Julian and Saint Mary
Soon after her Revelations of Christ on the cross began, Julian had a vivid experience of Saint Mary, the Mother of God. She did not see Mary in physical form as she did Christ, but in what she describes as "ghostly, in bodily likeness," that is in her imagination, without any effort on Julian's part to conjure her.
Mary appears young, not much older than a child, small and meek and in a position of prayer that she had taken at the time of her conception of the Savior. (It was a common medieval belief that at the annunciation, Mary was fifteen years old.) Julian is granted a glimpse into the beauty of Mary's soul and the holy awe in which she contemplated God:
Also God shewed me in part the wisdom and truth of her soul,
wherein I understood the reverent beholding in which she beheld her God, that is, her maker, marveling with great reverence that he would be born of her who was a simple creature of his making. For this was her marveling: that he who was her maker would be born of her who was made. And this wisdom and truth, knowing the greatness of her maker and the littleness of herself that is made, made her say so
meekly to Gabriel: “Lo me here, God’s handmaiden."
In this meditation, Julian is keenly aware that Mary is, like herself, “a simple creature,” uneducated, and without any earthly nobility. Yet Julian understands truly that Mary is more worthy than all other creatures God has made, because she was conceived without sin. All other creatures are therefore below her. And above her is “nothing that is made but the blessed manhood of Christ, as to my sight.”
The Humble Mary
Julian declares that the spiritual vision of Saint Mary was the best teaching she had about noughting -- the quiet resting in adoration and love at the greatness of the Creator. The soul in such a state of contemplation rejoices at its own littleness, that makes it utterly dependent upon God. Mary’s high wisdom in contemplating God, “so great, so high, so mighty and so good,” filled her with deep and “reverent dread." Even Mary, the Mother of God, conceived without sin, saw herself “so little and so low, so simple and so poor in comparison with her God, that this reverent dread filled her with meekness." Therefore, she was made full of grace beyond any other creature. Julian sees that Mary’s humility is like the hazelnut. It is her very “littleness” that makes her irresistible to God.
The Suffering Mary
During the Eighth Revelation -- the most intense experience of watching Christ die on the cross -- Julian identifies with the suffering of Mary, his Mother. She also knows from her own experience that when a child suffers, the mother suffers:
For Christ and she were so oned [united] in love that the greatness of her love was the cause of the magnitude of her pain. For in this I saw the essence of natural love, increased by grace, that his creatures have for him, which natural love was most fulsomely shown in his sweet mother, overpassing [all others]. For as much as she loved him more than all others, her pain surpassed all others. For ever the higher, the mightier, the sweeter that the love is, the more sorrow it is to the lover to see that body in pain that he loved. And so all his disciples and all his true lovers suffered pains more than their own bodily dying. For I am seker [secure], by my own feeling, that the least of them loved him so far above themselves that it surpasses all that I can say.
No one who has ever loved and watched the loved one die can fail to identify with Julian’s words. What she describes is so very human, so touching in its expression, so easily understood. Mary loved Christ more than did anyone else on earth. He was her son, flesh of her flesh, love of her life. She was "oned" with him, both in body and in spirit. Hence, she suffered watching him suffer. And those who stood at the foot of the cross, Christ’s “true lovers,” also suffered more than those who were not there to see him die. Except for the disciple John, and possibly some men among those who “stood at a distance, watching these things” (Lk 23:49), the onlookers specifically recorded by the four evangelists as being present at the crucifixion were all women.
Wilt Thou see her?
Later, in the Eleventh Revelation, Julian saw Christ look down on his right side, where traditionally Mary was placed in medieval iconography. He asked Julian: "Wilt thou see her?"
And in this sweet word, it was as if he had said: “I know well that thou wouldst see my blessed mother, for after myself she is the highest joy that I might shew thee, and the most pleasure and worship to me. And she is most desired to be seen of all my blessed creatures."
In the love Christ has for Mary, Julian recognizes how much
Christ loves each and every human being. In fact, Christ has made Mary so highly glorified, honored, and worthy in order to be an inspiration for all women and men. He has raised her body into glory to be with his own. He has crowned her queen of heaven and earth. She gives the Lord the greatest worship and pleasure and he wants everyone to take great pleasure in her, too.
Yet Julian becomes acutely aware, through an inner teaching, that she is not being encouraged to long to see Mary in a physical presence while here on earth. She is to contemplate her spiritually, in “the virtues of her blessed soul—her truth, her wisdom, her charity,” whereby Julian might learn to know herself better and more reverently fear and serve God.
The Exalted Mary
Rather, when the Lord asked the question (“Wilt thou see
her?”), in that very moment, Julian was shown “a ghostly sight” of Mary, similar to the imaginative vision she had had of her as a girl, little and simple, at the time of the annunciation. Mary appeared this time “exalted and noble and glorious and pleasing to him [Christ] above all creatures." Julian is sure that Christ wills it to be known that everyone who “likes” (an even more intimate form of the word “love”) and delights in him must also truly “like” her, with all the connotations of delighting in everything about her. And Julian realizes that this very “liking,” this most familiar manner of loving, is the purest form of “bodily likeness” that she could possibly have experienced.
Julian was not disappointed that she was not allowed to enjoy
Mary in a physical manifestation, as she did Christ. And in all her Revelations, she saw no one else “spiritually” or “individually” but Saint Mary. In this shewing, Julian was deeply touched that Christ had confided to her his own love for Mary as a young maiden, as a suffering mother, and now, as an exalted and noble lady in heaven. In revealing to Julian his great love for Mary, by extension Christ was showing, in yet another way, his great love for Julian.
On this feast day of Mary's Assumption into heaven, may we, too, be content to contemplate Mary in her humility, in her suffering, and in her glory without actually being able to "see" her. And may we be graced to realize, however dimly, that Mary's Assumption, body and soul, into heaven is our own hope of human resurrection. She was the first person after Christ to rise from death in a glorified body. Christ longs for us to love her and honor her, as he does, on earth as in heaven.
Note: Quotations are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich.
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