The Personalist Project

I've heard a lot of sad news this week. A friend's mother is dying. Another friend's sister in law has just discovered breast cancer. And then there are the appalling headlines—the violence in the world, the mendacity and moral insanity of our political and cultural elites, atheism on the rise, misery all around, things falling apart. 

I see and feel everywhere the ordinary pain of alienation, brokenness and loss, stress and struggle, depression and disability, tension and miscommunication. I'm becoming more aware of the way sin works—the way it's communicated to successive generations. 

Sometimes the awfulness is overwhelming.

Then I think on these lines, which I first heard many years ago in (I think) a talk by Tom Howard: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

I want to forward them to my friend, because they're so comforting. But, not knowing their origin, I hesitate. Maybe they're nothing better than naive optimism, out of touch with the reality of evil. So I google and learn that they are words spoken by Jesus in a vision to the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, when she questioned him about sin. Why had God allowed it into the world where it would wreak so much unspeakable harm?

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”

The theme is echoed in the Magnificat readings and prayers for Friday.

Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.

And then this, from Isaiah:

I will heal them and lead them; I will give full comfort to them and to those who mourn for them. I the Creator, who gave them life.

The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah was from John.

You also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and/or hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.

Pain and suffering belong to our lot in this world, and yet, we live in the deep assurance that "all shall be well." 

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Comments (1)

Rhett Segall

#1, May 17, 2015 12:45pm

Your reflection, Katie, reminds me of the film “Julia”.  Julia and her friend have been taken to Egypt. There they encounter the poor, scrounging in the garbage dumps. Julia and her friend are saddened and troubled by the experience. Her friend’s grandparents tell the young girls not to look at the scroungers.

Such is not Jesus way.  He tells us to look and weep. Why? Because if we do we will see that goodness is deeper than evil, that joy, is the ultimate word.

I am reminded of the astuteness and depth with which Dietrich Von Hildebrand handles the polarities of mourning and rejoicing. The chapter “Holy Sorrow” in “Transformation in Christ” is a reflection on Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted”.

DvH ends the chapter with these words of Jesus:

“So also you indeed have sorrow, but I will see you again and your hear shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you” (John 16: 22) (The chapter is simply marvelous.)

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