What strengthens us in times of extreme trial and tribulation? For Julian of Norwich, it is faith, and faith alone. Why? Because faith enables us to know our true origin, our true reality, and our true destination. In other words, who we truly are. Hence, faith enables us to believe that the Holy Spirit dwelling within us will overcome all obstacles. Julian realizes that not only faith but all virtues come from the Spirit, and that without the Spirit’s gifts no one receives any virtue. Faith, in fact, is the most exalted kind of wisdom or understanding. As Julian writes: “For faith is nothing else but a right understanding with true belief and secure trust within our being, that we are in God and he is in us, which we cannot see.”
Julian does not lay out doctrines (though she never denies that faith involves believing what the church teaches). Her concentration here is different. For her, faith is the secure trust that, within the ground of our being, the soul is in God and God is in the soul. It is an inspired understanding of all she discusses in her Revelations about our creation and redemption which, because of the blindness caused by our misdeeds, we are obviously unable to experience directly.
Faith is precisely the spiritual insight that enables us to “know” what we cannot comprehend by human reasoning alone. Faith is essential to our self-awareness. While sin has deprived humanity of the ability to “see” God, faith appears as inner vision. As St. Paul has written: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1, italics added). If we dare to believe, faith (along with all the other virtues that God grants the soul) “works great things in us.” It is actually Christ who does the monumental work of mercy in the soul at all times, constantly reconciling us to himself. By his divine activity we are made able to see and understand more and more, through the gifts and virtues of the Holy Spirit. Julian identifies this inner working of the Lord as that which enables us to become “Christ’s children and Christian in living.” It is always and ever Christ’s work in our souls, not our own. Julian affirms that Christ is our way, continually leading us and teaching us by his laws. He delights in this work, as does his Father.
Julian recalls the Ninth Revelation, in which she saw Christ bear all who are members of his Mystical Body into heaven, where he presents them to his Father, who receives these souls thankfully and then graciously returns them to his Son. “Which gift and working is joy to the Father, and bliss to the Son, and liking to the Holy Ghost.” Of all the things that we are obliged to do in this life, we must give God the greatest pleasure by rejoicing in this joy. "And notwithstanding all our feeling, woe or wele, God wills we understand and believe that we are more truly in heaven than on earth.” What an astounding statement! Julian is certain that, because Christ has already saved us and incorporated us into his Mystical Body, our true lives are not here, in our mortal bodies, but in the joyful embrace of the Trinity. For Julian, we are more spiritual than fleshly, more at home in heaven than on earth.
She further describes faith as arising from “the natural love of our soul” for what is good, and from “the clear light of our reason,” which enables us to think and inform the will in order to make good decisions, as well as from the “steadfast memory” that we have of God in our creation. We might consider faith as a sacred remembrance that never forgets where we have come from: God. It is a spiritual homesickness that longs to return where it belongs. Finally, Julian states that at the precise moment that “our soul is breathed into our body in which we are made sensual,” immediately mercy and grace begin to work, “taking care of us and keeping us with pity and love.” By means of this work, the Holy Spirit nurtures in us the hope that our physical nature will “come again up above and be united to our substance” within the virtue of Jesus Christ and be
brought to complete fulfillment.
Rather than allowing ourselves to become cast down by the great crises we are living through right now, let us lift up our minds to the reality of divine light that we carry within us, even through our darkest days. Let us keep this light of faith burning in our hearts, in ardent trust that Christ IS at work in every aspect of our lives. And let us be on fire with faith that through the power of Christ’s own suffering, death, and resurrection, he is bringing forth a magnificent love, healing, and transformation beyond anything we could possibly imagine!
NOTE: Excerpt above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books. 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.