As we begin our Lenten journey tomorrow, I want to share with you a profound insight that was given to Julian of Norwich during her vision of Christ on the cross. After experiencing the agony of Christ’s sufferings and then seeing the sudden transformation of his face into a blissful expression, Julian heard the Lord ask her:
Art thou well apaid that I suffered for thee?” I said: “Ya good lord, gramercy. Ya, good lord, blessed may thou be.” Then said Jesus, our good lord: “If thou art satisfied, I am satisfied. 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.”
What an astounding Ninth Revelation this is -- that in spite of the excruciating pain, Christ enjoyed his passion in the depths of his heart, knowing it would be to our greatest advantage. From Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century to Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh (as well as during the scholastic debates of the medieval period), theologians had taught that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the settlement of a “debt” owed to God the Father for the grave disobedience of original sin. Because no mere human being could pay such a debt, it was necessary for the Son of God to become man, suffer, and die in order to atone for the sin of Adam. At the same time, the Savior had to “buy back” humanity from the clutches of Satan with the price of his own blood. By dying on the cross, Christ “paid the debt” of original sin, made complete satisfaction to divine justice, restored humanity to the image and likeness of God, and overcame the power of evil.
Given this deeply-embedded theological context, it is all the more astounding that here, Julian hears Christ ask her, pointedly: “Art thou well apaid?” He is implying that by dying on the cross, in fact he intended to make restitution to sinners for the terrible suffering caused by their own sins! It is obvious from the way Julian stammers repeatedly to say, “Ya, good Lord, gramercy,” that she herself was astounded by Christ’s question. She simply cannot fathom the Lord’s eager concern to know if he has done enough to show her his love. (And he asks this not only of Julian, but of every one of us.)
Even more, Julian hears Christ tell her that if she is satisfied, then he is satisfied—as if he was waiting for her full approval. He even adds that if he could have suffered more, he would have suffered more. From this startling locution, Julian is given profound insight into “the mind of Christ” that she had desired. In an interior voice, Jesus tells her why he endured his passion and death: to prove his love and compassion for the suffering of human beings. Yes, sin is a grave offense against the law and the love of God. Yes, it must be atoned for by suffering. But God does not cause that suffering; we bring it on ourselves. According to the natural consequences of actions that are contrary to the divine law of love, every sin against the goodness and justice of God produces a comparable form of suffering. If we lie, we will be lied to. If we cheat, we will be cheated. If we hurt another, we will be hurt ourselves. If we betray, we will be betrayed. If we erupt in anger and violence, we will experience anger and violence. If we “take the sword [we] will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52). That’s the way the moral universe works.
Far from demanding our suffering, the Father sent his only Son to suffer and die out of compassion for what we have to suffer. The implications of this revelation are mind-boggling: by taking on our flesh and blood, Christ took on our sin and our suffering. He learned what human beings have to endure because of sin. Because “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), now every physical pain, every emotional upheaval, every spiritual conflict acquires redemptive meaning. Everything may be suffered in union with Christ for our own salvation and that of the whole world. Now we may be confident that everything will be transformed by Christ’s own suffering into his eternal glory.
And for this little pain that we suffer here, we shall have a high, endless knowing in God, which we might never have without that pain. And the harder our pains have been with him on his cross, the more shall our honor be with him in his kingdom.
Are we able to hear Jesus ask us if we are “well apaid”—that is, completely satisfied—by his joyful sacrifice for us? Do we believe that Christ is so deeply compassionate toward our own personal sufferings? Can we accept, as Julian learned to do, that “it is God’s will that we have true delight with him in our salvation, and that we be mightily comforted and strengthened therein”? Let us consider this Ninth Revelation on Ash Wednesday and throughout the season of Lent. And may we take time every day to thank the Lord that yes, we are “well apaid” that he suffered his passion for each one of us.
For we are his bliss, for in us he delights without end, and so shall we in him with his grace. All that he has done for us, and does, and ever shall, was never cost nor charge to him nor might be, but only that he did it in our humanity, beginning at the sweet incarnation, and lasting to the blessed resurrection on Easter morrow.
Blessings and Peace,
PLEASE NOTE: Translations from the Middle English and excerpts above are from my book, An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (IVPAcademic Press) © Copyright by Veronica Mary Rolf. Academic Press) © Copyright by Veronica Mary Rolf.
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.