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Women of the Bible: Mary of Magdala

Mary of Magdala, Initiator of the Paschal Mystery

During the spiritual facilitation session which had as its theme: Impassioned for the God of Jesus Christ, Impassioned for Life, Mary of Magdala drew us to her and became our guide for our 2004 spiritual quest. Her passion for Jesus Christ is evident to us.

Several aspects of her life are already well known to us :
- That she was delivered of seven demons, healed in the very roots of her being and in her female identity. (Lk. 8, 2)
- The way she followed Jesus, from Galilee on: consecrating her time, her inner availability and even her belongings to following him. (Lk. 8, 3)
- Her faithfulness to Jesus even into his suffering and his most terrible death; she stood beside Mary at the foot of the Cross. (Jn. 19, 25)
- Her desperate search near the empty tomb and her indescribable meeting with the Gardener who called her by name and sent her to mission. (Jn. 20, 11-18)

Often, we go no further than this because we don’t know what this mission was. John’s Gospel, which testifies to Jesus’ appearing to Mary of Magdala, uses some mysterious expressions in verse 17, John 20:

Do not cling to me. Go and find my brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. So Mary of Magdala went to the disciples and said: «I saw the Lord and this is what he said.»

During my research on the internet, I was very surprised to discover the influence that Mary of Magdala had in the early Church and more so today. Many legends exist about her in France as well as in the eastern world. The places that speak of these number in the hundreds. She is said to have evangelized Provence (France), to have lived as a penitent and contemplative in a now famous grotto there. Since the 4th century, many Church Fathers have proclaimed her the apostle of the apostles. Some monasteries and numerous churches have since chosen her as patron saint. She is the patron saint of the Dominican Fathers. But what does the Gospel say about this?

Apostle (or disciple) :
We can certainly affirm that Mathieu and Mark considered her an apostle in the broad sense of the word when they said that a group of women, one of which was Mary of Magdala, followed Jesus and served him from the beginning in Galilee. (Mt. 27, 55-56; Mk. 15, 41) We also find there the expression Jesus used when he called an apostle: Come, follow me! Luke places the group of Twelve and «a few women, of which Mary of Magdala, who were with him when he traveled and preached in the towns and villages». (Lk. 8, 1-3)
Following Jesus, serving him, being with him, such is the path of a disciple whose ideal is to follow Jesus, the Servant. What a beautiful way for the evangelists to proclaim the indescribable greatness, and dare I say, the vocation of women, and to affirm that women’s action is naturally rooted in interiority! So in these three words : following, being with, serving, lies the evangelical concept of mission. On this path, Mary of Magdala opened the way for all women.

The Apostles of the Apostles :
This is no doubt why, on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to her first. All the evangelists name her as being part of the group of women who went to the tomb in the early hours and who soon after witnessed to the resurrection in front of Peter, the apostles, and the disciples. Mary of Magdala must in fact have been well known to the men and women disciples who, like her, had followed Jesus since the beginning in Galilee. Mark and John set her apart as the first messenger of the resurrection. John sets her apart even more so by describing her journeying towards a Paschal faith through an overwhelming encounter with Jesus, her Rabbuni, whom she would later proclaim as the Lord.

Her Paschal Mission
What did Mary of Magdala say to the disciples?  «I saw the Lord and this is what he said.»

«Jesus is alive! I saw him. I heard him. I met him in the Garden. The way he spoke my name made me feel unique, loved, recreated, turned inside out, called to join him by going forward, I who dwelled on my memories, my loss, and even on what I believed to be grateful faithfulness. I received everything from him, you know that, you who have known me since Galilee. I often told you. But today, I love myself much less and I love him more and more.»

«I saw the Lord». (Seeing and believing are one and the same for John. The eyes of the heart lead one’s whole being.) Since Galilee, I had been profoundly attached to my Master, to he who healed me from the fullness of evil that kept me outside myself. I had already given all my life, all my love to him. I witnessed to his merciful words every day : «Nor do I condemn you. Go and sin no more», and so many other liberating words. I was overwhelmed by the Beatitudes proclaimed to the poor, of whom I was one… And so I was in my place when I stood beside Mary, his mother. (Every movie on the life of Jesus shows her accompanying Mary.) (We could go on and on about facts and gestures from the life of Jesus that Mary of Magdala witnessed.)

This is what he said to me: «I am going to my Father and your Father.»
«But I had to stop being attached to a too human perception of him, of his way of teaching, of his intimacy, of his features and his voice, of the way he looked at me, etc. so that he could reveal himself to me as an icon of the Father: «The one who sees me sees the Father». Before I didn’t really see him, I say only the extraordinary human being that he was; now my eyes have been opened : I have seen Jesus, the Son, the Lord, turned towards the Father. My journey was long but I have allowed myself be turned away from the past and turned towards the future.» (God is never behind us.)

«Go tell my brothers.»
«What joy it was to meet him! I reached for him (like on a lot of paintings), but he lead me to those whom he, for the first time, calls «my brothers». «It is through them, in every day Galilee, that you will discover me.» Because of my desire to love passionately, I was the first one drawn, after Mary, to give my life to following the one who went first from this world to the Father. This was so that my love, henceforth healed and divinized by him, would lead all those who follow him and whom he calls «my brothers», towards the Father who has become «your Father».

«...they will see me in Galilee»
«Jesus, the Risen Lord, sends us to build fraternal life amid our daily activities and struggles. Yes, I’m certain now: Love is stranger than any death. Every day, here on earth, love wins in the hearts of those who allow the Word to work in them.»

«Since the Resurrection, my name symbolizes humanity’s long quest for light, and whose heart knows no peace until it has recognized its : Rabbuni!»

What does Mary of Magdala have to say to us today?
- That the body reveals the person, his/her interiority, his/her mystery.
- That true freedom is the freedom committed to the end, contrary to what is generally believed today.
- That though the witnessing of women can sometimes be interpreted as women’s tales. Jesus continues nevertheless to choose women as first messengers of new life.
- That our words of compassion and of mercy in a wounded world incarnate the presence of the Risen One who calls each person by name.
- That our passion for life typifies our way of being Jesus’ disciples. It inspires our acts of presence to others in important times of suffering and of joy.
- That the stone that sealed the tomb was forever rolled away, even if we believed it to be immense (Mark) and impossible to move. It is up to us to identify the stone that prevents us from recognizing the Living Lord today.
- If we share the sadness and the questions of others, we will share their encounter with the Risen Lord. We are called to share their faith.

Like Mary of Magdala, may we be women of the dawn who share with their brothers and sisters the triumph of life over death.

Céline Comeau, sjsh


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