I would like to introduce you to a Lady friend of mine by the name of Julian; she lived nearly 800 years ago in the town of Norwich in England, but her writings, I find, still have the power to touch the heart most powerfully. She wrote about sixteen visions of the Lord she received, when she was near to death from a serious sickness and she called these writings, “Revelations of Divine Love”. They have helped many people on their spiritual journeys with the Lord and I would like to tell you a little of how she has helped me.
I first met her at a time when I was feeling very low. I was struggling against my weaknesses and, despite my prayers and pleas to the Lord for help, they just seemed to get worse and worse. Every time I fell, I would shamefacedly come back to the Lord with sorrow in my heart, beg his pardon and promise that I would not fail next time, but to no avail – I kept on failing. I remember once reading the Lord’s words to St Paul, “My grace is enough for you” (2 Cor.12:9), and crying out, “Then why is it not enough for me?” The second part of the text says, “for my power is made perfect in weakness”, but I did not understand this, so I just passed it by. Then, I came across the writings of the Lady, who was to become my friend, Julian of Norwich – she wrote that in one of her visions when she saw how much the Lord loved her she had cried out, “But, Lord, I keep sinning, I keep sinning…” and her words echoed in my heart, but then the Lord gently replied, “Don’t worry about sinning, don’t worry about it – don’t you see that your sins are necessary, for until you realise how weak you are, you will never take my hand!”. I was flabbergasted!
I had been taught that all sin was terrible and even that it would be better for the whole world to be destroyed rather than one small sin be committed! So, how, I thought, could the Lady Julian be right? Then, my mind was moved to remember the words of the “Exultet”, the song in praise of the Easter Light, which we sing on Holy Saturday night. “O Happy fault, O truly necessary sin of Adam that brought us so great a Redeemer”. The scales then began to fall from my eyes and I began to see what it was that the Lord wants for me – he is not interested in my becoming a righteous, law-abiding man – he wants me to become his close and loving friend, who, trusting in his love for me, takes his hand and learns to live with him and letting him live with me. He wants me to share with him, including the problems and difficulties of my life – to let him be: “The Lamb of God who takes upon himself, the sins, the burdens, the brokenness of the world” that we may become true and abiding friends.
My friend Julian thus led me to understand a little the path of love and showed me that the moral laws, with which I had been having such trouble, were not “things”, which someone did if they loved the Lord, but they were the love of the Lord. She wrote, “the fruit and purpose of prayer is to be ‘oned’ (become one) with God and be like God in all things”. But this is a slow journey – and difficult at times especially when we fail – and, to help us at such times, Julian showed me a new way of looking at failure – she said: “The Lord looks on his servants with pity and not with blame, for, even though, in our sight we do not stand, in God’s sight we do not fall” – because we were never standing in the first place! So, we should not be worried or frightened by our failures, because, as Julian says, “the love of God for us is hard and marvellous. It cannot and will not be broken because of our sins”.
Nevertheless, there are times when we feel that God’s love has left us, – that our world is crashing down around us and that no one cares. To this Julian replies, “Jesus did not say, ‘you will never have a rough time, that you will never be overstrained or that you will never feel uncomfortable,’ but he did say, ‘you shall never be overcome!’” All these difficulties are a necessary part of the journey, but our trust in his love for us, which will be our anchor and hold us firm, for “God loved each one of us before ever he made us – and that love has never diminished, nor ever shall”. Because of this, she says, our lives should be marked with joy, for “the greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly, because we know he loves us.”
Sometimes our sight grows dim and we can no longer see this promise clearly – then we are tempted to rush around looking for special blessings or deliverance or forms of prayer that we think will restore God’s love for us. To this the Lady replies, there is nothing to restore, “because between God and the soul – there is no between”. And as she smiles farewell, she tells us not to be afraid for “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”.
The effects of chemotherapy are slowly leaving me – they may even have gone, but the problem is that I am not sure what it’s like to feel “normal”! However, I am feeling better, even though I have my off days, which I accept and do not push myself to do my walking or grass-cutting on those days. However, I usually manage to exercise three or four times a week – and my lawn is looking better for it!
The seminary has begun its academic year, but we only have nine seminarians at the moment. This is because we have begun to share the teaching with Penang College General and they have taken over the Philosophy studies, leaving us only Theology and years 2, 3 and 4 of the Theology students are out, during this term, doing pastoral work. So we all rattle about in this big building until the others return, when we should have about 33 students.
We have two prospective Mill Hill students starting their training this coming week. This brings the total to ten at various stages of training. Please pray for them – especially the new ones – I still remember the day I set out on my journey – my feelings were rather mixed – part delighted, part tearful, part scared!