This was Jessica’s post on NEO on Easter Saturday in 2013. @013 was a rather incredible year for our posts both her and on NE. For much of it, we were both posting every day, and doing perhaps the best posts we ever did. Most of what I posted this week is from the two of us Holy Week 2013 on NEO. Enjoy. Here’s Jess
Only St Luke carries the account of the conversation of Our Lord on the Cross with the two thieves. We know from his prologue that Luke collected information from many eye-witnesses. He is the only Gospel which contains accounts of Our Lady’s reaction to the news that she would bear the Saviour of the World, and it does not seem too fanciful to imagine that it was from the same source that this account of the last words of the Lord came.
One of them was the voice of this world. Even in his death agonies, he could find nothing better to do than to mock. But the other thief, whom tradition calls ‘Dismas’, was another matter. Christ ends by telling him that he will be with Him in Paradise that day. Do we stop to wonder why, or ask questions? After all, as Dismas himself admits, he deserves his punishment – he was a thief, a robber, a breaker of the law, and he acknowledged his sins. There is the first place he sets an example we could all follow. He admits his sins. He fears God and makes a clean breast of it. There are no ifs and buts, no ‘well, you see, it was society’s fault’; no, none of that; just the confession of a man who fears God’s wrath.
What else does this poor man do? He confesses Christ as Lord. Jesus is, he declares, innocent, and here Dismas bears a true witness; it is a good deed, perhaps the first for many years; but he does it. He also acknowledges who Jesus is by calling Him ‘Lord’. This confession is accompanied by an outpouring of faith, as he asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom.
What humility and what faith do we see here? If, as the Roman Centurion said, ‘Truly this man is the Son of God, then of Dismas we might say, ‘truly this man confessed Christ, repented and followed Him.’
When I was a child, I always wondered how the day when Jesus suffered murder by the state could be called Good. As I grew up and put away childish things and thoughts, I came to understand the story. It is the ultimate story of servant leadership. It is the story of how God himself came down in the guise of a man, to show us the way. Here’s a part of the story.
And so now we come to the climax. We have seen Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we have seen the Last Supper with its echoing call “Do this in Remembrance of Me”, we have seen the arrest during prayers in the garden.
We have seen Peter, renamed Cephas (the Rock) deny the Christ 3 times. We have seen the trial before the Sanhedrin, and the passing of the buck to the Roman, Pontius Pilate who could find no fault in this man but allowed him to be condemned according to Roman practice.
We have even seen the treachery of Judas, paupers who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed his Lord, soon repented, attempted to return the reward (which ended up funding paupers cemetery), and his death as a suicide.
And so now we come to the fatal procession from Jerusalem to Golgotha.
In one way or another, we will all walk the Via Dolorosa. One of the mottoes I use to keep trying to do the right thing, “No one, not even Christ, ever got out of life alive”. For me, that about sums it up. You may as well do the right thing, you might not get the reward on earth that you were striving for, but at the judgment seat, you will be rewarded.
Here is the story according to St. Matthew:
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.
And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head, his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus, the King of the Jews. But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it again in three days save thyself. If thou be the Son of God come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now; if he will save him, let him save him; for he said, I am the Son of God.
One of the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just, and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord that he would save him. And the Lord said unto him This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli,lama sabachthani?(That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Some of them that stood there, when they heard him, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let him be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept, arose, who were many, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, heard the earth quake, and saw those things which were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him for his burial; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
Now, remember this was on Friday following the triumphant entry the prior Sunday. How the mighty had fallen, from the crowd’s hero, one might say a rock star, to an executed criminal buried in a borrowed grave in a week.
This was the man many had expected to free Israel from Rome, there would be others for that mission, it would culminate at Masada and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora. The next ruler of the city, after Rome, would be Islam, contested by the Crusader knights. But until our own time, Jerusalem would not be ruled again by the Jews.
And so the Messiah, the King of the Jews died. The lesson would seem to be not to upset the applecart, to go along to get along, even to sit down and shut up, wouldn’t it?
It’s a pretty sharp lesson too. One of the most cruel methods of execution ever devised by man.
And so, today and tonight the story moves to the Last Supper, a Seder meal remembering that God had set the Jews free from the Eqyptian Captivity, and for us, that is not unconnected, for that tradition moved into Christianity, and has led to the unparalleled freedom we have enjoyed and defended against all others. That freedom is one of the fruits of Christianity, it has never existed except where Judaism and Christianity ruled, and it still doesn’t.
