Monday, July 24, 2006

Will the REAL Mary Magdalene please stand up?

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

Saturday (July 22) was the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene has received a great deal of buzz lately due to her role in the DaVinci Code blockbuster. I am told that the novel has some rather fanciful things to say about her. According to Catholic author and apologist Jimmy Akin, “if one wants to force Jesus into the role of being married, Mary Magdalene is one of the few prominent and (seemingly) available women to be pushed into the role of being his wife” (Cracking the DaVinci Code, p. 29). Why is this so? Mary Magdalene is one of the few women disciples of Christ who is prominent, whose name we know, and whom we don’t know was married to someone else. Other female disciples of Jesus were either known to be married to others (Joanna the wife of Chuza--Lk 8:3) or were too insignificant ("the other Mary"--Mt 28:1) or went unnamed in the Gospels (the Syro-Phoenecian woman--Mt 15:28).
Of course, the Magdalene was NOT married to Jesus. What we DO know about Mary of Magdala comes to us from Scripture.

We know Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary Magdalene and that she was among some of the women who then followed and ministered to Christ in Galilee (Luke 8:2). A long-enduring tradition in the Church has also labeled Mary as a former prostitute, identifying her with the unnamed sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50 (see also Jn 12:1-8). Many contemporary Scripture scholars refute this identification and argue that there is no scriptural evidence that Mary was a prostitute (see the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, for example). Whatever the case, we can at least assume that she was a sinner like the rest of us, and was 100% devoted to Jesus after he had healed her—her love knew no bounds! (Jesus' words would still apply to Mary--"her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love"--Lk 7:47)

St. Mary Magdalene’s true legacy can be found in the fact that she was among 2 other women to first see the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning (Mk 16:1-8). Mark’s gospel states that the Risen Christ first appeared to Mary (Mk 16:9) and commissioned her to announce his coming heavenly ascension to the apostles (Mk 20:11-18, Jn 20:17). The Byzantine tradition calls Mary “the apostle to the apostles” for it was she who first announced the good news to them: “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18).

So, while many of us like to read fiction because such books can “tell a great story.” We must remember, however, that when it comes to our Lord and the saints, we already have stories of true beauty in the Gospels… stories that can teach us essential truths about the spiritual life. Let’s not forget to reflect upon St. Mary Magdalene’s life so that we can grow closer to our Lord. (That is, I am sure, what she desires for us as she enjoys heaven.)

For a short/snappy meditation on St. Mary Magdalene, see the following link:
For information on the DaVinci Code, see the following link:

Now, I will include a homily on St. Mary Magdalene from another wonderful saint, church father, and doctor of the Church—St. Gregory the Great, pope, who lived from 540-604 ad. (this homily is found in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Office of Readings for July 22; Hom. 25, 1-2.4-5: PL 76, 1189-1193)

Gospel: John 20:1-2, 11-18

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

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.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

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