When Julian of Norwich was a young girl, she asked God for three gifts or “wounds”: the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion, and the wound of willful longing for God. She did not want physical wounds like the self-mutilating ascetics of her time, but spiritual wounds. She wanted her heart to break open in order to feel true sorrow for her sins; to experience a deep sympathy with the sufferings of Christ on the cross and all her fellow human beings; and to long for God with her whole heart and soul and mind.
In this love-longing, Julian prayed for the grace to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, shelter the traveler, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living, the sick, and the dead. In essence, she wanted to live fully Christ’s teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39, Mk 12:31, Lk 10:27).
Then, when Julian was thirty and a half years old and had been suffering from deadly illness for a week that paralyzed her from the waist down, a priest came with an acolyte and a crucifix and bid her look on her Savior before she died. She did so and suddenly felt completely healed of her illness. At that moment, she remembered her desire for the “second wound”—that of longing to suffer with Christ and have a greater “mind” of what he had suffered for all of us.
And suddenly it came to my mind that I should desire the second wound of our lord’s gift and of his grace: that he would fill my body with the mind and feeling of his blessed passion, as I had prayed before. For I would that his pains were my pains, with compassion and afterward longing for God. Thus I thought I might, with his grace, have his wounds that I had desired before.
Julian makes very clear that she did not want a bodily sight (as she had asked for in her youth):
But in this I never desired neither a bodily sight nor any manner of showing of God but only compassion, as it seemed to me that a natural soul might have with our lord Jesus, that for love would become a mortal man.
And in this loving state of mind and heart, suddenly Julian saw the crucifix before her “came alive,” and she began to receive her sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.
Is Julian not telling us that in order to heal our personal and our national wounds, we, too, should pray for the grace of these three gifts? Should we not also seek true contrition for ourselves? Should we not pray to be full of compassion for the sufferings of all our fellow human beings (seeking to serve them through the corporal works of mercy)? Should we not desire to do everything we do out of love-longing for God? If we do, then Christ will most certainly reveal himself to us through the practice of these very works of mercy. Not in visions or a miraculous healing, perhaps, but with a sublime joy that no one and nothing can take from us.
Heeding Julian's voice, let us consider that the only way to be truly happy is to LIVE the Beatitudes in our suffering world today:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:3-12, NRSV)
PLEASE NOTE: Julian's quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.