From the time when Christians were the wonder of the ancient world as they disregarded the all but universal practice of leaving unwanted infants to die of exposure to this very day as we fight against the horrors of infanticide whose proponents use the euphemism of abortion to hide their crime. It is all down to Judeao-Christians honoring God’s promise.
But tonight Jesus will go to Gethsemene to camp one last time (in the flesh) with His disciples. There Judas will find his chance to betray the Lord and will take it.
Even the first time he appears, Judas’ name is associated with the betrayal which makes him infamous and immortal in history. We have two accounts of how he met his end: St Matthew tells us he hanged himself in a fit of shame and remorse; in Acts, Luke tells us ‘Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.’ He has become the epitome of the false friend. Why did he do it?
The Synoptic Gospels agree that Judas was bribed. Greed then, 30 pieces of silver; was it for this that the Saviour of the World was handed over to the torturers? John goes further, telling us that Judas ‘was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.’ He objected to Mary using expensive, scented oil to anoint the feet of the Lord, giving us one of the few other insights we have into his behaviour.
I heartily recommend it, Jess does these better than almost anyone ever has. On that same day, on my blog, she was also speaking of Judas, and while you would do well to read the whole post, I’ll give you some of her conclusions.
Judas had clearly had enough. Though the Synoptic Gospels tell us he betrayed Jesus for silver, John gives us the clue that it was Mary’s use of expensive oil to anoint Jesus’ feet which pushed him over the edge. It might, of course, be, as John said, that he had been tipping into the till and helping himself to money, but his taking offence was clear enough evidence of what type of man he was. He was a zealot, a puritan – how dare Jesus allow people to waste oil which could have been spent to help the poor. He, Judas, knew what was right, and he had lost patience with Jesus.
Simon Peter was headstrong, and didn’t always get it right. After supper, when Jesus had said He was going to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protested and said He wouldn’t allow it. But when Jesus told him that if he didn’t, he couldn’t be with Him, Peter didn’t ask for an explanation, he told Jesus he wanted to be washed all over.
Caiaphas and Judas reasoned their way through to a conclusion based on their own insights, and they saw, as we all do, only so far. Peter also reasoned his way to what seemed to him a sensible conclusion, but the love he felt for Jesus opened his heart and he saw further than he had with his intellect. Jesus warned him that he had been handed over to Satan to be ‘sifted’. Peter declared he never would deny Jesus – but Christ knew what was coming.
As the disciples slept and the Romans and the Jewish guard came closer, the silence of that dark night was broken only by the anguish of Jesus. His time had come.
Today was a relatively quiet day in Jerusalem all those years ago – the major event we still recognize was that Judas Iscariot met with the Jewish leaders and received his 30 pieces of silver. But why? We’ll look at that tomorrow.
Today on Neo, there is a new post by Jessica, one of her series of historical fiction speculating about the life of Mary Magdalene. She wrote it last fall ane I saved it for Holy Week. It is, I think, one of the best posts she ever wrote, so I’m going to cheat a bit and post it here as well. Do reflect carefully on what she says ere, an excellent guide for us all. Here, from my dearest friend.
A Harlot’s Way: 5 The Cross
I have tried three times to write this.I can’t. I told Luke what he wanted to know. I am told Matthew and Mark have written an account of that awful day. If John would write it then maybe, in his hands, it could lift you up – of us all, he is the true mystic. But John is long gone, I heard of him last in Ephesus, and the Romans have killed so many of us. Here, where I am, on the very outskirts of Empire, we may be safe, but one never knows – and if it be His will that we should die for him, we shall. None of which helps me with what happened after I anointed the feet of Jesus.
If this is ever read it will be by people who know the story: the entry into Jerusalem; that last supper; the agony in Gethsemane; the farce of a trial; the cruel death; the blackest despair. All made bearable by what happened next. Indeed, only what happened next makes sense of it, but in that making sense, we risk losing something – that is the sacrifice Jesus made. It isn’t as though he did not have a choice. He need not have gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He need not have done what he did in the Temple. At that last supper, he could have slipped out as Judas did. There were those at Gethsemane who would have fought to keep him safe. It is the fact that there were those options – and that he did not take them – which bear witness to his definition of love. It is easy (which is why men do it so often) to talk of love when what is really meant is a longing for something or someone to please us; but the love that took him to that awful place on Golgotha – that is something else.
