St. Mary Magdalene

As I have matured in my faith and walk with God, I have realized that certain saints have risen in my life as models. Over the next couple weeks or months, I intend to continue writing about some of them. I wrote about one of the most consistent over the last year and a half in my last post, but now I want to tell you about one of the most recent. And I can honestly say she is a saint I never really expected to connect with. I have recently begun pondering the life of Mary Magdalene, and as I am wont to do, I started doing some research. And you know what I found? That she is easily one of the most misunderstood women in history. 

Not only do we have the Da Vinci Code trying to cast her as the wife of Jesus and propagator of his dynasty (which is heretical on many levels as well as unfounded by any historical evidence), but we also simply don't know who exactly she was. Some people say that Mary Magdalene is a catch all for every Mary or female sinner in scripture: Mary of Bethany, the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her hair, the adulterous woman (Most recently, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ portrayed her as such), and some even want to add the hemmoraging woman. Others say that there was no way Mary Magdalene could have been a whore or prostitute. They get offended at the idea that we lump all of them into one. And you know what? Scripture is rather silent on the issue. True, arguments can be made for both sides, but can we ever know with certainty just what kind of life she lived? 

What we do know - explicitly laid out for us in scripture - is that she was freed from seven demons. These may have been literal demons or the explanation for mental illness. Pope Benedict XVI, without trying to say which is true, simply said the following: 
"Among the 'lost sheep' whom Jesus saved there was a woman by the name Mary from the village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, for which reason she is known as Mary Magdalene.... Luke the Evangelist tells us that Jesus freed her from seven demons; in other words, He saved her from utter servitude to the Evil One. And, in what does this profound healing that God achieves through Jesus consist? It consists in true and complete peace, which is the result of the reconciliation of people in themselves and in all their relations: With God, with others and with the world. 
"In fact, the Evil one always seeks to destroy the work of God by sowing strife in the human heart, between body and soul, between man and God, interpersonal, social, and international relations, even between man and the creation. The Evil One spreads war; God creates peace." 

Whether Christ simply restored her to balance within herself and cleansed her of the little wrongs she had committed in her life or whether he took her from a life so totally against Him really is not the issue here. Neither makes her testimony any less or more beautiful - less drastic perhaps, but no less beautiful. Because I could not figure out what her past was, I went with what we know her life after her encounter of Christ was. I spent many many days asking her to show me her heart, to understand more of what she felt while she followed Christ, at the cross, at the empty tomb, and later on as well. And a few things really jumped out at me. 

First, she left her old life and left everything to join the women who followed Jesus. She left the comfort of her home and fell in with Mary and the other women who could see the truth about Jesus. She loved Him enough to follow Him around the countryside, to take as her new family the family Jesus was bringing together. Mary became like her mother (for Magdalene was likely much closer in age to Jesus than to Mary), Jesus became much more like her brother (something I find especially powerful given a deeper understanding I gained this year). She took for her new life a new family - one whose center was the Christ. She did all of this even though she would never attain the status of Peter or John or even Philip or Bartholomew. Because she was a woman, she could never be the same as them. They would be present in the upper room on the night of the Last Supper; she would not. They would spend time with him on the boats; she would not. They would be his trusted 12; she would not. But still, she walked behind Jesus with the others who recognized the truth. She recognized her weakness, her brokenness, and she knew that the only source of strength she had was Him, her healer. So, she followed Him. 

Especially beautiful for me to see is how she walked with the Blessed Mother. One of the things I did very much like about the Passion of the Christ is how she literally lived with Mary. Mary was a widow, we know she didn't have anyone else to take care of her because Jesus entrusted her to John on the cross, but Mary Magdalene stayed with her. And when the time came for His horrible Passion and Death, Mary Magdalene stayed next to Mary. She took comfort from the Blessed Mother and also comforted her by her presence, her tears, and her journeying with her. I have often wished I could take some of the pain that Mary felt as she watched her son die on the cross. And Mary Magdalene was able to at least share it with her. She got to share the joys, but she also shared the sorrows. 

