A blessed feast of Mary Magdalene, which was bumped up from a memorial – set so in the revisions of 1969 – to a full feast by a decree of Pope Francis in 2016. So rejoice and be glad!
Mary from Magdala is one of the central figures in the Gospels, mentioned far more than most of the Apostles, but about whom – like many of the same Apostles – we know very little beyond what what sparse details those same Gospels provide. She is mentioned in all four, the three synoptics, with an even more prominent role in Saint John. By the Middle Ages, she had been identified with the ‘sinful woman’ in the seventh chapter of Luke; the woman caught in adultery in the eighth chapter of the John; as well as with the Mary, who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, of Bethany. She was one of Christ’s most devoted disciples, stayed faithful right up to the foot of the Cross, when all the Apostles, except John, had fled. Mary Magdalene was one of the first – if not the first – witnesses to the Resurrection, running to tell the Apostles – hence, Pope Francis declaring her an ‘Apostle to the Apostles’.
Although never mentioned as a ‘reformed prostitute’ – and we will leave aside the sacrilegious blasphemy of some modern portrayals – Saint Luke does say that ‘seven devils’ had been cast out of her, a mysterious phrase. Her identification with the ‘sinful woman’ was downplayed after the Council, although her patronage for those who have reformed from sinful ways, which really includes all of us, for we all must undergo a daily conversion – metanoia, a ‘turning of the mind and heart’ – to overcome the tendency to sin within ourselves which, if left unchecked, can only lead nowhere good. (See today’s article on frequent confession as one of the primary sacramental helps).
In the days after the most tragic war the world has ever seen, Pius XII warned in a 1946 radio address that the worst sin of the twentieth century is the loss of the sense of sin, and what applies to eras applies even more specifically to individuals: We must maintain a hearty ‘sense of sin’, to know its insidious and subtle effects, the small temptations to which we succumb – often with what we may consider the best of excuses – little lies, impurity, covetousness, pride, selfishness…
But we may add to the good Pope’s words, that we have also lost the sense of the love of God, and what that love really means: to will and hold onto the true good, found in Christ, and only in Him, the Way, the Truth and the Life. She is a patron and intercessor for those who come to realize the depths of their distress, and turn completely the other way – to their Lord, Saviour and Redeemer, without Whom all is indeed lost.
There is hope for everyone, so long as their life hangs by that ‘hinge of the flesh’ – right up to their dying breath on whatever cross is theirs.
Would that we may have the grace of that same conversion before that fateful moment – to see ourselves as others, and, more to the point, God, see us – and have sin rooted out and purified, as the Magdalene of old. For only so, like her, will we see Christ as He truly is, when He too calls us by name.
As Saint Gregory the Great puts it in today’s reflection from the Office:
We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.