It was John Mark running back to the upper room which alerted us to what had happened. Nearly naked, we could see from that, and from the horror in his voice that something awful had occurred. I gave him some wine and calmed him down. He told us what had happened in the garden. Mary of Bethany said, bless her, that they would realise there had been a mistake and he would be released; mother Mary looked as though her heart was breaking, and shook her head. She knew, I knew, we all knew in our hearts that this was that sacrifice of which he had spoken. I knew, mother Mary and others knew, that he had rebuked Peter for saying it should not be so. But not all the knowing it was his will and destiny could stop our tears and fears. We put a look-out at the window, and we were ready to decamp at a moment’s notice. We need not have worried, it was him they wanted; they had him.
It was the worst attempt at a night’s sleep any of us ever made. Every step on the street outside caused alarm, and in the end, I made us a very early breakfast. It must have been towards dawn that the men began to return. John was in tears, Philip and Andrew in shock. But it was Peter whose appearance shocked me most. He looked as though he had aged ten years in as many hours. His hair seemed whiter, his eyes tired and tearful. When Andrew asked him what had happened he shook off his comforting hand, swore, and went into a corner where he muttered angrily at himself. It was dear John who brought him round. Then Matthew came and said that a crowd was gathering near the Governor’s palace. I offered to go with Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Salome the doula.
When we got there we found a huge mob. From the balcony, Pilate was talking – offering to release Jesus or Bar-Abbas, the robber. The crowd, stirred on by the Pharisees demanded the latter. Mary and I gripped each other tight as Jesus appeared on the balcony. He looked tired and drawn. When Pilate announced he would release the robber, he asked what he should do with Jesus? The cry went up: “Crucify him!” Mary clung to me and wept. A man next to us turned on us:
“Are you one of his supporters?”
I looked him in the eye with the stare I had always used on men of his sort:
“Yes, what of it? Were you not there the other say hailing him as king of the Jews?”
The man blenched and turned away. I had guessed right. How many of those blowhards who now cried for his death had celebrated him only days before?
We returned to the house.
Mother Mary asked us for news, so we gave it straight. We knew what we had to do. He would be crucified on Golgotha, we needed to get there so we could be with him at the last. Peter looked at me as though I was crazy:
“They will take you and Mary, what are you thinking, woman!”
“I am thinking, Peter, that if you want to stay here and hide, do so, I am not ashamed or afraid. They are not going to strip me naked and hang me on a tree!”
John said he would come with us.
So it was we watched that sad last walk as, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition, he tried to drag that cross up the hill. But his strength failed, and Alexander and Rufus’ father carried it for him. We got close enough for mother Mary to mop his brow. I told the soldiers who we were and the centurion, who seemed to admire my courage, allowed us to stand at the foot of the cross.
We watched as they mocked him. We heard his words. He commended mother Mary of John’s tender care – and how marvelously he fulfilled that charge. Then he gave up his spirit and we cried as though tears had no end. The sky grew black. When those soldiers came to check whether the three men on the crosses were dead, there was no doubt about him. We asked for his body; they gave it to us.
Oh, oh, oh of that I cannot write. To see that life whose entry into the world I had seen thirty-three years earlier now broken, battered and lifeless is more that I can bear. I kissed that bloody brow and washed him with the water brought by Joseph’s men. Joseph’s men told us we could use his tomb and showed us where.
As we got there, it was almost time for the Passover. We finished washing him. We anointed him with herbs. I took the winding cloth which I had brought back with me from Babylon and we wrapped him in it, with a cloth to cover that battered face. Then, we each kissed him and headed for the exit. The soldiers rolled a great stone across the entrance and stood guard. We went back home in silence. What could be said? He had gone. He had said he would return. Deep, deep inside me that small flame burned bright.
Tuesday of Holy Week is a day we don’t talk about much these days. There are no special (and memorable) services such as many of the other days of this week have. But it has a drama all its own. For it is full of advice for us and warnings for mankind. Not to mention more than a few parables.
I’m only going to repeat a small part of it, you can find these in any of the Gospels, they are part of the bedrock of Christianity, but this is a specific warning that Jesus gave to the people and his disciples, from The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, in the Authorized Version
23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Audre is speaking today on my blog about a new, more masculine church arising, I agree with her, and here is the foundation of that church, in Christ’s Examination in the Temple. Here is Jesus, both man and God, and the most glorious example of masculinity, no matter the consequences ever seen on this earth or anywhere else for that matter. Take heart for the Master is always with us.
