Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
It has been 6 years since Pope Francis raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to the level of a feast. Perhaps that makes her more of a celestial celebrity. She has always been a popular subject of religious imagination, someone people can readily identify with. Popular religious literature has seen her as a romantic, even erotic personality. A possible love interest or even spouse of Jesus. The Last Temptation of Christ, the DaVinci Code, the Gospel of Mary are just a few works that have imaginatively reinterpreted the sparse information we have about Mary. They have seen in her what they wanted to see and perhaps what they projected from their own psyches.
We know less about her than we may think. There has been a tendency to conflate pieces of knowledge about different “Marys” in the Gospel. Our antiphon at Lauds referred to Mary, out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils. But that Mary of Mark’s Gospel was not Mary Magdalene. We do know that she was one of the women who accompanied and supported Jesus in his travels. She was one of the few who did not run in fear from the crucifixion of Jesus, but stood in grief at the foot of the cross. The only words we have of hers are those in her communication with the disciples and with the Risen Lord.
We see in her want we want to see. And maybe what we need to see. She was a woman of passion who lived out of a love that sprang from the love she received from another. Passion is a fire within which can be fueled by loss as well as by gain, by tragedy as well as exaltation. Passion lives in a dynamic at home in suffering, patience (we share by patience in the sufferings of Christ. RB Prologue), sacrifice, surrender, hope, waiting, and expectation. It is a fire within which can be fueled and fed, but not extinguished. Why are you weeping? is a question which honors and acknowledges the pain and suffering which are personally borne in the hope of an unreasonable restoration. Grief is a form of enduring reverence and love and a protest against the logic of evil. I sought him whom my heart loves.
Mary Magdalene’s behavior is a counterpoint to that of the disciples. Todays’ Gospel omits the scene of the disciples coming to the tomb, and then going back home. They had been disappointed in their hopes which had always been framed by political aspirations and concerned with mutual jockeying for power and preeminence. Their construal of reality and their paradigm still closed them to the recreation of reality brought by the Resurrection of Christ. They misinterpreted what they saw. Mary, too, misinterpreted what she saw. She thought he was the gardener. In the course of her conversation, she had to turn–to reframe her perception of reality in light of her meeting with the Risen One. She could not hold on to him. If we once knew Christ in the flesh, we know him so now no longer. The passion has been given new eyes to see him in ten thousand places. I have seen the Lord.
Maybe this passion is what we need to see so that we can recognize it in ourselves. We see in her what we want to be: witnesses and apostles of a passionate love that has transformed and consumed our lives. A love which shares in that love consummated by the return of Jesus to His Father. I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.