At the beginning of her account of the Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich explains that she already had some feeling for the passion of Christ, but she wanted to experience more, “by the grace of God.” She longed to be like Mary Magdalene and the other women whom she described as “Christ’s lovers,” standing at the foot of the cross, so that she “could have seen bodily the passion that our lord suffered for me, that I might have suffered with him as others did that loved him.”
And therefore I desired a bodily sight, wherein I might have more knowing [greater understanding] of the bodily pains of our savior, and of the compassion of our lady [Christ’s mother] and of all his true lovers that were living at that time and saw his pains. For I would have been one of them and have suffered with them.
Surely Julian did not make such a request because she thought she deserved a vision for being devout. She was quick to add that she never asked for another shewing (her word for a visionary experience) until she would see God at her death, for she believed firmly she would be saved by God’s mercy. She simply wanted to have a physical sight of Christ on the cross in order to share his sufferings more intimately and to love him more deeply. She was convinced that after such a bodily vision she would have a truer understanding of and sympathy for all that the Lord had endured for our sins. This was “the mind of the passion” Julian longed for: to undergo in some measure what Mary Magdalene and the other “true lovers” of Christ saw, heard, and felt at the crucifixion. In other words, like so many of us, she didn’t just want theoretical knowledge; she craved real experience. . . .
In Julian’s fourteenth century, meditation manuals proliferated, not only for parish priests and cloistered nuns and monks, but also for the laity. They urged the faithful to enter deeply into the scenes of Christ’s passion and death through imagination and recollection. . . . All these manuals were designed to arouse in the soul a deep repentance for sin, a profound identification with the sufferings of Christ on the cross, and a burning desire to devote one’s life to God. . . . As a result of this practice of “affective devotion” every true Christian, like the early martyrs, was supposed to be ready to suffer anything and everything in imitation of Christ—even death.
Meditating on Julian’s Revelations of her visions and locutions from Christ on the cross is a grace-filled way to enter into the sufferings of Jesus during this Lenten season. With Julian, we, too, might ask for “the mind of Christ” in order to understand what he suffered for us and why he did it. Then we may receive the extraordinary understanding that Jesus gave to Julian:
“It is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking to me that ever I suffered my passion for thee. And if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”
Think of it! Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to suffer even more for us than he did on the cross. Like a mother who is willing to suffer anything for her child, Christ our Mother wants us to know he will do anything to free us from our self-destructive mental patterns, our deliberate misdeeds, our human tendency to self-loathing, depression, even despair, and our lack of trust in divine love! Christ on the cross longs to help us carry our own crosses in loving union with him, if only we are willing to be still and silent enough to experience the depths of his love in the practice of meditation. Can we not commit to spending quiet time every single day during this Lenten season to contemplate what Christ endured for our salvation? And to thank him for loving us so much? What a Lenten resolution that would be!
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from "An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich" (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved.
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. (Jl 2:12-13).
This is what we are encouraged to do on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent. But what kind of fasting? Abstaining from chocolate and alcohol, or even meat, is not sufficient. We must fast from harsh words, criticism, anger, and vengeful attitudes, whether towards family members, neighbors, co-workers, and politicians. We must reign in our appetite for real news and fake news, for controversy, for gossip. We must abstain from rash judgments and violence of any kind. This is the fasting we are called to during Lent, especially in this time of turmoil and divisiveness in our nation and in our world.
Why should we weep and mourn? We are being asked to lament all those who are suffering grievously; all victims of intolerance and violence, of persecution and injustice. We should pray for them daily, because in God’s eyes, we are all brothers and sisters. And what happens to any one of us affects all of us, whether for good or ill.
What does it mean to “rend your hearts, not your garments”? We are being instructed to look into those dark, hidden recesses of our hearts that feed our anger, support our resentful attitudes, fuel our bigotry. We are being encouraged to ask forgiveness from God for anything we find in our hearts that is not truly loving. Only then can our hearts be healed and open to experience an outpouring of compassion for every living being on the planet. Only then can our hearts be at peace.
Julian of Norwich was certain that if we beg the Lord for mercy and grace, we will receive it, in great abundance:
For it is the most unpossible [greatest impossibility] that may be that we should seek mercy and grace and not have it. For every thing that our good lord makes us beseech, he himself has ordained it to us from without beginning.
This Lenten Season, let us heed the words of the prophet Joel—and the promise of Julian—and find ways to practice a deeper kind of fasting, a more loving compassion, and a heartfelt contrition every day. Then watch the transformation these practices will effect in our lives by Easter Sunday!
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.