Julian of Norwich knew the shame and sadness of a church divided against itself. Until the end of her life (sometime around 1416), she lived with two popes (three would later follow) vying for political power, with parallel excommunications causing spiritual chaos, religious wars raging among princes over which pope was valid, amidst a wounded, bleeding Christendom. This “kingdom divided against itself” (Mt 12:25) was no doubt one of the driving forces behind Julian’s internal struggle to maintain adherence to orthodoxy at all costs and to work unceasingly for the integration of her mystical experiences with the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. There was so much at stake! She knew only too well what the tragedy of schism looked and felt like.
In her Revelations, Julian prophesied that “Holy Church shall be shaken in sorrow and anguish and tribulation in this world as men shake a cloth in the wind.” She felt the lack of a single, authoritative, and trusted leadership. She witnessed the loss of faith and the brutality of brother against brother resulting from not one but two “holy, catholic, and apostolic” churches. In addition to schism, heresy was the stiff wind violently shaking the fragile fabric of the church. Four decades of papal polarization would serve to disillusion and anger both educated and common folk alike. As Julian set down and interpreted her visions from the Lord, she knew she had to do so with the utmost care, reiterating her faithfulness to the church with the greatest humility lest she, too, lead her evencristens astray. And that she never wanted to do.
In our own age, Christians feel bombarded by scandals in our churches, outraged by blatant lying in the religious and political arenas, and infuriated by the lack of compassion and justice in our world. Sometimes, we feel totally helpless to effect change. But Julian would be the first to reassure us that in every crisis, every betrayal, every seemingly hopeless situation, Christ is at work. And it is Christ himself who is the ground and inspiration for every one of our prayers for healing and peace. Our prayer will be effective!
During her revelations, Julian heard Christ on the cross tell her: “Herewith is the fiend overcome.” That is, by Christ’s suffering, evil is routed. She firmly believed that there was nothing Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection could not overcome, could not transform. She never ceased to hope that Christ’s promise that “all shall be well” would eventually be fulfilled. Like Julian, we must never give up hope that since Christ has overcome the power of evil by dying on the cross and rising again, then, as he said to Julian: “thou shalt not be overcome.” Let us take heart and hold fast to hope through whatever dark days and nights may lie ahead.
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.