As we work our way into the second year of lockdown to flatten the curve, many of us remain more or less forcibly unchurched. Well, I was that way in college, since there was no local church of my denomination, nor did I have a car available. So it was time to improvise, adapt, and overcome, as it is now for people of faith.
Our forebearers had their passion plays to act out parts of the story of the Bible, most especially the Passion of Christ. And in fact, there is a modern one that was my mainstay in college. It’s certainly not as good as the services we normally would attend this week, but it is much better than nothing, or perhaps for some of us, even reading the words and being unable to visualize what this sacrifice the God himself made to save us was like.
I hope and yes, pray, that this will remind some of you, as it did me years ago, about how much God loves us all, no matter how we have behaved. Oh, and enjoy as well, for it came out of a burst of creativity rarely seen.
Jessica has written eloquently on a question deriving from Mother Julian’s “showings” – God’s wrath. If we take away the idea of God’s wrath then one might well ask why it was that Jesus died upon the Cross. If, as Mother Julian states:
God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for he is nothing but goodness
then our traditional theology needs a rethink.
One way of dealing with this dilemma is to do what both Mother Julian and Jessica do, which is to hold it in tension: we are sinners, God is love and loves us, how the two are reconicled by Jesus is a mystery; it is sufficient for us to know that it will be reconciled.
There is a level at which this must be true. It may be a “Man thing” but I want to worry away at it a little so bear with me.
Julian herself provides us with some clues for how we might proceed; so let us follow and see where, if anywhere, they might lead.
I saw no anger except on man’s part, and he forgives that in us; for anger is nothing else but a resistance and contrariness to peace and to love, and it comes either from lack of strength or lack of wisdom, or from lack of goodness – and this lack is not in God, but is on our part; for through sin and wretchedness we have in us a wretched and continual resistance to peace and to love, and he revealed this very often in his loving expression of pity and compassion.
We are in what might be called classic Romans 7 territory – however much we will the good, we do the opposite. We know that this, by our standards, deserves condemnation – after all we are very free in condemning bad bahviour in others, almost as free as we are imaginative in finding excuses for our own. We cannot be in eternal bliss, as she goes on to say in chapter 49, until “we are all at peace and love; that is to say, in full contentment with God, and with all his works”.
Only through the working of Grace can we be made humble and gentle enough to surrender our will to God’s will:
As we receive the Lord in the sacraments, as we pray to Him, as we meditate on his life and teachings, as we try to follow Him, we are directed where we need to be, recognising in His love and compassion that we are loved, and responding to Him in return. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, in the Church, and as Julian puts it:
… the Holy Spirit, who is endless life dwelling in our soul, protects us most securely, and effects a peace in the soul, and gives it comfort by Grace, and accords it to God, and makes it compliant. And this is his mercy and the path on which Our Lord continually leads us, as long as we are in this changeable life
God works with us in our daily lives, and so often it is here, rather than in the spaces we reserve for God, that we go wrong. Original sin, Chesterton said, is the one theological reality you can see by looking in the mirror. Is God wrathful, or do we, in our hearts, need Him to be because of our shame at our own sinful ways? Or is the idea of a wrathful God so central to our vision that even trying to understand what Julian is saying, is enough to cause wrath to rise at the very idea of a God who is not angry with us, but, saddened by our anger with ourselves, wishes to save us through Christ – to save us from ourselves and the work of sin within us?
There, I have worried away at it, not I think to any great result, but sometimes worrying away at things can be enough.
In the Facebook Lent Book Group one member has noted that Sheild Upjohn is very reluctant to take sides in the various theological issues she herself raises. In the chapter on “prayer” this is clearest on two issue which readers of this blog will recognise – praying the Rosary and praying with the Saints.
Our old correspondent, Bosco, was very hot on these issues. Like many Protestants of an Evangelical bent (if that is what he was), Bosco objected to praying the Rosary, reminding us that we had been warned against vain repetition, adding for good measure that we shouldn’t pray to the Holy Virgin (whose virginity he, in rather poor form even for him, denied) or the saints. Ms Upjohn’s delicacy is perhaps understandable. New readers here need only to put “Bosco” into the search bar on the blog to find some prime examples of prejudice uniformed by knowledge, allied to a firm refusual to rethink once informed. It’s a way of being, but not one which commends itself to anyone who does not already hold such views.
