For our Lord gave me no revelation about any particular individual except our Lady Saint Mary; and he showed her three times. The first was as she was conceived, the second was as she was in her sorrows at the foot of the cross, and the third as she is now, in delight, honour and joy.
Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Joy; Long Text, Chapter 25.
Jean Varnier, founder of the L’Arche communities that provide a place of home and family for the severely disabled, was recently interviewed in the Spectator magazine. One of the questions that he was asked was simply, ‘what do you have left to do’? His reply moved me. ‘Ah, to die quietly’ he said. Here is a man who has spent much of his life living amongst suffering. The suffering of exclusion, misunderstanding, the inability to communicate and the daily challenges of seemingly hopeless situations were the context within which he found profound joy, meaning and deep expressions of love. To read anything of Jean’s work is to delve deeply into an understanding of how God’s love so often transcends suffering. A love of commitment and often un-communicated gratitude. His book Becoming Human is a must read.
We know very little about Mary’s life after the resurrection. It is easy to transfer the benefits of our two thousands years of hindsight onto what must always have been a time of sorrow for her. The joy of the resurrection and the excitement of Pentecost was soon tempered by the martyrdom of Stephen and the subsequent persecution that followed. What a roller-coaster journey spanning four years or so being with Christ must have been for all of the disciples. Was all this really what the angel had told her some thirty years earlier? And of course, Paul’s missionary journeys and the birth of the church that was to reach the ‘ends of the earth’ may not necessarily have been hers to see. Hippolytus of Thebes, a Byzantine author whose Chronicles have been a rich source of understanding for the chronology of scripture seems to place a time of 41 AD, about eleven years after the crucifixion, as point of her death. We simply don’t really know.
And yet God chose to reveal to Julian a glimpse of the eternal joy that is now hers. The delight perhaps of now knowing the full implications of what had seemed at the time so despairing. The honour of participating in the divine nature of her son’s sacrifice, and the joy that although she could not see, was so clearly set before him.
This is hope; not that we know, but that we trust.