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English mystic Julian of Norwich understood that God is love, says Pope

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the faithful as he arrives for his weekly general audience, in Paul VI Hall (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Julian of Norwich understood the central message of spiritual life, that God is love, Pope Benedict XVI said today.

Continuing his catechesis around women who shaped the Church, the Holy Father focused on the English mystic Julian of Norwich.

Julian was an English woman who was suddenly struck down by a serious illness, which in three days appeared to be fatal. When the priest came to her bedside he showed her a crucifix which not only immediately restored her health but also gave her the 17 visions which she wrote down.

He said: “Inspired by divine love, Julian took a radical decision. Like an ancient anchoress, she decided to live inside a cell, near a church dedicated to St Julian, within the city of Norwich, an important urban centre in her time, near London. Perhaps she assumed the name of Juliana after the saint to whom the church was dedicated and where she lived for so many years until her death. The decision to live a life of a ‘recluse’ might surprise and even leave us perplexed as it must have done in her day.

“But she was not the only one to take such a decision, in those centuries a considerable number of women opted for this sort of life, often adopting rules specifically developed for them, like the one composed by Aelredo di Rievaulx. The anchorite or ‘recluse’, inside their cell, dedicated themselves to prayer, to mediation and to study. In this way, they matured a human sensibility and a subtle religiosity which made people revere them. Men and women of every state and condition, in need of counsel and comfort, received them with devotion. Therefore it was not an individualistic decision; even with this closeness to God there matured in them also the capacity to be councilors for many, to help those who lived in difficulty in this life.”

Speaking about hermits and cloistered religious, Pope Benedict said: “Women and men who choose to withdraw and live in the company of God acquire, precisely because of this choice, a great sense of compassion for the suffering and weakness of others. Friends of God, they enjoy a wisdom which the world they have left does not possess, and they willingly share this with those who knock at their door.

“Thus I think with admiration and gratitude of the monasteries of cloistered women and men which, today more than ever, are oases of peace and hope, a precious treasure for the entire Church, especially inasmuch as they recall the primacy of God and the importance that intense and constant prayer has for the journey of faith,” the Pope said.

Julian wrote about her mystical visions in Revelations of Divine Love. She lived during troubled times for the Church which was torn by schisms following the Pope’s return from Avignon to Rome, while her own country was engaged in a long war with France.

The Pope described Revelations of Divine Love as “an optimistic message based on the certainty that we are loved by God and protected by His Providence”.

For Julian, he said, divine love compares to maternal love. He said: “This is one of the most characteristic messages of her mystical theology. The tenderness, solicitude and sweetness of God’s goodness towards us are so great that to us, pilgrims on the earth, they seem as the love of a mother for her children.”

“Julian of Norwich understood the central message of spiritual life: that God is love. Only when we open ourselves totally to this love, only when we allow it to become the one guide to our existence, does everything become transfigured and do we find true peace and joy which we can pass on to others.”

Julian is venerated by both Catholics and Anglicans.