This July 22, in the midst of the Church’s ordinary time of everyday life and summer heat, is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. Catholic tradition nicknamed her “the apostle to the Apostles.” A twist on Eve’s announcing the news of death to Adam, St. Thomas Aquinas points to Mary from Magdala in Galilee as announcing the words of life to the disciples. Perhaps a surprising choice for such a gift of grace, Mary Magdalene is well known for Jesus expelling seven demons from her. Yet her feast day is a beacon and call to everyday discipleship from the most regular of people.
In the year of mercy, 2016, Pope Francis elevated the memorial of Mary Magdalene to a feast day, liturgically elevating her witness and highlighting her life. In doing so, he wrote “Apostolorum Apostola” or “Apostle of the Apostles,” preaching, “Her tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
Each Gospel mentions and describes her; all four credit Mary Magdalene being present at Jesus’ horrific crucifixion as well as His amazing resurrection. Luke remembers her great healing by Christ, Mark recalls her faithfulness staying until Jesus’ last breath, Matthew describes her with the other mourning women when the empty tomb was discovered and John highlights her close friendship with Our Lord, knowing His voice despite not recognizing His resurrected face in the garden. It is John’s Gospel, which the Church proclaims this year on her feast day, from Chapter 20.
There Mary Magdalene is sobbing, crying from the great grief and loss of her friend and Lord, of the horrors and deep sadness of the crucifixion from the day before. She is looking and looking for His body, seeing nothing. Even after finding the tomb empty, she doesn’t understand what happened and is tear-filled, mourning the loss of the precious body, the material, the physical being of Jesus. Two angels sitting in white don’t faze her, as her sorrow is so deep. She simply answers their question and turns to mourn.
Another person, a gardener, a man, asks her a second time why she is crying. And with the same passion that she loved Christ, she exclaims and begs to know where Jesus’ body has been moved. It is from her outpouring of her true self, of being a hot mess, of loving God that much, that the resurrected Jesus, the true gardener speaks directly to her soul.
Jesus says to her, “Mary!” He says her name. God’s intimate relationship with each person is again revealed, turning over the loss at the Garden of Eden, demonstrating His mercy flowing from His very human and divine person.
Even in the midst of her incredible sadness, her innermost being recognized this voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd, her beloved, as John had previously described in Chapter 10. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”
It is Jesus calling Mary that converts her, that heals her again. Her soul recognizes Him, chooses to follow Him and she responds. Mary is comforted and consoled, but she doesn’t stay there and keep this healing and revelation only for herself. She heeds the missionary mandate of Christ and obeys Him, to “go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to the Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The humble Mary Magdalene stands in stark contrast to false, anti-feminist attacks on the Church. Her very vibrant feminine being, filled with full emotion, passion and life, is given the gift of seeing the resurrected Lord first. It is a woman with whom Jesus entrusts the great mission of spreading the Good News. It is a healed female with whom the rest of the Gospel accounts hinge. How much more elevated is Mary Magdalene, to be given such a gift of grace? From once like Eve in sin, she is now blessed like Mary to evangelize and tell others, “I have seen the Lord.”
This occurs, not of Mary Magdalene’s own accomplishments or work, but simply of God’s mercy and her openness to receive. She is no longer a material girl living in a material world. Her relationship with Jesus is transformative, not just once, but throughout her life. Her discipleship is real, in that she accepts to following Him because she so clearly knows she is loved and in turn, loves and trusts Him.
Throughout Scripture, Mary Magdalene does not allow her past to dictate her future. Her difficulties, demons and sins all forgiven by the Son of God, do not hold her back to following the Good Shepherd. She so fully accepts Jesus’ healing, allowing herself to become a new creation, so much so that she can hear Jesus’ voice in the new creation in His resurrected body. What closeness, what a friendship with Him, to know His voice, despite not being able to see? Contrasted with Thomas, for whom the sense of sight was primary, her heart was attuned to that of the Sacred Heart, beating from the cross to the resurrection for her, for you, for me.
For all the faithful, women and men alike, this is a reminder of what is of value. What sound shall we attune our ears to? Whose voice should we make our souls open to? What material things do we need to separate ourselves from? What life is truly worth living?
Mary Magdalene offers us hope in the midst of uncertainty, that one person, one love is certain; that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, goes ahead of us and guides us to green pastures of summer, calling us each by name. May our past faults not weigh us down and define us, as we remember well the example of St. Mary Magdalene, who received Jesus’ great friendship and love so deeply, that she could turn and run, not walk, to His friends and share the Good News.
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