During her intensely graphic visions of Christ dying on the cross, Julian could not bear the torture of seeing and feeling Christ’s pains. By the Eighth Revelation, Julian tells us very honestly that she wanted to look away from the cross on which she had been focused since the First Revelation. She longed to fly up to heaven (she had already enjoyed a glimpse of the heavenly banquet) and have all this suffering be finished. Instinctively, however, she felt this desire was a temptation from the fiends that were believed to gather at the bedside of the dying. If she did as the fiends suggested, Julian thought she might sin mortally and put her soul in peril. She was convinced that only by keeping her eyes focused on the suffering Christ, like the “other women” at the foot of the cross, would there be security and safety from the devils.
In her heart, Julian did not want to desert Christ and leave him alone, as the disciples did, by looking away from the harshness of his sufferings, even for a single moment. She desired no heavenly vision that was without Jesus and, paradoxically, to be with Jesus, even in his terrible suffering on earth, became "heaven" for her.
In Julian’s mind, this was a major turning point. Earlier, she had longed to be out of her suffering and go quickly to heaven. Now she understood that there was no way to reach that exalted place except through a share in the sufferings of Christ and through the transformation of the soul that this compassion effected. By bearing her own suffering in faith and patience, Julian realized she would finally be like him who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). And by electing to remain focused on the suffering Christ, she also chose to go on living on earth, no matter how painful, and uncertain, and long it might be, rather than giving in to the blessed release of death.
By this emphatic decision “to choose Jesus for my heaven,” Julian also registered her willingness to stay with Mary and the “other women” at the foot of the cross on Calvary and with the evencristens (fellow Christians) gathered beside her bed, fingering their rosary beads and praying on her behalf. If Christ wanted her to remain on earth that is where she wished to stay. When he wanted her to go, she would be willing to go.
This choice released something in Julian at which she had still been grasping, namely, her great desire for heaven. She found lasting comfort in the fact that she had been able, by the power of grace, to endure “all this time of passion and sorrow.” And she affirmed that this was an important life teaching for her: “to choose Jesus only for my heaven in wele and in woe.”
We, too, have a choice. As Palm Sunday and the liturgies of Holy Week stretch before us, we can avoid confrontation with the harsh reality of the crucifixion, averting our eyes from seeing -- really seeing -- Christ's passion on our behalf; or we may choose to walk with Christ and those who followed him up the hill to Calvary and stand at the foot of the cross with Mary and John and the "other women." If we walk the stations of the cross, slowly and contemplatively; if we are willing to watch and wait as we listen to the scriptural readings and enter into the sacred liturgies ; if we offer everything we have ever suffered in our whole lives in union with Christ's own passion and death, we may experience something of the revelation that Julian did. Like her, we may be graced to sense some measure of the overwhelming love that made Christ willing to suffer so much for us. We may even intuit the divine joy that Christ felt in effecting our salvation:
"It is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking [delight] to me that ever I suffered my passion for thee. And if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”
Dying and Rising
When, after many hours of suffering on the cross, Julian saw Christ's face transformed before her eyes, no longer suffering, but "with a joyful expression," she understood that Christ's death and resurrection had also transformed each one of us: the great stone in front of the tomb of our suffering and death has already been rolled back . . . indeed, pulverized. It is no more. Darkness has already been obliterated by the light of Jesus Christ, even though we can only see this light by walking in faith. And for “this little pain that we suffer here" (no matter how devastating it may be for us to endure here and now), we shall bask forever in the radiance of Christ's Holy Face.
Let us not fear to enter completely into the full experience of Holy Week. If, like Julian, we do not turn away our eyes from the suffering of the cross, and "choose Jesus for our heaven," we will be among the first on Easter morning to rejoice in Christ's resurrection -- and the promise of our own. Alleluia!