Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
July 22, 2015
Ex 16:1-5.9-15, Ps 78, 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. 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’ll 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 blasphemously 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 that we know for certain and what that means for our living our Christian life well.
- The first is that she her life was changed by experiencing 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. In today’s first reading we see an image of sin in the grumbling of the whole assembly of the children of Israel against Moses and Aaron, and through them, against God. ““Would that we had died at the Lord hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!,” they murmured. “But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” In our sins, we often relate to God as someone who doesn’t know what he is doing, as someone who does not intend our good either through incompetence or malevolence. As the Psalm says regarding this scene, the children of Israel “tempted God in their hearts by demanding the food they craved. Yes, the spoke against God.” But we see in God’s response to their provocation how he doesn’t retort with just punishment, but with mercy. Recognizing God’s mercy and love is one of the most important things that we need to do as a disciple. 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 cared for the Lord and the Church, sharing in his mission, hearing his teaching, seeing his deeds. St. Luke says that she was one of the women who accompanied Jesus and the disciples during his journeys up and down the Holy Land to preach, teach, heal, exorcise and work other miracles and that these women “provided for them out of their resources” (Lk 8:2-3). This leads to many applications. First, do we follow the Lord Jesus? Do we ponder his teaching left for us in the Gospels? Do we assist in the continual proclamation he has sent out the whole Church to assist? Do we give all that we can to provide for the Church? St. Mary Magdalene was not a spectator, an idle listener, or a “groupie” of Jesus. She and the other women were a very important part of providing what was necessary for Jesus and the apostles to do their work. Jesus and the apostles doubtless needed their spiritual maternity and feminine encouragement and support. That close following of Jesus and cooperation in his work were a very important means in her growth in faith. Doing so is something that will help every believer.
- 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 and Fridays, do we really enter into the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary we pray? How profoundly do we pray the Stations of the Cross, at least during Lent? Do we mark Good Friday the way she did? As a priest, 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. One application of this accompaniment is how we accompany Jesus in his Mystical Body as it suffers. How readily do stand at the foot of the Cross of those who are in pain, at the side of the bed as someone is 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 move after the end of the Sabbath, she went hastily 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 Saints 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. The question for us is whether we seek to seek the Lord in a similar way, whether we hunger to be with him any way we can, or whether we’re totally fine with his absence. If Jesus were removed from the tabernacle of this chapel for a time, would we be lost? If Jesus were removed from the tabernacles of our Churches and brought to rectory chapels for a week, how many people would come running to the rectory asking where the Lord had been taken? How many people would be disturbed lest Jesus’ body have been stolen? How many people live their day or the week without Jesus such that they wouldn’t even know or care? St. Mary Magdalene shows us the love and longing that should characterize every truly Christian life.
- 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 apostola apostolorum, 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. It’s not a task only for the clergy or specialists. It’s a task for the entire people of God. I first heard the good news of Jesus’ resurrection not from Pope Paul VI, not from Cardinal Cushing, not from Fr. Jon Cantwell, but from Midge and Roger Landry, my parents. They were the ones who formed my faith in Jesus’ having risen from the dead. Likewise, we all have that task. In this Year of Consecrated Life, we focus on how you, Sisters, are meant to be apostolae apostolorum, and apostolae mundi, apostles to bishops and priests and deacons, and proclaims of the Gospel to the whole world. 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. Here at Mass we receive the fulfillment of the manna God rained down from heaven for the Israelites as we received Christ, who defined himself as the “true Bread come down from heaven.” It’s here at the beginning that we, like Mary Magdalene, 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 as she did on mountains, in synagogue, from boats and along the paths. It’s here that we associate ourselves in his work, giving ourselves, our resources and all we have 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. As we pray this Mass, the same Mass that St. Mary Magdalene doubtless attended as celebrated by the first apostles, we ask her to intercede for us that we may with her proclaim the living Christ in his mercy, word, suffering, resurrection and mission!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 EX 16:1-5, 9-15
and came into the desert of Sin,
which is between Elim and Sinai,
on the fifteenth day of the second month
after their departure from the land of Egypt.
Here in the desert the whole assembly of the children of Israel
grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The children of Israel said to them,
“Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt,
as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
But you had to lead us into this desert
to make the whole community die of famine!”Then the LORD said to Moses,
“I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.
Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion;
thus will I test them,
to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they bring in,
let it be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole congregation
of the children of Israel:
Present yourselves before the LORD,
for he has heard your grumbling.”
When Aaron announced this to the whole assembly of the children of Israel,
they turned toward the desert, and lo,
the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud!
The LORD spoke to Moses and said,
“I have heard the grumbling of the children of Israel.
Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh,
and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread,
so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God.”
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28
They tempted God in their hearts
by demanding the food they craved.
Yes, they spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the desert?”
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Yet he commanded the skies above
and the doors of heaven he opened;
He rained manna upon them for food
and gave them heavenly bread.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Man ate the bread of angels,
food he sent them in abundance.
He stirred up the east wind in the heavens,
and by his power brought on the south wind.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
And he rained meat upon them like dust,
and, like the sand of the sea, winged fowl,
Which fell in the midst of their camp
round about their tents.
R. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
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
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.