Catholic actually pray “with” the Saints, not to them; the same is true of the greatest of the Saints, Our Lady. If you do not believe there is a “great cloud of witnesses” then so be it, but at least do fellow Christians the courtesy of informing yourself what they say they believe. Can devotion be misinterpreted? It can, and those Anglo-Saxons who feel uneasy with overt displays of emotion, may well find themselves feeling that way about some of the devotions practised by those whose culture makes them very easy with such displays; but they might like to reflect that understanding requires more than observation uninformed by knowledge. Empathy matters, and before we rush to judge others, we might think to exercise it.
It raises the issue of what prayer is for? Mother Julian is a good guide here, writing in chapter 41:
Our Lord himself is the first to receive our prayer, as I see it. He takes it, full of thanks and joy, and he sends it up above, and sets it in the treasury, where it will never be lost. It is there before God and all his holy ones – continually heard, continually helping our needs. When we come to heaven, our prayers will be given to us as part of our delight – with endless joyful tasks from God.
I have found praying the Rosary whilst walking an excellent way of taking two forms of exercise, and I know Jessica has found it useful after I recommended it to her. In so praying it helps my mind focus on the Scriptural passages behind each part of the Rosary. The idea that it somehow raises Our Lady to divine status could, I suspect, be raised only by one who brought it with them because of a suspicion that Catholics do that. There has been a very long history of anti-Catholicsm in the Anglo-Saxon world, and even though we are now in a more secular age, traces of it linger, and added to that we have the aggressive secularism which finds all religion a survival of what it dismisses as medieval superstition, without ever understanding it.
Here, again, Julian is helpful. In chapter 25, Jesus offers her a vision of the Blessed Virgin in heaven:
And with this very same expression of gladness and joy, our good Lord looked down on his right side and brought my mind to where our Lady stood during his Passion, and he said, ‘Would you like to see her?’ … as if he had said, ‘Would you like to see how I love her, so that you can rejoice with me, in the love that I have for her and she for me? … Would you like to see in her how you are loved. For the love of you I made her so exalted, so noble and of such worth; and this delights me, and I want it to delight you.
Sheila Upjohn’s approach is irenic in the best way. Experience has taught he what it has taught others, which is that you cannot really argue about this issue, all you can do is to try to enter into an understanding of why, for so many of us, Our Lady is so loved. That is not a bad pattern for us during Lent.
My thanks, as ever, to Chalcedon, who has stepped in when illness has, once more, prevented my writing. But on the road to recovery (I hope) I have not only had time to read his excellent opening post, but to collect some of my own thoughts. I want to come at this from a female perspective, not out of some feminist desire to claim Mother Julian as one of us (she wasn’t), but because I think (along with many far better qualified to comment) that her femininity brought a different perspective to our thinking on Christ. It is not one that our Lent Book gives too much space to, but it’s one worth exploring in the context of our reading of it all the same.
Women in the Middle Ages were not part of the formal academic/theological space. They were neither invited to contribute to theological conversations, not expected so to do. As Mother Julian says of herself:
God forbid that you should say or assume I am a teacher, for that is not what I mean, nor did I ever mean in; for I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail. But I know well that I have received what I say from him who is a supreme teacher … Just because I am a woman, must I therefore believe that I must not tell you about the goodness of God, when I saw at the same time both his goodness and his wish that it should be known?
Revelations of Divine Love, Short Text, Chapter 6
She had internalised what St Paul had said about it not being a woman’s place to teach. But she knew what she had seen, and she knew she had to tell others.
Here the fact that she was by the standard of the day “unlettered”, helped. “Unlettered” did not mean illiterate, but it did mean that she was not educated in scholastic methods of debate and of writing. From our point of view this was a bonus. Scholars, and others, still read Aquinas and some of the medieval schoolmen, but it can be a wearisome task. There were set methods of writing and debating, and it makes for dry reading. With Mother Julian we get the woman herself. Whether she wrote herself, or dictated it, we hear her cadences. She does not use Latin, neither does she employ technical terminology or cite authorities. No, what we get here is a woman’s voice – and one which speaks of God as mother.
Unless you happened to be a very important aristocratic woman, women in the Middle Ages seldom strayed outside the domestic sphere. Their space was the domestic space. We see this in the language and images Mother Julian uses. She describes the drops of Christ’s blood dripping down from the crown of thorns as pills, compares them to herring scales or raindrops falling from the eaves of a house. The dead body on the cross resembles a “sagging cloth” left out to dry. Mother Julian’s Christ is one who fits into that domestic sphere, who is one of us. She stresses God’s “homeliness” with us – that is his familiarity, his intimacy, his love – he is, she says in chapter 5, “everything we find good and comforting”.
