Julian of Norwich - Seton Shrine

All Shall Be Well With Julian of Norwich and Mother Seton

As we endure trials and isolation during the pandemic, we can look to St. Julian of Norwich and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for strength. They share the mystic’s confidence that “all shall be well” if we trust in God. These things that we suffer and fear – pain, death, illness, loss, and strife – Jesus has already overcome. We suffer in the world, but He has conquered the world.

One recent day, I drove to my husband’s workplace to get some work done. His business is closed and empty as our state is still under lockdown, and so his office has become a convenient place for me to escape to. With five children schooling in our home each day, and all of us competing for space and wi-fi, it’s very nice to have a quiet refuge available.

My short drives to the office during this time of quarantine have been interesting. The streets of our small town are quiet. Most businesses are closed. The few people walking outdoors are wearing masks. The parks are empty.

On my drive the other day, I pulled up next to another car at a stoplight and glanced at the car next to me. I recognized the woman driving from my women’s Bible study at church. It was Deborah! Deborah, whom I have not seen in many weeks. Deborah, who shares honestly about her struggles with prayer, who worries about her grandkids’ faith lives, and who volunteers at the local soup kitchen. Deborah, who always has a kind word to offer and who encourages others with a goofy sense of humor.

I felt so glad to see Deborah after all these weeks that I wanted to be sure she saw me, too. I waved and called her name, but she could not hear me through the closed car windows. When at first she didn’t notice me, I waved harder, with both arms, and called her name again, louder this time.

Finally, she did turn my way, and I was so overjoyed to see her that I laughed and waved even more. She waved back, smiling. It was one small moment of glorious connection. Two lost friends, meeting at a stoplight.

As the two of us sat there, grinning and waving at each other, though, I realized something: This was not Deborah at all. This was some other lady that I did not know. And she did not know me. We were two strangers, grinning and waving at each other at a stoplight.

When the light changed and we drove our separate ways, I kept smiling. I was laughing at my mistake and the nice lady’s willingness to humor me, but also I was smiling because, Deborah or not, I was still glad to have had that connection with another human being.

The loneliness and isolation of quarantine is not something I have paused very often to reflect on. As quarantines go, mine hasn’t been all that bad. I’m stuck home with six of the people I love most in this world. I already work from home, so I’ve made very few professional adjustments and my job has remained unchanged.

But during this time of social isolation, when we aren’t interacting with other human beings in normal ways, at coffee shops and standing in line at the checkout, I know others are suffering much greater trials. Some have died alone. Some are struggling with depression. Some have lost loved ones and have been unable to say goodbye or grieve them properly. Many have lost work and are suffering from severe financial stress. So many people are sad, anxious, and grieving great losses. Many of us are wondering—where is God right now?

When I pause to wonder what St. Elizabeth Ann Seton would say about God’s presence in a crisis like this, I realize I don’t have to wonder at all. Elizabeth Ann may not have lived during the time of COVID-19, but she did suffer health concerns and the agony of quarantine when her husband grew ill, and then endured serious financial distress when she was widowed with many children at a young age. She suffered loneliness when she converted to Catholicism and lost many friends. What she said in the face of such trials was that she trusted in the goodness of God. In a letter to a friend in 1809, she wrote:

…all is in God’s hands. If I had a choice and my own will should decide in a moment, I would remain silent in God’s hands. Oh, how sweet it is to rest there in perfect confidence.”

Perfect confidence. That is just what so many of us struggle to have in the face of suffering or anxiety. Reflecting on the simple confidence that the saints have in the goodness of God is one way to remind ourselves, even during challenging times, that God is with us and all shall be well.

I was familiar with the simple mantra “All shall be well” long before I knew its origin. It comes from the writings of Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century mystic and anchoress who wrote the first book written by a woman in English, The Revelations of Divine Love. In her book, she recounts what she saw and heard in a series of sixteen visions she received from Jesus.

I take comfort in knowing that the famous lines from Julian’s text – “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” – were not first said by Julian herself. They were said to her by God in her vision, precisely because she was struggling to see how, in the face of suffering and sin, all could be well. Julian of Norwich took these words from God, wrestled with them, and ultimately made them her own.

I am still wrestling. It’s a strong woman who can claim perfect confidence in God’s providence. It’s a strong woman who can see and suffer terrible things and yet still say, “All shall be well.”

I hear in these words a reminder that, even in the hardest of times, God is unchanged and unchanging. We know the end of the story, and it’s a happy ending. All these things we suffer and fear—pain, death, illness, loss, and strife—Jesus has already overcome. He wins. We suffer in the world, but He has conquered the world.

And when, in the face of trials like COVID-19, our faith grows weak, our sisters in Christ, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Julian of Norwich, are here to remind us: God is good, God is with us, and all shall be well.

Read Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience catechesis on Julian of Norwich here.

DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

Image: Lady Julian of Norwich, Photograph by Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo