From the Desk of Father Valentine:
Years ago I attended a one-woman play that touched me very deeply. The subject was an extraordinary woman living in the 14th century who came to attach herself, like the anchor of a ship, to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Norwich, England. This “anchoress,” known to the world as St. Julian of Norwich, is the first female mystic to write a book in the English language, in order to relate her personal mystical experiences. That work, Revelations of Divine Love, has become a classic of western spirituality, one with a distinctly female character. In it, she speaks about our Mother, but she addresses this title, not to Our Lady, but . . . to God. She uses the word, of course, not in the literal sense, but as a metaphor to describe certain characteristics of Christ. She writes:
For it is the property in God which does good against evil. Thus Jesus Christ who does good against evil is our Very Mother: we have our Being of Him, – where the Ground of Motherhood begins, – with all the sweet Keeping of Love that endlessly follows. As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother . . .
For Julian, the attributes of power and goodness are masculine qualities, and so she attributes them to the Father, while that of wisdom is essentially feminine (an idea that dates to the Old Testament), and thus characterizes the Son. And just as there are Three Persons in the Trinity, motherhood reflects three “manners” of divine action.
I understood three manners of beholding of Motherhood in God: the first is grounded in our Nature’s making; the second is taking of our nature, – and there begins the Motherhood of Grace; the third is Motherhood of working – and therein is a forth-spreading by the same Grace, of length and breadth and height and of deepness without end. And all is one Love.
Consider what the mystic is telling us. In Creation, the Son gave us being, our very existence. Through the Incarnation, he became one of us that we might share the embrace of Divine Love. Through the sacraments, he “works” his Grace in us, that we might come to experience the full extent of Trinitarian life: all actions of the same Divine Love.
Perhaps Julian’s most explicitly maternal image is reserved for the saving Passion of Christ: that of a mother bearing her child. Only in the fullness of God’s time would Jesus, in the throes of suffering on the Cross, bring us to the birth of “bliss,” that is, the birth of Divine Life.
We know that all our mothers’ bearing is [bearing of] us to pain and to dying: and what is this but that our Very Mother, Jesus, He – All-Love – bears us to joy and to endless living? – blessed may He be!
Aristotle one said that we can never repay our debt to God or to our parents, for we can never give the equivalent of what we received from them: namely, our lives, ourselves! Of course this is true. Yet the only life the Philosopher knew was the natural life, our earthly existence. We Catholics believe that in some sublime way the life of heaven far exceeds what we know at present, and it is a Life to which we must be born from above. Happy Mother’s Day!