Continuing his recent trend of highlighting women saints during his Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI focused on the renowned English mystic Julian of Norwich.
During his Dec. 1 address, the Pope underscored the immense faith of St. Julian, saying that her life – although difficult – showed how “God's promises are always greater than our expectations.”
Pope Benedict opened his remarks explaining that the 14th century saint lived at a time when the Church was “lacerated” by painful schisms after the Pope at the time, who temporarily fled to France, finally returned to Rome. St. Julian and her surrounding English countrymen were also deeply affected by a long standing war with France and were “suffering the consequences” of bloody conflict, he said.
“Inspired by divine love, Julian made a radical choice,” Pope Benedict stated. “Like an ancient anchoress, she chose to live in a cell located near the church of St. Julian in the city of Norwich.”
He explained that “anchoresses,” or recluses, dedicated themselves to prayer, meditation and study within their cells.
“In this way they came to acquire a very delicate human and religious sensibility which led to their being venerated by the people,” the Pope explained, adding that “and men and women of all ages and conditions, in need of counsel and comfort, devotedly sought them out.”
Those who choose to live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer, the Pope observed, are “friends of God.”
“Women and men who chose 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,” he said."Thus I think with admiration and gratitude" that today's monasteries of cloistered men and women "are oases of peace and hope, a precious treasure for the entire Church."
Recalling St. Julian's book, titled "Revelations of Divine Love,” Pope Benedict said the work contains “an optimistic message based on the certainty that we are loved by God and protected by His Providence.”
She “compares divine love with maternal love,” he added. “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.”
St. Julian understood the central message of the spiritual life, he said, which is the fundamental truth 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.”
The Pope also posed a difficult question: If God is good, “why does evil exist, why do the innocent suffer?”
He replied, “Yet in the mysterious designs of Providence, even from evil God can draw a greater good.”
He also noted that St. Julian once wrote: “I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith, and that at the same time I should ... earnestly believe that all manner of thing shall be well.”
“God's promises are always greater that our expectations,” the Pope underscored. “If we commend the purest and deepest desires of our heart to God and to His immense love, we will never be disappointed, and 'all manner of thing shall be well.'”
“This is the final message, which Julian of Norwich transmits to us and which I too propose to you today,” he said, finishing his address.