. . . I had some measure of feeling for the passion of Christ, but yet I desired to have more, by the grace of God. It seemed to me that I would have been present at that time with Mary Magdalene and with others who were Christ’s lovers, so that I might have seen bodily the passion that our lord suffered for me, that I might have suffered with him as others did that loved him.
With these words, Julian of Norwich begins her account of the Revelations that showed her the passion of Christ on the cross, even as she was near-death herself. These words are so full of poignancy and longing. They might very well become our own words as we begin this holy season of Lent.
Julian acknowledges that she had "some measure of feeling for the passion of Christ," but she wants more. She does not desire simply to hear the gospel of the passion read aloud, she longs to enter into it to such a degree that she might experience herself virtually "being there" with Mary Magdalene and with "others who were Christ's lovers." She longs to see what Christ suffered out of love for us and to share in the compassion of his mother, Mary. She admits quite candidly that when she was young, she had desired a vision, but only so that she might learn to suffer with Christ "as others did that loved him."
The intensity of Julian's longing is precisely what made her able to "see" the visions, to "hear" the Lord's words in her heart, to "be present" during the long hours when she watched Christ suffer. Her account of what she saw is, arguably, among the most graphic and detailed descriptions of death by crucifixion in all of mystical literature. Her report of Christ's bodily sufferings has been proven to be astoundingly accurate through the findings of modern forensic science. She could not have known such details if she had not actually seen them!
The Mind of Christ
This was my intention: because I wanted afterwards, because of that shewing, to have the more true mind of the passion of Christ.
Julian wants the experience of standing at the foot of the cross, not out of morbid curiosity or an excess of medieval devotion. She desires to place herself at the crucifixion, next to Mary and the "other women," in order to "have the more true mind" of what Christ suffered and how Christ felt about the sins of humankind as he suffered. She desires, as St Paul said, to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). As it happened, Christ gave Julian such an overwhelming experience of his mind on the cross as well as his heart's unconditional love and mercy, that she later confesses she could hardly bear it. At one point, she even wishes she had not asked for such a vision! But in the process, Julian is graced with a depth of love and compassion for Jesus Christ and for her fellow Christians that far surpassed her greatest longing.
Imagine if we took Julian's desires as our own this Lent: to have more feeling for the passion of Christ; to be present with Mary and the others who love Christ at the foot of his cross; to long for an experience of the passion in deep meditation; to be willing to suffer what we have to suffer in our lives in complete union with Christ's own sufferings. What a meaningful Lent it would be!What graces and intimacy would flow from Christ's Heart to our own! What greater love and compassion we might feel for all those suffering and dying in Christ's name throughout the world!
Let us consider reading and meditating on Julian's Revelations of the Passion as a daily practice throughout this Lenten season. Let us place ourselves at the foot of the cross, try to imagine what Christ is suffering, listen intently to what Christ is saying to us, and long for "the mind" of Christ. Let us take the words Christ spoke to Julian as being directed to us. Let us read and hold Julian's gospel close to our hearts. Then we may, with Julian, experience the glorious transformation she saw in Christ's visage just when she thought he was about to die. Suddenly his face took on a joyful expression, all pain and suffering vanished, and she exulted to see that he was already risen. May Christ say to us on Easter Sunday what he said to Julian in that very moment: "Where is now any point of thy pain or thy grief?"
2/27/2015 01:44:35 am
Dear Veronica Mary Rolf, I want to thank your for your wonderful, scholarly book, Julian's Gospel. I am a writer of Catholic books, three of which are novels. I have just finished a new novella, The Lady at the Window, The Lost Journal of Lady Julian to be published by my new publisher Wiseblood. Your book helped me to write my novella.
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