Wisdom from Pope Francis: In 2016, Pope Francis elevated this day to the status of a feast on the Church’s universal liturgical calendar. He officially proclaimed what many of us have come to know — that Mary Magdalene, a woman “exploited and despised,” wrongly labeled for centuries as a (repentant) prostitute, was actually a deeply faithful, passionate, and influential disciple of Jesus. She well deserves the title given her by the Pope: “Apostle to the Apostles.”
At a general audience in May, 2017, Pope Francis reflected again on Magdalene, calling her a model of hope. Speaking of the poignant story recounted in today’s Gospel, he remarked, “It was while she was standing near the tomb, with eyes filled with tears, that God surprised her in a most unexpected way.” At first she did not even recognize Jesus, whom she thought was the gardener; she saw him only when Jesus “calls her by name.” “How beautiful it is to think that the first apparition of the Risen One — according to the Gospels — should occur in such a personal way!” the Pope said. How beautiful it is “that there is someone who recognizes us, who sees our suffering and disappointment, and is moved for our sake, and calls us by name.” Although many people seek God, he said, the “wonderful reality” is that God has sought us first, and sought each of us personally. “Each one of us,” Pope Francis said, “is a story of the love of God. God calls each of us by name.”
Wisdom from Our Sisters: Scholars tell us that there is no Scriptural evidence to back up the labels thrown onto Magdalene over the centuries. Used and abused, vilified and misrepresented, she is a prototype of persons who are cast out, put down and raised up. She is a symbol of the journey of personal and societal transformation that all of us are on.
Our own Sr. Mary McCormick invites us to reflect on that journey in the company of St. Mary Magdalene:
…. What did Magdalene learn from her women ancestors [Eve, Tamar, Esther, Hagar]? What did they teach her?
They taught her to take risks, to choose freedom over safety.
They taught her the importance of mourning in order to be able to deal with loss.
They taught her to claim the dangerous memories that need to be kept alive for the sake of the future.
She learned from them how to recognize the shadow side of victimization and oppression.
She learned from them a passion for birthing the new….
- …Magdalene had temptations of her own, some of which brought her in touch with the
demons of her own personality, of —perhaps- anger, frustration, depression. But once she came to understand the truth of who she was, healed and whole, she moved into a place where she asked her own questions, made choices, decisions that set her apart from her…contemporaries, in the company of women like herself not afraid to move beyond the confines of home and garden.
If a woman feels that someone else is in charge of her life, no matter how loving or supportive that person might be, she cannot relate primarily to her own moments, her own days. She becomes stifled and strangled. To feel alive, she must claim/reclaim her life, moment by moment, as her own.
A woman must break out of the old mold. She must risk disobeying the given decrees, those dictated from outside as well as those written within her by her past…. Judith Duerk, author of Circle of Stones, calls such women free spirits, and they are at once wonderful and terrible to be around. They are at home in themselves, whatever the circumstances of their lives. They encourage us to move beyond whatever narrow confines our own fears have placed us in….
….How long a time was it before Magdalene had the companionship of women to relate to, bond with, learn from? We suspect she’s a woman on her own. She has some financial independence, and a great hidden secret. After Jesus heals her, the aura of black emptiness that hovered around her disappears. She moves on with her life in a way that allows all her gifts of mind and spirit to be fully realized. Her focus is sharpened — she develops a deepened sense of her own spiritual needs, and responds in practical, generous ways to the real needs of others.
- ….Magdalene learned…the power of the dangerous memory.
She knew from her own experience what it meant to be a woman living in a community of oppressed people. Her relationship to Jesus freed her to live a life on the margins of her society, secure in her own personhood, able to come and go as the spirit moved her, unafraid, the first missionary of the new dispensation.
She preaches the gospel of freedom: freedom from all that would take away dignity and a sense of self-worth, and freedom for the mission that belief in Jesus called her to undertake. On Resurrection Sunday she is the first at the tomb, and the first to risk speaking out about what she has seen and heard.
No doubt she suspects that her pronouncement will be met with unbelief, disdain. Yet she cannot not speak out; and in that courageous moment she becomes the apostle to the apostles.
- …. We don’t know if Magdalene had children of her own. We do know that she was a mid-wife who helped bring to birth a new vision of community. Like any birth it required time and patience, and darkness. It was messy and painful. But Magdalene and the company of women who were as truly disciples as the traditional Twelve, understood what was needed for the vision of Jesus to flourish and grow.
Over and over he had endorsed what they knew about themselves: that they possessed unique gifts of nature and grace without which some crucial elements of the believing community would be aborted, maybe even stillborn.
And looking back at the post-Resurrection community, we might ask: what happened to the early ideal that created a place of belonging for everyone?
The struggle for the coming of the reign of God that Jesus lived and died for is not yet realized, 2000 years after the first spirit-filled attempts to proclaim the spiritual equality of Jew and Greek, (Canaanite and Egyptian), slave and free, male and female.
And Magdalene, friend of God, our role model, watches with us, encouraging us to take our stand at the brink of the dark night we seem still to be experiencing and waits with us to usher in another Easter morning.
–Excerpted from Sr. Mary McCormick’s 2007 presentation, “Reading Between the Lines”
Sr. Mary is a spiritual and retreat director, writer, and presenter on topics of spirituality and the Charity charism. Currently the Congregation’s Novice/Vocation/Candidate Director, she has served in congregational leadership, formation ministry, education, and as a missionary in the Bahamas and in Arizona.
Artwork: St. Mary Magdelene proclaims the resurrection to the apostles, by Margaret Beaudette, SC, 2015.