Friday, July 22, 2011
July 22: The Feast of St. Mary Magdalen--Penitent
St. Mary Magdalen, of Magdala in Galilee, was the sister of St. Martha and St. Lazarus. First a sinner, she was converted by Our Lord, Who raised Lazarus at her prayer. She stood at the cross "till Our Lord sent forth His spirit." After His victory, Christ showed Himself to Magdalen and made her His messenger to announce His Resurrection to the Apostles.
"Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less….And He said to the woman: Thy faith has saved thee: go in peace." (Luke 7:47-50)
St. Mary Magdalen was the sister of both Martha and Lazarus. Traditions and documents passed down through the centuries identified Lazarus as a high ranking member of society, possibly a prince, and, as such, quiet wealthy. Both Mary and Martha enjoyed this wealth and their status in society. At some point in Mary's life, however, she became lost in her own worldliness and became a public sinner. Tradition holds that she was a fallen woman, a woman of ill repute, an adulterer, perhaps even a prostitute. Whatever the case, she was proud and she was public.
St. Luke records in his Gospel that Mary Magdalen was filled with demons and it was Jesus who rid her of that evil. In gratitude and love for Our Lord, Mary Magdalen, from that day forward, used all her worldly goods to please Our Lord. It was she who came into the banquet feast to wash Our Lord's feet with her sorrowful tears and expensive perfume. It was she who dried his feet with her long, flowing hair. In this moment, she fell at the Lord's feet completely full of remorse for her sinful behavior, with only a desire to love and serve Him. And that she did.
In penance for her many sins, Mary abandoned her wealth and station in life to follow Jesus throughout his ministry. She completly rejected all those worldly things that led her into sin. The Lord's Mercy was so great, that Mary spent her time listening to and loving Him. When Jesus came to visit the family, Mary Magdalen opted to sit by his side rather than busy herself with housework. When her sister Martha chided her for such, Jesus reminded Martha that Mary had chosen a "better way." Mary's better way was a life of contemplation rather than activity.
It would seem that sometime during her contemplative life Mary came to cling only to Our Lord, believe only our Lord, and rest all her hopes in Our Lord. When all the Apostles, except for John, abandoned Jesus, Mary Magdalen, along with His Blessed Mother, followed Jesus to Calvary. She wept at the foot of the Cross. As she watched Him take His last breath, she never left his side. Indeed, she was insistent that she stay with Him as long as she could. She remained beside our Blessed Mother, both of them comforting each other with their tears. When all of Our Lord's Apostles hid in the Upper Room in fear of the Jews, Mary Magdalen went to anoint Our Lord's Precious Body with the finest oils she had. In spite of watching Him die, she longed only to see His Beautiful Face.
When all seemed lost, it was Mary Magdalen who persevered and held steadfast in her faith. When she discovered the empty tomb, Mary was filled with tears. When the Angels asked why she was crying, she only responded that "They have taken My Lord and I don't know where they have laid Him!" She was looking for Him when no one else was. She had hope when all hope was gone.
Surely it was Mary's penance, hope, and love that Our Lord rewarded when he choose to reveal his Resurrected Body, first, to St. Mary of Magdala. She became the Apostle to the Apostles when she ran with Mary, Our Blessed Mother, to bring the Apostles out of hiding by declaring "I have seen the Lord." What a great honor to be chosen by Our Lord in this way!
14 years later, Mary Magdalen was put out to sea on a boat by the Jews. Along with her brother and sister and the body of St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin, Mary Magdalen was left to drift without sails or oars. The group of Christians finally landed on the shores of Southern France, where Mary Magdalen lived out her contemplative life in a cave called Sainte-Baume. Her only food was the Holy Eucharist brought to her daily by the Angels. She lived to be 72.
The story of St. Mary Magdalen is one of the most remarkable stories in the lives of the Saints. The Church held her in such high honor that, in the Middle Ages, her Feast Day was one of the most celebrated. She became a symbol of a true penitent heart, a reminder that Our Lord came for sinners. Our Lord rewarded her for her penance and love not for her innocence or purity. For millennia, St. Mary Magdalen, the Penitent, provided for the Church the hope that even the most reviled sins could be overcome with a deep love for Our Lord.
However, in 1969, after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI changed St. Mary Magdalen's title to that of "Disciple" instead of "Penitent." Her Feast Day was downgraded to a Memorial and her image was "revamped." In those years, attempts were made to focus on her discipleship rather than her life of sin and penance. Instead of the symbol of hope and love, Mary Magdalen has become just like any other woman who loved Jesus.
Sadly, Mary Magdalen's exemplary life has become one of confusion and speculation. The secular world has twisted her pure love for Our Lord into a romantic love absent of all virtue or sacrifice. The Protestants have resigned to see Mary only in the Scripture verses that explicitly mention her name, and her demons range from mental illness to deception. In modern times, Mary Magdalen has been used by both Catholics and Protestants alike to illustrate that Jesus was a "feminist" and to advance a woman's role in the Church. All of these ideas are merely distractions and distortions of the Truth. Our Lord chose her because she loved Him so much. She loved Him so much because His Mercy was so great. His Mercy was so great because her heart was filled with remorse for her sins.
St. Mary Magdalen is a Saint for us all—a reminder that no sin is too great to overcome. A reminder that God is a God of Justice and Mercy. A reminder that penance for the love of Our Lord is rewarded.
St. Mary Magdalen, pray for us that we may not fall into despair over our sins, but repent and rely on Our Lord's Mercy.
St. Mary Magdalen, pray for us that we may learn to love Our Lord with our whole hearts so that we may overcome our sins.