With a glad expression our good lord looked into his side and beheld it, enjoying. And with his sweet looking he led forth the understanding of his creature by that same wound into his side, within. And there he showed a fair, delectable place, and large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest in peace and in love.
In the Tenth Revelation, while Julian is still immersed in the contemplative state, Christ on the cross gazes into the wound on his right side with a joyous expression. Through this shift in the focus of Christ’s eyes, Julian understands that he is inviting her to enter mystically, through the open wound, into the depths of his Sacred Heart. It is such a magnanimous gesture, like the resurrected Christ showing his five wounds to Thomas and inviting him to touch and “do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27). Yet it is even more intimate than that. Christ is offering Julian a profound insight into the abundance of divine love within his human heart. Her mind passes through the physical cleft in his flesh into “a fair, delectable place,” a spiritual heaven, that is “large enough” not only for herself, but “for all mankind that shalle be saved to rest in peace and in love.” While he walked the earth, Christ had offered this same invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Here, Christ allows Julian to experience, very personally and very tenderly, another dimension of heavenly bliss: the ineffable joy of entering into the Heart of God.
The Sacred Heart
Devotion to the Sacred Heart had its foundation in Benedictine and Cistercian monastic life of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It was believed that Christ’s wounded Heart of love could be approached through contemplation of the physical wound in his side. William of St. Thierry (d.1148) wrote that he longed to come “to the most holy wound of His side . . . that I may put in not only my finger or my whole hand, but enter wholly into the very Heart of Jesus, into the Holy of Holies.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) taught that the piercing of Christ’s side shows forth his goodness and the love of his Heart for us. And Richard of St. Victor (d.1173) believed there was no tenderness comparable with that of the Heart of Jesus. In the
thirteenth century, the Ancrene Riwle for enclosed women counseled the wounds of Christ as the refuge against temptation: "Name Jesus often, and invoke the aid of his passion, and implore him by his sufferings, and by his precious blood, and by his death on the cross. Fly into his wounds; creep into them with thy thought. They are all open. He loved us much who permitted such cavities to be made in him, that we might hide ourselves in them. And, with his precious blood, ensanguine thine heart."
St. Bonaventure (d.1274) wrote frequently on the Sacred Heart: “Who is there who would not love this wounded Heart? Who would not love, in return, him who loves so much?” And St. Gertrude (d.1301) had profound revelations concerning the Heart of Jesus. In one vision she received on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist, Gertrude recorded that she was invited to “lay her head” near the wound in Christ’s breast, where she heard the beating of his Sacred Heart. She became bold enough to ask St. John if, at the Last Supper, when he lay his own head on Christ’s breast, he had felt the delightful pulsing of the Lord’s Heart and if so, why had he never recorded it in his gospel. He replied, “Because I was charged with instructing the newly-formed Church concerning the mysteries of the Uncreated Word.” St. John then told Gertrude that the grace of learning of the Sacred Heart was reserved to her century, to rouse it
from its lethargy so that it would be inflamed with the great worth of Divine Love.
Throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Carthusians prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but only as a personal and contemplative practice. The Five Wounds of Christ on the cross (in both hands, both feet, and in his heart) were often acknowledged in prayer as symbols of his great suffering and salvific love. But there was no liturgical movement in the church encouraging devotion to the Sacred Heart, and it was not yet at all common among the laity.
While in a long and completely orthodox tradition of private devotion, Julian’s revelation suggests a fresh and poignant invitation by Christ to see the wound in his side as both the physical and mystical entry point into his Sacred Heart. Julian writes:
And therewith he brought to mind his dearworthy blood and his precious water which he let pour all out for love. And with the sweet beholding he showed his blissful heart split completely in two. And with this sweet enjoying he showed to my understanding, in part, the blessed godhead, to the extent that he wished to at that time, strengthening the poor soul to understand what can be said: that is to mean, the endless love that was without beginning, and is, and shall be forever.
It is important here to distinguish between Christ’s physical
heart, which poured out blood and water from the cross, and his
symbolic heart as unconditional love, forever emptying itself and pouring forth mercy and grace. The physical piercing by Longinus with a lance split Christ’s human heart “completely in two.” By this act, Julian recognizes the Savior’s love being symbolically pierced by sin and apathy in every age. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Is 53:5). The gaping wound from the spear in his flesh becomes the graphic image of Christ’s broken heart, which in turn becomes the spiritual dwelling place for all humankind.
Lo, How I loved thee
And with this, our good lord said full blissfully: “Lo, how I loved thee,” as if he had said: “My darling, behold and see thy lord, thy God, that is thy maker and thy endless joy. See thine own brother, thy savior. My child, behold and see what delight and bliss I have in thy salvation, and for my love enjoy it with me.”
On this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us take time to contemplate with Julian the unconditional love Christ expresses through the symbol of his Heart. And let us give thanks that as he hung on the cross, Christ was showing each one of us: "Lo, how I loved thee."
Please Note: The above selection is from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich, pgs. 374-76. © Copyright, Veronica Mary Rolf, 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy or reprint without written permission.