What is most powerful for me though is her intense devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ. Other than His mother, I do not know that anyone else understood the healing power of His blood and the price of salvation like she did. She was there when his skin was flayed off of him. She helped wipe the blood off of the ground. She watched as the cloths turned scarlet so that our souls could turn white. She saw Him walk, saw Him fall, saw his bloody footprints. She saw all. She knew the price. She would have known that every blow of the reed and whip, that every drop of blood pouring down His face from the crown of thorns, that every scraped knee, raw shoulder, every bit of spittle and mockery, every splinter, every pounding of the hammer... all of those were for her salvation. She would have watched the blood fall down his legs and drip off of his feet. In short, she would have been the first to truly have a devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ. This is a devotion that our Lord has been showing me, and He used Mary Magdalene to really help me understand the power and beauty of the Blood of Christ in a new way, in a much deeper, richer, heart-rending way. 


Another trait of Mary Magdalene's that stands out to me is how she did not flee the cross. Many others fled or were unable to look upon the crucified body of their Lord. But she was right there, watching as they drove the nails into His hands and feet, watching as He struggled to breathe, watching as He spoke the last few words to His mother, watching as He surrendered His Spirit to the Father. She watched as his side was split open and his heart was pierced. She watched. And she wept. She stayed by the cross until they took down His body. She probably traveled with them to the tomb to lay His body in the cold stone. She wept with Mary, her heart torn because she could not be with her Lord. This sorrow challenges me. How often do I not even notice that I am drifting away from my Lord? That I am wandering further from the cross, not clinging to it? Mary did not run, she clung tightly to the cross. She was painfully aware of the horror of understanding that Christ was dead. It wasn't a parlor trick. It wasn't some joke. It was a cold, harsh reality. The one who healed her, the one who led her, the one who taught her, the one who she knew to have the words of eternal life, even if she did not understand them, was dead. He had been placed in a cold tomb, with the cloths of blood she and Mary had washed off of other cold hard stones. And he had been left there, alone, closed in, separated from her. And her heart broke because of that separation. 


As soon as the Sabbath was over, before the sun was even out to light her path, she went to the tomb. Though she still believed Him to be dead, she loved Our Lord so much that she simply wanted to be near Him, to honor Him one last time with her tears, to anoint His body with oils. When she thought even His body was gone, she wept, and she wept bitterly. She wept so hard that she could not even see that it was our Lord greeting her, comforting her in her tears and sorrow. But when he revealed himself to her, she did not hesitate to throw herself into His arms, to take refuge like a child, like a little sister, in His comforting embrace. So great was her zeal that Thomas Aquinas called her the Apostle of Apostles for, "Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostle's the words of Life." 

She lived the rest of her life spreading this Gospel. When her Lord rose to Heaven, again leaving her alone, she did not despair. She knew that He would send the Spirit. She knew that He would never leave her, that He would be with her until the end of the world, not just in spirit, but physically as well, under the form of bread and wine, two substances which - much like herself - were ordinary and small until transformed by the Power of the Spirit. And they continued to transform her until the day she left this earthly world to join her Big Brother in heaven again. 

"The Story of Mary of Magdala reminds us all of a fundamental truth," said Pope Benedict. "A disciple of Christ is one who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him and has set out following closely after him, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love that is stronger than sin and death." 

Comments

  1. Mmmmhmmm. :3 *happy* <3

    I think this post made my day.

    Really liked how you expressed this:

    "She recognized her weakness, her brokenness, and she knew that the only source of strength she had was Him, her healer. So, she followed Him."

    "But when he revealed himself to her, she did not hesitate to throw herself into His arms, to take refuge like a child, like a little sister, in His comforting embrace."

    I needed to read this today. :) *hugs*

    ReplyDelete

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