One interesting development which follows from this is that Mother Julian sees Christ as
“God all wisdom is our mother by nature”, she wrote in chapter 58, and:
Jesus was “our true mother by nature” both because he created us, and then “by grace” for redeeming us. The crucifixion itself, she likened to the travails of child-birth, because through his agonies he opened to us the possibility of heavenly bliss. She sees the sacraments as his feeding us, as a mother does her child – and as the medievals believed that milk was reprocessed blood, the parallel with the consecrated wine and a mother’s milk would have been very real to Mother Julian.
This is a Christ who becomes motherly, welcoming, initimate with us as a mother is with her children – and that image extends to his dealings with us as sinners:
But often when our falling and our wretched sin is shown to us, we are so terrified and so very ashamed that we hardly know where to put ourselves. But then our kind mother does not want us to run from him, there is nothing he wants less. But he wants us to behave like a child; for when it is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother as fast as it can: and he wants us to do the same, like a humble child saying, ‘My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my dearest Mother, take pity on me. I have made myself dirty and unlike you, and I neither may nor can remedy this without your special help and grace.’
As Our Lord said, we must become like little children to receive him, and here Mother Julian brings a mother’s insight to that saying. In this, she follows Our Lord himself who likens himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37) as well as Isaiah (49:15). What is absent from her revelation is the usual, male, image of God as the angry father.
This, of course, presented her, as a good Catholic who believed in hell and purgatory, with a problem, and it is to that I shall, God willing return.
BRETHREN, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.
Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen: To the intent that, being admonished of the great indignation of God against sinners, ye may the rather be moved to earnest and true repentance; and may walk more warily in these dangerous days; fleeing from such vices, for which ye affirm with your own mouths the curse of God to be due.
This would seem rather at odds with what Mother Julian says about the anger of God, but I think Jessica deals well with the seeming tension when she wrote:
Mother Julian saw with insight that if God were to feel what we call “anger” even for a moment, he would cease to be the creator and become the destroyer, and we should cease to exist. Anger is what happens inside us and we attribute it to God. We are, we say in some circumstances, “standing up for God”, as though he needs our anger; well it’s an excuse isn’t it? It was human anger which crucified Christ; it is our own anger which crucifies us. It holds us in an atmosphere of conflict and fear which keeps us from peace – and from atonement and repentance;
It may be indicative of where we are in more than one way that the Commination service seems to be a rarity (though one may be had here) and that the Church, whether Anglican or Catholic, seems reluctant to talk about “wrath”. It is easier to talk about God’s “love”, not least because love is a pleasanter topic for reflection and for sermons than “wrath’. That is, in some quarters, a natural reaction, to be deplored by some of a traditionalist bent, and to be celebrated as “progress” by those of other minds.
Julian of Norwich has become something of a beacon for those who wish to emphasise love and not wrath, and she should not be held responsible for some of the things some of her latter-day admirers load upon her. Her understanding was deeper than a surface perusal sometimes allows for. But that should not be read as indicating that it’s time to go on about “wrath” more than we do. Those who lament the decline of wrath-related preaching might wish to reflect on why it has happened? Here Mother Julian has much to help us with.
“God”, she tells us, “enfolds us in love and will never let us go.” (Chapter 5). How do we react to that? It is easy to say we love God, but this Lent is an opportunity to ask ourselves a question we ought to ask of all our close relationships – how much time to we spend on it?
Our prayer makes God happy (Chapter 41) we are told by Mother Julian. But how often to do pray? I used to have three main reactions to prayer: I prayed when I felt I needed something or wanted help for someone; I didn’t feel in the right frame of mind for prayer; or my prayers felt “dry”. It became an excuse for not praying. A few years back I decided to follow the lectionary and prayed morning, evening and compline prayers – in season and out, however I “felt”. Once it stopped becoming about me, it could become about God. I recommended it to Jess, and others, who seem to have benefitted from it. Praying the Rosary while walking also helps me.
There, I was pleased to see, were among the steps recommended by Sheila Upjohn (pp. 5-8) in the first chapter of our Lent Book. She poses some interesting questions about prayer at the end of the chapter, and to this, I shall turn on the morrow.
But as we enter Lent together, let us remember that: “dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” But into that dust God breathed life, and through His Son He offers us forgiveness for all our sins. As we ponder and wonder what we should give up, let us give ourselves and each other something positive instead – like a break! – And let us take up regular prayer.
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