Admiring and Emulating the Apostolorum Apostola, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Mary Magdalene
July 22, 2016
Songs 3:1-4, Ps 63, Jn 20:1-2.11-18


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we celebrate one of the greatest saints who has ever lived, the woman who, after the Blessed Virgin, is mentioned most in the Gospels: St. Mary Magdalene. And we celebrate her in a special way, as a liturgical feast, decreed so by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on June 3, at the express will of Pope Francis. In the Decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it gave three reasons for this liturgical upgrade: St. Mary Magdalene is a witness of the transforming power of Divine Mercy, a model of the indispensable service and dignity of women in the Church, and an epitome of evangelization. We’ll have a chance to ponder all three today as well as other points a couple of other key points in her life.
  • Her reputation has suffered from a lot of confusion over the course of time. The first is by being conflated with two other women in the Gospels: first, with the anonymous sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet in Simon the Pharisees’ house as a sign of repentance and plea for mercy; and second, with Mary of Bethany who sits at his feet and later anoints them with precious nard in the home she shared with her siblings Martha and Lazarus. I’ve save the historical reasons why all three were conflated into one over the centuries, but suffice it to say, the arguments in favor of keeping all three distinct are much stronger than those in favor of combining them. Her reputation has also suffered from the crazy writings of the gnostic pseudo-gospels in the centuries after Christ, silliness historically debunked but recently resuscitated by Dan Brown and neo-gnostics, all positing Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ girlfriend or wife.
  • St. Mary Magdalene’s life, however, is so rich on its own without conflation or fantasy. Today we can ponder five things about her, three from the Decree and two others, that we know for certain and what that means for our living our Christian life well.
  • The first is that she experienced Christ’s compassion and mercy. St. Luke and St. Mark tell us that she had had seven demons cast out from her. She had in some way been under the hold of the devil. Some saints throughout the centuries said that these seven demons may have been the seven deadly sins. Regardless of what their manifestation was, she had experienced the healing power of the Lord. In order to relate appropriately to the Lord, we, too, need to relate to him in his saving mercy. Prior to the papacy, in a book length interview, now Pope Francis said that an authentically Christian discipleship begins our recognition that we’re sinners in need of salvation and the concomitant experience that that Savior looks on us with merciful love. “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope said in El Jesuita. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio declared, “he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.” Many Catholics, he added, have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved,” he lamented. He then gave a powerful metaphor of what the true experience of God’s mercy is like. “It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone’s risking his life to save a boy drowning in the river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning and someone gives his life to save me.” That’s what Christ did for us to save us from the eternal watery grave of the deluge of sin. That’s what we should celebrate every day of our life, just like someone whose life has been saved by a hero would never be able to forget it, not to mention thank him enough. Unfortunately, he said, “There are people to whom you tell the story who don’t see it, who don’t want to see, who don’t want to know what happened to that boy, or who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are. I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.” Mary Magdalene had that grace. She knew she had been saved and healed. And that’s an experience all of us should begin with if we’re going to imitate the saint we fête today.
  • Secondly, St. Mary Magdalene shows us the dignity of women in God’s plan of salvation, caring for the Lord and the Church, sharing in his mission, hearing his teaching, seeing his deeds. St. Luke tells us that, after having received Christ’s mercy, she was one of several women “who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” who faithfully accompanied Jesus and the apostles during his journeys and “provided for them out of their resources” (Lk 8:2-3). This was not a group of bored do-gooders who figured that these wandering 13 men would be lost without their spiritual and practical maternity. No, each of them had received from Jesus a physical healing, a spiritual healing, or both, and in gratitude wanted to give Jesus and his mission all the love, time and material support they could. And St. Mary Magdalene particularly excelled in this care, even when others failed. The evangelists all tell us that when almost all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him, St. Mary Magdalene was faithful with him to the end, standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Blessed Mother, with Mary the wife of Clopas, with Salome and with St. John. She remained indomitably faithful with feminine courage at the most difficult moments of discipleship. She helped Mary and Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body down and prepare it for burial. She returned after the Sabbath to anoint his body. Her care for Christ and his mission is a model for every disciple: she loved Jesus, whose mercy transformed her life, and consecrated her life to him and his redeeming work.
  • Third, St. Mary Magdalene was present with the Lord at his death and burial. The evangelists all tell us that when almost all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned him, St. Mary Magdalene was faithful with him to the end, standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Blessed Mother, with Mary the wife of Clopas, with Salome and with St. John. She remained faithful at the most difficult moments of discipleship. She helped Mary and Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body down and prepare it for burial. Her example leads us to ask whether we accompany Jesus or abandon him during his passion. On Tuesdays like today, do we really enter into the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary we pray? Do we pray the Stations of the Cross, at least during Lent? Do we come to spend Good Friday with Jesus? I’ve always been shocked at how many Catholics tell me at the end of Palm Sunday Mass, “See you next Sunday!,” because they’re not intending at all to come to be with Jesus on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Any of us, if a loved one were dying, would suffer the consequences of taking a day off of work to be with our mother or father, with our brother or sister, with our husband or wife, with our child or best friend, as that loved one was nearing death. It’s shocking how many Christians fail to accompany Jesus on Good Friday and enter into his sufferings for our salvation. The question for us is not “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?,” as the popular Negro spiritual intones, but “Are you there?” The second application is to how we accompany Jesus in his Mystical Body as it suffers. Do we stand at the foot of the cross or side of the bed as someone is in pain and preparing for death, like St. Mary Magdalene accompanied Jesus. Her fidelity to the end was a means for her great holiness and we all have much to learn from her.
