My reflection on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene in the July issue of Give Us This Day:
St. Mary Magdalene has a feast! A new addition to the Church’s liturgical calendar as of only last year, our first reaction to the celebration might be, “What took them so long?” How is it possible that the “Apostle to the Apostles” was last in line when it came to official recognition of key witnesses to the resurrection? It’s a good question, because clearly Jesus Christ saw fit to put Mary Magdalene first. While the others were locked away in fear, she was at the tomb looking for the Lord, and she was not disappointed. Shocked? Certainly. Confused? At first. But disappointed? Never. Because she trusted in the Lord from day one and did not waver. Not once.
Poor Mary Magdalene has the reputation as the bad girl of Christian Scripture. Our image of her is plagued by our human attempts to express her failings, wrongly casting her at various times throughout Church history as the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and as the penitent woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7). Why do those story lines define Mary Magdalene when the heart of her story lies in her faithfulness, not in her sinfulness?
Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber describes Mary Magdalene as “the patron saint of just showing up.” That is the part of Mary Magdalene’s story that is critical to us.
From the moment Jesus cured Mary and cast out the demons that haunted her (Luke 8:2), she turned her life over to him completely. She followed him—literally and spiritually. She was there at the cross, watching the suffering, never giving a second thought to her own welfare and safety. She was there at the empty tomb—looking, searching, following always.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” asks the mysterious gardener. And then Jesus speaks her name and she recognizes him, not because of some sort of magic trick, a spiritual sleight of hand, but because she believed so completely that she could hear his voice speaking to her heart. Immediately, she went and announced it to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord,” again not fearing for her own reputation upon saying the impossible, the unimaginable. Because she lived for him not for herself.
When Pope Francis announced that the memorial of Mary Magdalene would be elevated to the level of feast (along with the rest of the apostles) he called her a “true and authentic evangelizer” and said that her tears at the empty tomb can serve as a reminder to all of us that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
Mary Magdalene knew darkness and doubt, she knew what it meant to be bound by infirmity and what it meant to be healed and loved unconditionally by God. In that transformation she was reborn.
Each one of us is given the same opportunity, the same mercy, the same unearned gift of salvation. Today Mary Magdalene reminds us that we do not need to be perfect; we only need to be faithful.
Run, and tell the others.
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