Yesterday being Mother’s Day, one does not expect to find a sermon relating the absence of one’s father on a business trip to the ascension of Jesus, and one might be surprised to hear a letter from the Bishop which in no way mentioned women or mothers. Yet, there I was, hearing all these exciting things on Mother’s Day….
So when I was reminded by Fr. James Martin that today, May 13th, is the feast day of Blessed Julian of Norwich, well, I just had to ask her to make a guest appearance on our blog! Being a bit of a recluse, she agreed to an over-the-phone interview but wouldn’t type the answers herself, citing something about the bad wireless reception in her cell.
DT: Blessed Julian, what an honor! I know your time is quite precious, so let’s cut to the chase. With Mother’s Day yesterday, many Catholics are told to look to Jesus’ Mother, Mary, as the ultimate example of motherliness in our lives, but you make a different case in your most recent book, (A Revelation of Love–now translated into numerous languages with many critical editions!) Could you talk about that?
JN: Gladly! I would offer two alternative visions that may prove useful to you! In one sense, I see and understand that the high might of the Trinity is our Father; and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother; and the great love of the Trinity is our Lord: and all this we have and own in our natural kind and in the making of our substance. But more than this, I see that the Second Person, who is Mother of our substance, the same most dear Person is become our Mother sensual.
DT: Wait, let me get this straight. I’ve heard the “God our Father, God our Mother” lines…even from Pope John Paul the First. But you’re saying Jesus is our Mother…ohhh…this is figurative, right? Symbolic or something?
JN: Hm, not quite, but great effort, dear sir! Let me try to explain. The Second Person of the Trinity is Mother in nature, in our substantial making, in whom we are grounded and rooted; and he (Jesus) is also our Mother in mercy in taking our sensuality. And so our Mother works in diverse ways for us, so that our parts are held together. For in our Mother Christ we profit and increase as in mercy he reforms and restores us, while, by the power of his passion and his death and rising, he unites us to our substance….Thus in our Father, God almighty, we have our being; and in our Mother of mercy we have our reforming and restoring, and in him our parts are united and we all are made perfect human beings; and by the recompense and giving in grace of the Holy Spirit we are fulfilled!
Perhaps I am being too difficult to understand. Our substance is our Father, God almighty, and our substance is our Mother, God of all wisdom, and our substance is in our Lord the Holy Spirit, God of all goodness; yet our substance is whole in each Person of the Trinity, which is one God. While our sensuality is only in the Second Person, Christ Jesus, yet in him is the Father and the Holy Spirit.
DT: Okay. But isn’t motherhood defined by changing diapers and, simply, having children? You’re aligning motherhood and Divine Wisdom! Are you impugning that men are strong but unwise?
DT: We’re just going to move on….I must not understand! It sounds like you’re redefining Motherhood completely…motherhood does not define women or men in a bodily sense…Motherhood is a kind of imparting of Divine Wisdom on those around us. In this sense, you are a mother, despite having no biological children, right?
JN: How you gain in wisdom! The property of true motherhood is kind love, wisdom, and knowing, and it is good–as it is, of course, directly derived from the nature of Christ. But our bodily birth is but little, low, and simple when compared to our spiritual birth! The mother’s task is nearest, readiest, and most sure, for it is the most real truth. This task might never, nor could it, be done by anyone other than Christ himself. We well know that all our mothers bear us to pain and to dying. Yet what does he do? Our own true Mother Jesus, he who is all love, bears us to joy and endless living–blessed may he be! Thus he sustains us within himself in love and labor until the full time when he gladly suffered the sharpest throes and most grievous pains that ever were or ever shall be, and died at last.
While Christ is very truly our mother, some analogies do exist. The mother may suckle her children with her own milk, but our precious Mother Jesus, he may feed us with himself. And he does this most courteously, with much tenderness, with the Blessed Sacrament that is our precious food of true life. And with all the sweet sacraments he sustains us with every mercy and grace. The mother may lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus, he may lead us into his blessed breast by his sweet open side and show within in part the Godhead and the joys of heaven, with spiritual certainty of endless bliss.
This fair word full of love, mother, it is so sweet and so kind–that is, so close to the nature of God–and comes from the self so that it may not in truth be said of none but Christ, and of her who is true mother of him and of all.
DT: Oh, wow. I’m not sure we can print all of this, but these are great lines…even bringing in Mary at the end to make the traditionalists happy!
DT: Um…nevermind. Anyhow, we’re almost out of time, and I want to give you some more time to talk at the end. You’re known for lines like “all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well,” but I find this mother-imagery remarkable. Personally, I loved rocking my children to sleep when they were but a few months old. I care for them deeply, and I know it will cause me pain when they go through pain in life. This makes me maternal as opposed to paternal, right? And this is a good thing?
I swear I just heard Blessed Julian’s hand smack her forehead over the phone.
JN: Oh my gracious sir, allow me to explain one final time. Perhaps then you will understand…if not, I will still pray for you!
Often, when our failings and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so sorely pained, so full of shame, that we scarcely know where to put ourselves. But then our Mother wills us not to flee away, for nothing could be further from his thoughts. For now he wants us to behave just like a child; for when a child is upset or afraid, it runs straight to its mother will its might, crying out, “My kind mother, my gracious mother, my dearest mother, have mercy on me. I have soiled myself and am so unlike you ; and I can never put it right without your special help and grace!”
And if we do not feel ourselves at ease right away, we can be sure that he uses the skills of a wise mother. For if he sees that it will profit us more to mourn and weep awhile, this he allows with compassion and pity until the best time, all our of love. The blessed wound of our Saviour is open and rejoices to heal us; the sweet, gracious hands of our Mather reach our ready and diligent about us. For in all this working he uses the skills of a kind nurse who cares for nothing but the salvation of her child. His task is to save us, a duty he delights to fulfill. And he would have us know it; for he wants us to love him sweetly and trust in him meekly and mightily.
Even through some earthly mother might allow a child of hers to perish, our heavenly Mother, Jesus, may never suffer us to be lost, for we are his children. And he is almighty, all wisdom, and all love; and there is none but he. Blessed may he be!
DT: Blessed Julian of Norwich, this…wow…this was such an honor. I’m sure you have lots of interviews today and so many intercessory prayers to attend to…thank you so much for you time.
H/t to J. Skinner for his help with this interview. Don’t miss out of Bl. Julian’s many published volumes! “Revelations of Divine Love,” chapters 58-62, are especially pertinent to the interview above…not to mentioned being the first book published by a woman in the English language!