Faith on Fire
For Julian of Norwich, it is faith, and faith alone, that enables us to know our true origin, who we are, and our ultimate destination. Julian understood that faith and all the other virtues come from the Holy Spirit, and that without the Spirit’s gifts no one receives any virtue. Julian sees faith as the most exalted kind of understanding.
For faith is nothing else but a right understanding with true belief and seker trust within our being, that we are in God and he is in us, which we cannot see.
Noticeably, Julian does not lay out a set of doctrines that must be affirmed to have faith (although 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. Faith is precisely the spiritual insight that enables us to know what we cannot comprehend by human reasoning alone. It is an inspired understanding of our creation and redemption which, because of the blindness caused by sin, we are obviously unable to experience directly. Sin has deprived humanity of the ability to “see” God, but faith appears as inner vision. It is essential to our self awareness. 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.”
Of course, 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.
This coming Pentecost, let us pray for an infusion of faith from the Holy Spirit that will inspire us —in times of “woe or wele”—to lead lives that are truly on fire with faith!
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express permission of the author.
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All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.