At the Solemn Mass of the Resurrection for Alison Howard-Levy
Boniface, Archbishop & Martyr, Saturday, 5 June 2021
O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant Carolina grant her an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Lamentations 3:22–26, 31–33
Romans 8:14–19, 34–3 5, 37–39
Alison’s son, Ian and I were talking the other day about Alison and her deep and abiding faith. He shared with me something I never knew: her fondness and appreciation of the fifteenth-century mystic and anchoress, Dame Julian of Norwich. Especially meaningful to Alison, and oft-quoted by her, was a well-known passage from Dame Julian’s Thirteenth Showing:
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.”(1)
Here, Jesus asserts that although sin and pain are real, even when times are tough, when we can’t necessarily see how our present situation could possibly be resolved in any remotely positive way, nevertheless, God’s will shall always triumph over the forces of sin, evil, and death. It is a promise that Jesus makes Dame Julian, and in which Alison found hope and comfort, in which we are given confidence in the steadfast love of God.
Even in times of illness , even when death comes with its profound sense of finality, we are never, in fact, alienated from God in Christ. Indeed, without seeming trite, I can affirm in no uncertain terms that, not only for Alison, but for each and every one us “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Our connection to God is indelible and, at any time and in any place, we can reach out for help and for support, and it will be given us. Saint Paul, in the passage from his letter to the Romans that we heard a few minutes ago, is, in his way, saying exactly the same thing. Thinking about Jesus hanging upon the Cross on that first Good Friday, he tells us:
When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
When we are suffering, in pain, mourning, and we cry out to God, perhaps even at the same time wondering if God has forsaken us, wondering if all this is futile, it is still our spirit reaching out for someone with whom we are connected. We are calling out not only to our God but to the one who suffered as we suffer, who knows and feels the anguish that we feel. Jesus suffered on the cross and died, yet lived, showing us in and through the resurrection that “all shall be well.” “All shall be well” is not simply a soothing tonic, it is a promise that we are connected to God and Christ, in both our life and in our death, that we may consider ourselves God’s family, “children of God” and “heirs with Christ.”
Paul pushes his case, asserts in no uncertain terms that our bond with God in Christ can never be broken. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” he asks,
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing in the entire cosmos can shift our relationship with God – unless perhaps, we choose to shift it ourselves. God will never desert us, God will never break the bond forged in baptism and tried in the Christian life. Nothing exterior to ourselves can shake God from us. Not even death.
When Jesus met a grieving Martha, having delayed in coming to see her dying brother, she both reproaches Jesus for his very human tardiness and shows her faith in his authority: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” This is her slightly back handed way of asking Jesus to bring her brother, Lazarus, back from the dead, as we can infer from her taking for granted “the resurrection at the last day,” as she presses Jesus for something more immediate. Jesus responds not with a magic trick, but with a statement about his identity – his identity at its very core: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus does not make resurrection happen, he is resurrection; resurrection and life – true life, eternal life, existence for ever with and inseparable from God. Like Dame Julian’s words and Paul’s statement that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Jesus words are also a promise. It is a promise that says whatever hardships we experience, whatever trials we face, whatever detours we might make, God in Christ stands with us as Resurrection itself, new life made flesh, protecting us, guarding us, loving us, enfolding us within God’s unceasing embrace: making new life for us. In such times, we must be open to seeing that this love is manifested in many ways, especially in and through the presence, support, and concrete actions of the Body of Christ, our brothers and sisters, who in this moment incarnate for us the love of God in action.
Neither Dame Julian, nor Paul, nor I is trivialising the pain, suffering, and sorrow that our travails can bring. None of us is saying that those difficult times have some deeper meaning or purpose – they may not, they may just be bad luck or the consequences of living in an human body. Despite what we hear from well-meaning friends, we sometimes do face more that we can handle. This is the significance of God’s promise of never ending connection to God, the promise of Resurrection Life, always embraced, never forgotten. The sufferings of the present moment will inevitably fade as we enter the life of God, the life of the Kingdom.
Alison was truly a devout woman of great faith, who, through her life, her Christian living and her Christian dying, shone forth the reality that “nothing shall separate us from God,” “that all shall be well.” In her time she herself offered and incarnated that love, as we shall continue to do for others, inspired by her and all the saints. She shall be with us always, never leaving us, not for a minute, and ultimately remind us that what lies ahead for us in the Resurrection is real. In her life and in her death she gives us comfort and hope and reveals to us a pattern for our Christian living.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Corpus Christi, 4 June 2021
1. Julian of Norwich, Showings, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: The Paulist Press, 1978), 224-225. This edition gives a slightly different translation to the one given above.
© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume