great, the only German woman honored with the title of "'Great,' for her cultural and evangelical stature." He observed that it was "with her life and her thought that she left her mark in a singular way on Christian spirituality."
He called her "an exceptional woman, endowed with particular natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, of very profound humility, ardent zeal for the salvation of neighbor, of intimate communion with God in contemplation and readiness to aid the needy."
St. Gertrude entered the convent at Helfta at five years old, where she was taught by St. Matilda of Hackeborn, whom the Pope remembered for her intense spirituality in his catechesis last Wednesday. Gertrude was intelligent and studious, but also impulsive and described by herself as "negligent."
At 25 years old, however, she underwent a profound conversion when saw Christ in a vision and recognized the salvation he earned for the world with his blood.
The Pope remembered that her conversion led her to concentrate on theological studies and to leave concern of "external things" behind to dedicate herself to "intense, mystical prayer, with an exceptional missionary ardor." And, "in her religious practice, she pursued prayer with devotion and faithful abandonment to God," the Holy Father recalled.
"Gertrude transformed all of this into an apostolate: she dedicated herself to writing and divulging the truth of faith with clarity and simplicity, grace and persuasion, serving the Church with love and fidelity, so much so as to be useful and appreciated to theologians and pious persons."
She died at the convent when she was in her mid-forties, as the 14th century began.
Concluding his catechesis by making some unprepared remarks, Pope Benedict said that it is "obvious" that the characteristics of her life "are not things of the past," rather they tell us that "the center of a happy life, a true life, is friendship with Jesus."
"This friendship," he taught, "is learned in love for the Sacred Scriptures, in love for the liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary - to know ever more truly God himself and, in such a way, true happiness, the goal of our lives."