Advent 3 & 4

Despite the contortions of some commentators, Julian did not say there is no hell, only that it was not shown to her. What she does say of damnation is far more unsettling than the fiery visions of it she would have seen in contemporary art or heard preached in sermons: damnation means being unrecognized, unsaid. Julian does not know how to square this with God’s promise that all will be made well, but the quality of her faith does not require that she understand all of God’s working in order to entrust herself to Him. As she understood she was not to desire to see Mary’s bodily presence, but rather Mary’s inner riches, so perhaps with Julian’s desire for a bodily vision of hell: in the absence of this Julian realizes sin itself is a hell, “for a soul following its proper nature has no hell but sin.” Significantly, sin is both something we are all “muddled with” and something God has already provided complete reparation for. We can choose to increase hell or not, to end in complete sin or not.

Julian also sees very clearly that “we exist more truly in heaven than on earth” and yet, muddled as we are, must grow into such fullness of love. To choose Jesus as heaven, as Julian did, is no palliative to an uncomfortable existence. There is still pain and confusion, often untold, and this will go on. Yet her faith drove beyond what was passing—which at the moment of her choice was physical agony—to the bliss she trusted, to what would endure and was eternal.

The choice for what will last, even if it must be made over and over, means she will not be unduly anxious over all the comings and goings of the very ephemeral peace of this world, or of its sufferings. Her trust is her declaration that, as she was shown, “love is his meaning.” It is also her challenge to begin heaven now and to help bring all that this heaven means into the world.

In the meantime we are not yet what we will be, and this promised bliss that we are created for can seem terribly far off; the challenge of living in the life of uncreated love in the world in which we find ourselves can be unbearable. Yet “He that shall be our bliss and our heaven, when we are there, He is our protector while we are here, our heaven in true love and certain trust” until we have Him whom we seek in fullness of joy.

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