  • Fourth, St. Mary Magdalene sought the Lord and loved him to such a degree that she was tortured by his absence. We see in the Gospel of today’s Mass that early on Easter morning, the first moment she could after the end of the Sabbath, she came to the tomb in order to anoint Jesus’ dead body. She was seeking him. She was lost without his guidance. When she didn’t find his body, she ran to SS. Peter and John and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” When she returned a short time later, she wept at his absence. When the angels in the tomb asked why she was crying, she replied, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When blinded by grief and the change in the Lord’s risen appearance, she mistook Jesus for a gardener when he, too, asked her the reason for her tears, she said, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” She sought the Lord so much that she wanted to be with him even if it would just be his corpse. That’s when Jesus revealed himself to her, calling her by name. Her love for the Lord Jesus is shown in the proper first reading and Psalms for this Mass whose desire she enfleshed throughout the time Jesus was in the tomb: “I sought him whom my heart loves– I sought him but I did not find him. … The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city: Have you seen him whom my heart loves? I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves.” Her whole life was characterized by the words of the Psalm: “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” Her example is one that inspires us to seek the Lord with the same Passion.
  • Lastly, St. Mary Magdalene shows us how to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with others. At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus commissions our saint, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” She was the first person to whom the Risen Lord Jesus appeared and she was sent as the first witness of the Resurrection to the apostles who were hovering in the Upper Room. Jesus commissioned Mary to be the apostolorum apostola, as St. Thomas Aquinas called her, the apostle of or better to the apostles, the one sent to those who would be sent to bring the good news of great joy of Jesus’ resurrection to the entire world. Mary went to them and announced simply, “I have seen the Lord!” and then reported to them what Jesus had told her. Likewise, all of us are called by Christ to share with others joyfully the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. At the beginning of Mass today, we turned to God the Father, praised him because his “only begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection,” and then asked, “grant that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory.” God wants all of us to proclaim the “living Christ,” to announce that Christ is alive, that, like Mary Magdalene, “I have seen him,” but also, “I have heard him speaking to me in prayer and the Word of God,” and “I have even received him risen from the dead inside me in Holy Communion!” The fifth lesson St. Mary Magdalene teaches us is how to spread this good news, the greatest gift we could give to others.
  • All five of these lessons that we learn from St. Mary Magdalene find their culmination in the Mass. It’s here at the beginning that we cry out, “Lord have mercy!” and “I have greatly sinned,” opening ourselves up to God’s forgiveness. It’s here that we listen to him speaking to us live in the Gospel. It’s here that we associate ourselves in his work, giving ourselves and our resources at the offertory as we unite our sacrifices to those of Christ to be presented to the Father. It’s here that Jesus gives us the body and blood that he sacrificed for our salvation on Calvary. It’s here that we take with longing his risen body and blood. It’s from here that he sends us to announce to the whole world his resurrection.
  • For today’s new feast, the Vatican published a proper preface in Latin, which summarizes St. Mary Magdalene’s life and turns it into a prayer. It’s entitled “About the Apostle of the Apostles,” and as the Church prays it liturgically for the first time, it’s good for all of us to offer it to God in unison: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, that in all things we proclaim you, Almighty Father, whose mercy is no less than his power, through Christ our Lord, who revealing himself in the garden appeared to Mary Magdalene who loved Him while he was living, beheld him on the Cross as he was dying, sought him in the tomb as he was lying, and was the first who adored him as he rose from the dead. He honored her with the task of the apostolate before the apostles, so that the good news of new life would reach until the ends of the earth….” Indeed, as we celebrate St. Mary Magdalene, we celebrate that Mercy which is at the root of the “good news of new life,” the proclamation of which, she commenced in her mission to the Apostles, they advanced in life and death, and now we seek to continue to the ends of the earth.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 


Reading 1 SGS 3:1-4B

The Bride says:
On my bed at night I sought him
whom my heart loves–
I sought him but I did not find him.
I will rise then and go about the city;
in the streets and crossings I will seek
Him whom my heart loves.
I sought him but I did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me,
as they made their rounds of the city:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves?
I had hardly left them
when I found him whom my heart loves.

Responsorial Psalm PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

R. (2) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.


R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
I saw the glory of the risen Christ, I saw his empty tomb.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 20:1-2, 11-18

On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”

Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.