A Violent World
The harsh fact is that the world has always been a place of divisiveness and destruction. In Julian’s fourteenth century, the Hundred Years’ War with France raged on and on, killing tens of thousands, while in England, the first-ever Peasants’ Revolt tore through the land like wildfire. Julian witnessed the violence and the carnage, sown by hatred of the poor and disenfranchised against the clergy, aristocrats, and merchants in Cambridge, London, and Norwich who were so much better off than they. The peasants certainly had a just cause. They wanted a fare wage for their hard labor and the right to move freely from place to place in order to find better work for better pay. But their burning, looting, maiming, and outright murdering of those in power, both in the church and government, turned many who had been sympathetic to their cause firmly against them. The results were catastrophic.
Julian saw the inevitable retribution that occurred in Norwich: the severed heads of the peasant leaders stuck up on pikes atop the ramparts and gates. She must have known some of those who took part in the local rebellion and been shocked by their cold-blooded murder without trial by the militaristic Bishop of Norwich. It was a terrible betrayal of justice. And it must have affected Julian deeply. In her Long Text, she wrote:
“That there are many evil deeds done in our sight and such great harms suffered, that it seems to us that it would be impossible that it ever could come to a good end. And upon this we look, sorrowing and mourning therefore, so that we can not rest ourselves in the blissful beholding of God as we should do.”
Enclosed but Aware
People may assume that since, in her later life, Julian was enclosed as an anchoress in a cell, she was “cut off” from the suffering and evil in the world. On the contrary, she had lived a long life in the world and seen what terrible deeds people were capable of when fired up with rage and driven to excess. Even in her later years in the anchorage, penitents came to her on a daily basis, pouring out their pain and seeking advice about their lives. Like a spiritual director, Julian must have heard everything that was happening within people’s families and in the nation. She must have reassured those in crisis never to lose heart. From her own tragic life experiences, she firmly believed that the Lord who had revealed himself to her from the cross of suffering was still and always and everywhere “at work” in the world, transforming even the most desperate situations into opportunities for divine mercy and healing.
Likewise, Julian counsels all of us never to lose hope, never to stop praying for those who suffer and, at the same time, to “behold” God in quiet, meditative prayer “as we should do.” It is there, in the deepest uniting of our heartfelt intentions with those of the Heart of Christ, that we may most benefit our families, our national situation, and our tortured world. It is there, in the stillness of silence, that we may be quietly reassured by Christ: “Sin is behovely [necessary], but all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Let us keep the Lord's words to Julian in mind as we draw near to Holy Week. Let us remind ourselves that Christ’s suffering on the cross is not futile. Neither is our own. He will overcome the world!