Anne Armstrong, RE Curriculum Coordinator
Our Year 10 students are currently engaging with a Religious Education unit for which the central question – why do people persevere with their faith? It is a question relevant for all of us, living in such challenging times for believers, yet we can all be inspired by examples of those such as Mother Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) who have kept the faith in times of difficulties.
Julian was an anchoress, a person who retired from the world to pray and give counsel to those who had come and seek wisdom, advice, and prayers. The anchoress was enclosed within the confines of her cell, which was attached to the parish church. Such arrangements meant the anchoress was not cut off from the world. Instead, she was anchored in it and ministered to those around her.
As a child Julian lived through the Black Death, the plague that decimated Europe from 1348 – 1351. Nearly half of the city of her home town Norwich died in a three-year span! Julian also lived during the seemingly endless ‘One Hundred Years War’ between England and France; The Great Schism in the Roman Catholic Church in 1378. For the next 68 years there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon (and for a short time, three!) all claiming authority over the Catholic Church; The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, resulting from years of injustice and unfair taxes. We too live in times of plague – the plagues of hatred, fear, anxiety, racism, indifference; the seemingly endless war against poverty, the schisms of beliefs and politics which threaten to cause self-destruction. Events in the wider world and the Church seem chaotic, confusing, and challenging. We have reason to wonder what will become of our faith.
Despite her own circumstances, and the uncertainty of world around her, Julian’s writings are full of joy and hope. They reflect in the light of God’s love demonstrated in Jesus Christ. Her book “Revelations of Divine Love” was the earliest known book written in English by a woman. She reminds us that every moment is an opportunity to remember that we are perfectly loved and perfectly lovable, just as we are – surely an antidote to the plague of self-doubt and anxiety that stifles personal growth.
“And so, when the final judgment comes,” Julian writes at the end of The Showings, “… we shall clearly see in God all the secrets that are hidden from us now. Then none of us will be moved in any way to say, ‘Lord, if only things had been different, all would have been well.’ Instead, we shall all proclaim in one voice, ‘Beloved One, may you be blessed, because it is so: ALL IS WELL.’”
Her mantra is still used today. All will be well. All will be well. All will be well. It is a beautiful mantra which can be used in times of anxiety and stress. It is best repeated with breath meditation.
We could parallel that by reminding ourselves at this moment in Australian Church history to Keep the faith. Keep the faith. Keep the faith.
We need more anchors of the Church, like Julian. People who are willing to engage with the truth and encounter Jesus personally. People who are willing to bring hope to the despairing; People who are willing to confront injustice and corruption; people who are willing to speak and live the truth of our faith; people who are willing to listen and affirm the vulnerable.
We need to raise up a generation of young people who are leaders of integrity, with the courage to live the Gospel truths of Jesus. We need to reject the leadership model focused on clericalism. We need to find new ways of being Church and leading the Church. We need to see the Church as community, as a living Body of Christ.
ABC presenter Tony Jones once compered a Q & A session in Perth and asked, (what he thought was), a provocative question. He asked,
“What is going to happen to the Church when the number of priests and religious falls below a critical number”?
The huge audience, who were mostly lay, spontaneously raised their hands and said,
“Tony we are here”!
According to a colleague who was in the audience, it was like the breath of the Holy Spirit extended across the enormous auditorium. Maria reports that it was a sort of impromptu commissioning where the laity declared permission to share in the responsibility of God’s mission in various faith communities across Australia. “After this ‘commissioning”, my colleague says, “I was reassured that I had been especially called to this particular vocation and excited about the future of Catholic Education in our Archdiocese.”
Bishop VIncent Long of Parramatta stated recently, “We are first and always a community of disciples following our one master, Jesus Christ. We are not the Church of one particular leader, be it Pope Francis or Cardinal Pell or any other bishop.”
We are the living Body of Christ made up of saints and sinners. We persevere in faith because we recognise that we are loved by God and called to bring that love to others.
May we all have the conviction of our vocation to share in the responsibility of God’s mission. May we walk together in this journey of faith, building the body of Christ. Lent is an ideal opportunity to recommit to our vocation, to seek deeply the word of God in our lives and to contribute to the building of the body of Christ through prayer, reflection, renunciation and love.
JULIAN OF NORWICH
https://www.thecompassnews.org/2013/09/locked-forever-wall-church/ Locked forever in the walls of a Church
https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/the-life-of-the-anchoress The Life of an Anchoress
http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/medieval/julian/anchoress.htm The Way of an Anchoress
http://www.lordsandladies.org/anchoress.htm Becoming an Anchoress
http://juliancentre.org/ Become a friend of the Julian Centre in Norwich
MODERN DAY ANCHORITES
http://www.anchorhold.co.uk/ Sr Rachael, a modern-day anchorite.
https://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=89653 Pope Francis’ Lenten Message
https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/liturgical-year/lent/articles perspectives on lent