Friday 13th December 2019

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Catholic Heroes… St. Mechtilde

November 21, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The path to sainthood varies considerably. Some saints go through miraculous conversions after a life of tepidity and even sinful pleasure such as St. Camillus, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Francis of Assisi.
Others possess remarkable sanctity from the day of their birth — or even earlier such as the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
At Helfta in central Germany, about 200 kilometers southwest of Berlin, members of one of the most powerful and most noble families of Thuringia were also known for their extraordinary holiness. St. Gertrude was counted among its members and they were cousins to the emperor of Germany. Around 1240 a daughter was born to the family and named Mechtilde — also known as Matilda von Hackeborn-Wippra.
On the day of her birth, Matilda was so frail that the attending midwives and servants rushed the baby to the church to be baptized. Even though the priest was preparing to celebrate Mass, they beseeched him to baptize the child first.
Known for his holiness, the priest readily baptized Matilda. When the rite was complete and before the priest went to celebrate Mass, he turned to the people and asked, “What do you fear? This child most certainly will not die, but she will become a saintly religious in whom God will work wonders, and she will end her days in a good old age.”
Matilda was not the only one destined for great things. Being from a devout family dedicated to the service of God, Matilda’s sister Gertrude became a nun in a Swiss monastery on the border with Germany.
This Cistercian monastery was located in Rodersdorf. One time when the family went to visit Gertrude, Matilda accompanied them and immediately felt a deep longing to live with Gertrude in the cloistered monastery.
Although Matilda was only seven years old at the time, her parents relented and let her stay with her sister. Matilda took to religious life well, making extraordinary advances in both her education and her spirituality.
Gertrude and Matilda continued to blossom in the shelter of the monastery for the next ten years. In 1258 their brothers, Louis and Albert, bestowed an estate upon Gertrude and so the two sisters returned to their home city to continue their cloistered life.
The entire Hackeborn-Wippra family was known for their love of God, their holiness, and their generosity, so it is not surprising that they gave Gertrude the estate. Therefore, the uncommon virtues of Matilda didn’t seem to stand out in her family — most of them were highly virtuous.
Nevertheless, as Matilda matured, her humility, fervor, and exceeding cheerfulness grew as well, making a deep impact on her associates. Soon Matilda was assigned to the convent school as headmistress. She also spent time working in the library, illuminating texts — this was the beautiful artwork of the handwritten books — and writing prayers.
Matilda not only had a great gift for understanding and writing Latin, but she also had one of the most beautiful voices ever heard. In fact, she became known as the Nightingale of Helfta. During a vision of Jesus, He called her His nightingale.
With her mystical gifts, her love of God and His Blessed Mother, Matilda brought great beauty to liturgical celebrations. The rites were solemn and sacred, inspiring those attending because of the beautiful music and singing. With untiring and abundant love, she trained the monastery choir — a position she held for all of her life.
The details are not provided, but evidently Matilda suffered greatly from physical ailments. These pains did not hinder her work at the monastery. Rather, others sought her out, hoping to receive words of wisdom, consolation, and encouragement. Even the Dominicans came to Matilda for advice on spiritual matters.
Matilda also received many visitations from our Lord and His Blessed Mother. As mentioned above, from Jesus she received the name Nightingale. Some of the visions or inner locutions were received after she asked our Lord questions.
For example, when she asked our Lord how to greet Mary, he began with: “Hail the Virginal Heart…hail that heart in its purity . . . hail its humility . . . hail its ardent longing . . . its great charity toward God and man…its extreme fidelity…its compassion in sharing in Christ’s suffering…its submission to God’s will…its motherly solicitude for the Church…in her continuous prayers.”
There are so many prayers written by Matilda — some that were given to her by Jesus and Mary — that they would fill more than one volume. There are prayers for morning, daytime, and evening as well as prayers for before and after Mass. Special prayers were given to her such as the Our Father for the Poor Souls. Each phrase of the prayer given to us by Jesus has several lines added relating to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
When worried about eternity, Matilda learned from the Blessed Virgin Mary a deep devotion. Mary told her to pray three Hail Marys daily: Remembering in the first the power received from the Eternal Father; in the second the wisdom received from the Son; and in the third the love that has filled the Holy Spirit.
Matilda also had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart and Jesus asked her to greet His Sacred Heart the first thing every morning.
When Matilda became bedridden she was told to give her life story to two sisters. As she related her life experiences, including her visions and mystical experiences, they carefully wrote down every word. When Matilda found out, she was most upset but acquiesced in obedience. Our Lord appeared to her holding the book of her life which Gertrude had published, saying, “All this has been committed to writing by my will and inspiration; and, therefore, you have no cause to be troubled about it.”
When St. Matilda was dying, she prayed passionately to Mary for the community of nuns who had been such a great part of her life. Mary came to her, gently taking her hand, letting Matilda know that she heard her pleas and would watch over the nuns.
Before Matilda took her final breath, our Lord placed a beautiful sparkling necklace around her neck. This represented the glory of eternity in His Heavenly Kingdom.
St. Matilda died on November 19 and although she was never formally canonized, the Benedictine convents have permission from the Church to celebrate her feast on November 16.
Some experts believe Dante modeled one of his characters in Il Purgatorio after St. Matilda — a lady with a mysterious heavenly voice called Matelda.
Interestingly, Matilda was only seven years old when she joined the monastery. Years later an even younger child was admitted who was just five years old. The child was entrusted to the care of St. Matilda for her formation. She became St. Gertrude the Great.
Dear St. Matilda, what great depths of love for both God and man you experienced. Help us to love God, to commit our lives to Him without reserve and trepidation. Pray for us that we may learn the art of loving God with all our hearts and above all else in this world. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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