Tag Archives: Benedictine saints and blesseds

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx: God is friendship

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O God, who gave the blessed Abbot Aelred the grace of being all things to all men, grant that, following his example, we may so spend ourselves in the service of one another, as to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) (1110-1167), consider to be the “Saint Bernard of the North,” was abbot of Rievaulx in England from 1146 until his death. The author of Spiritual Friendship, Saint Aelred’s Pastoral Prayer is a profound meditation on the Rule of Saint Benedict which shaped his thinking and led him (and his disciples) to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.


So, with today’s liturgical memorial of Saint Aelred celebrated especially by Benedictines and Cistercians, the Church’s memory of the life and teaching of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, ought to open for us a renewed interest in friendship with Christ and with one another, as well as a more sincere devotion to the Cross. It is the Cross that shapes the life of the Christian and more poignantly, that of the person professing monastic vows as a monk, nun or the oblate promise. In his well-known treatise, Spiritual Friendship, Saint Aelred has a well-known and bold teaching: “God is friendship.” This is clearly an understanding of Saint John’s theology, “God is love.” In any case, God is friendship is Saint Aelred’s personal experience of God’s intimacy with him.

If God is “friendship,” then implications are unbelievably beautiful. I will leave you to tease out the application to your life.

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Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn

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The Church celebrates two Benedictine friends in several days: Saints Mechtilde and Gertrude. By today’s standards of canonizations, neither were formally canonized by the Church; until recently Hildegard enjoyed a canonization status only observed in Benedictine communities. Her liturgical observance is recognized more universally today. Pope Benedict XVI spoke eloquently of Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn at a 2010 Wednesday Office. The Pope gives a superb insight into the person of Saint Mechtilde that is extraordinarily helpful.

Saint Mechtilde (1240-1298), the sister of Gertrude of Hackeborn (not Gertrude the Great [celebrated on Nov. 16], thought there is great confusion about this relation) attended the monastery school where her sister was a nun and after graduation she entered monastic life. Like Gertrude the Great Saint Mechtilde was known as a serious and gifted student and teacher. Someone described her having a “voice of a songbird.” Her wonderful personality was an asset for her Benedictine community and it likely led to her being a 40 year abbess. As it turns out, Gertrude the Great was a student of Mechtilde’s. Both of whom had a profound love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Privacy issues today weren’t known in the 13th century. Mechtilde’s spiritual experiences were recorded by Gertrude. Though unnerved by the perceived violation of boundaries, the Lord assured her that it was OK. In time Gertrude’s work was the basis of Mechtilde’s “Book of Special Grace” or later known as “Revelations of Saint Mechtilde,” a book that is oriented to the liturgical year and focussed on Christology and Trinitarian theology. The Pope tells us that Mechtilde’s starting point is the sacred Liturgy and her mystical experiences relate us back to the liturgical experience through the lens of the biblical narrative. Saint Mechtilde ought to be one of the heavenly patrons of liturgical studies.
In several places you’ll read that Dante used Saint Mechtilde for his Donna Matelda of his volume of the Purgatorio, Canto XXVII. Whether is true is not yet known. That Dante’s Donna Matelda and Saint Mechtilde are mystics, one wonders if the saint is fictionalized.

Saint Gertrude the Great

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One a few saints with the title “the Great” Saint Gertrude (1256-1301/2) is clearly a woman with a mission. Given by her parents to the Benedictine monastery at Hefta (some say it was a Cistercian house), a monastery known for its learning and saint-making, Gertrude excelled in her studies. One day, around the age 24, she realized that the excellence she had in secular learning was not what she needed, in fact, she considered this way of living vain, and therefore she was called to do by the Lord: to live singularly for Him. Was it earthy wisdom that saved, or heavenly wisdom? She began to change her modus operandi and followed the advice of the Apostle to be totally concerned with heavenly wisdom. 
Before it was a popular devotion, Saint Gertrude was known for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist.
Saint Gertrude’s extant writing includes “The Herald of Divine Love,” The Life and Revelations,” and the “Spiritual Exercises.”
May Saint Gertrude’s greatness inspire us to live more intensely for a deeper communion with the Lord, in this life so as to be with Him in the next.
“My heart has said of you, I have sought your presence Lord. 
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek.”

Blessed Maria Luisa Prosperi

Maria Luisa ProsperiToday, the Church beatified the Venerable Servant of God Maria Luisa (nee Gertrude Prosperi; 1799-1847), a former Abbess of the Benedictine Abbey in Trevi in what is now known as the Diocese of Spoleto-Norcia (Italy). Her name is now added to the long list of Benedictine saints and blesseds.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints pronounced the papal decree of beatification. His homily may be read in Italian here.

What can we learn from Maria Luisa Prosperi?

Our new blessed was devoted to the Most Blessed Sacrament, the contemplation of the cross with a profound and exemplary love for the infinite mercy of God and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is Benedict XVI who tells us to recognize in Abbess Maria Luisa a singular love for the Lord’s Passion. Maria Luisa was known as a “woman in love with God.”

Blessed Maria Luisa’s liturgical memorial will be 12 September.

Blessed Maria Luisa was born on 15 August 1779 and died on 12 September 1847. She became a Benedictine nun of the Monastery of Saint Lucy in 1820 in a monastery founded in 1844.

Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Hildergard von Bingen Dormition Abbey.jpgO Lord, you were generous with your gifts of grace to the virgin Hildegard. By following closely her example and teaching, may we pass from the darkness of this life into your marvelous light.

Saint Hildegard (1098-1179) was a Benedictine of great learning ( a true polymath), a holy woman who was known for her visions, prophesies, poetry and spiritual guidance. Some have likened her to Dante and William Blake. She was given the title of the Sibyl of the Rhine. Since the 15th century Hildegard’s name was in the Roman Martyrology but was not officially canonized. On May 10, 2012 Pope Benedict XVI gave the entire Church the liturgical memory of Saint Hildegard (the equivalent of canonizing her); the Pope stated that on October 7, 2012 he will name the Saint a Doctor of the Church.

We pray for the Benedictine Congress in Rome that begins today and goes until the 25th through the intercession of Saint Hildegard.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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