Learning from St. Mary Magdalene How to Follow and Love Jesus, July 22, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
July 22, 2014
Mic 7:14-15.18-20, Ps 85, 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’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 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. In today’s first reading from the Prophet Micah, we have a hymn of praise for God’s mercy that it is quite possible that in life St. Mary Magdalene would have made her own: “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance?  Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency?  And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins … as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.” We respond to those words by repeating over and again in the Responsorial Psalm, “Lord, show us your mercy and love.” And recognizing that 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 care for the Church out of our own resources? 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. Do we take as active a role in the upbuilding of the Church, using whatever resources God has placed into our hands behind the scenes or upfront to advance the kingdom? That close following of Jesus and cooperation in his work were a very important means in her growth in faith and they will likewise be for us.
  • 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. The question for us is whether we seek the Lord, whether we hunger to be with him any way we can, or whether we’re totally fine with his absence. I sometimes ask myself what would happen if I removed Jesus from the tabernacle of this chapel and the Church for a day or even a whole week and just brought him to the chapel in the rectory. 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. 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, all of us have that task. 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. 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
MI 7:14-15, 18-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea
all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. (8a) Lord, show us your mercy and love.
You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Restore us, O God our savior,
and abandon your displeasure against us.
Will you be ever angry with us,
prolonging your anger to all generations?
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.

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.