Magazine last week, I was struck again and again by the similarities between what the Pope was saying, and what Julian of Norwich wrote over 600 years ago. I even wondered if the Pope had been reading Julian!
But of course, what both Julian and the Pope are proclaiming is the very gospel message of Jesus Christ: Love your neighbor as yourself, do not judge, forgive your enemies…Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and search for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted…for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matt 5:1-12). “The people of God” are the very people the Pope is welcoming with open arms and an open heart, and the very evencristens for whom Julian wrote her Revelations.
During the eleven hours of her mystical experiences of Christ on the cross, Julian states emphatically that she never saw him “wroth.” The Old English word wroth meant intense anger and moral indignation. Indeed, wroth was considered to be an attribute of God -- an aspect of his righteousness through which his Divine Justice and eternal glory were revealed.
Yet Julian became profoundly aware that even though sin was the cause of all Christ’s pain and suffering and death, he showed “no manner of blame to me, nor to none that shall be saved.” In fact, Julian was convinced that “it would be a great unkindness to me to blame or wonder at God for my sin, since he does not blame me for sin.”
The Pope, too, spoke of being a “sinner” – that is the first term he used to characterize himself. But he knows he is a sinner “saved by grace.” And this is the constant theme of Julian of Norwich: that we, as blind, foolish, and "contrarious" human beings, make wrong choices, go down self-destructive paths, even get lost sometimes. We are all, in big ways and small, fallen from grace (and for this Julian says that we should be sorrowful and repentant, but never despairing). Yet we are also all redeemed by grace and for this we should be exultant, even amidst our earthly sufferings. And this is because of God’s unconditional love and tender care for every sinner.
At no point in her writings does Julian deny God’s right to judge us. She simply recounts what she saw and heard and understood in her Revelations: that God shows only tenderness and pity --
not blame -- toward those who have fallen from grace. Over and over again, in one way or another, Julian writes that those who turn to God humbly, like little children running to their
Mother because they’ve gotten themselves “all dirty,” will surely be forgiven and feel the graced effects of God’s tender mercy.
Nor does Julian ever deny the terrible effects of sin in our lives. She understood that God’s “suffrance” of human sin and evil must be seen as a blessing for which we should be supremely
grateful (because if God crushed us for every bad deed we commit, which one of us could survive?). On the contrary, by God’s tolerance of both sin and its negative consequences, God shows “his marvelous meekness and mildness.” Instead
of wrath, he offers divine mercy; instead of punishment, the grace to endure our sufferings. In this way, God enables human beings to triumph over evil.
For Julian, the rock-solid foundation of her theology is that God is rightfullehede, that is, righteousness and goodness. She sees with crystal clarity that righteousness means that the good which God does “may not be better done than it is.” All his
works were ordained to be performed perfectly, since the very beginning, “by his high power, his high wisdom, his high goodness.” And just as God ordains all things for the best, so God never stops working to bring all things (including us!)
Likewise, the Pope made it clear that “There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community.”
This should give us great hope.
P.S. By a fortuitous grace of timing, my publisher, Orbis Books, was running a side ad in America Magazine for Julian’s Gospel at the exact same time that the Pope’s Interview appeared -- and on the very same page (see above). I like to imagine that the Pope was smiling at the Woman in the Wimple from the fourteenth century. And that she was smiling back at him with warmest approval.