Thursday, June 16, 2016

At Long Last, Mary Magdalen Gets a Promotion

Mary of Magdela,
Apostle to the Apostles

This book by Susan
Haskins is one of a number
of books which up date
this inspiring woman
for a modern audience
Madeline Mancini was my godmother at Baptism. She had been my mother's sponsor at Confirmation and maid of honor at her wedding. Madeline was an Italian immigrant who reached the rank of assistant to a top New York City couture designer and later built her own fashion business in California. My baptism was rushed because she was dashing to the west coast with only $500 in her pocket and a dream urging her on.

Her name was chosen for my middle name and she seemed in my childhood to be a fairy godmother who would infrequently and unexpectedly fly east to drop into our lives with beautiful gifts and sophisticated news. She was good and she was wise and she was always generous.

July 22, the day set aside in the Roman calendar in honor of St. Mary Magdalene, has special significance for me not only because of my godmother but also as the day I entered religious life. She became my patron. But as I studied scripture and read her story and learned of how her reputation had been maligned through the ages, I became even more respectful of her position among the closest of Jesus' followers and dismayed at a lack of due respect.

Recently Pope Francis raised the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene on July 22 from that of a simple memorial to the level of feast. It has been reported by CRUX that "liturgically speaking, the decision by Pope Francis....puts Mary Magdalene's feast on par with the celebrations of the male apostles, with a Vatican official hailing her as 'an example and model for every woman in the Church.' " Finally, Mary of Magdala is getting the recognition she requires because she was, as St. Thomas Aquinas named her, "Apostle to the Apostles." During the Solemnity of the Easter Feast and the octave that follows one is impressed with the number of times her name appears in the scripture readings for Mass.

Most in our Church are not aware of the subtle differences in liturgical celebration between a commemoration, memorial, feast and solemnity. Sacristans are usually the most knowledgeable about what each level of celebration requires. Often priests don't often realize the requirements. Therefore, most Catholics need some catechesis or explanation of the true significance of this decision apart from the formal rules of liturgical celebration. What is of real importance are the facts at the heart of this change and their meaning for the People of God.

I hope that on July 22 priests and catechists will find a way
to let people in on the not so secret secret that Mary Magdalen held an important place in the most intimate circle surrounding Jesus; that it is probable she was a leader among the woman who traveled with him and saw to his needs as well as those of the men who followed him.  This group of women supported the ministry from their own means and took, in some cases, considerable risk in demonstrating their loyalty to this itinerant preacher. How did Mary Magdalen achieve this position, after all she was an outsider, a woman who seemed to be of some means and whose personal story is not revealed in scripture. Yet we have received in great and unusual detail the moving  account of her devotion to the crucified Lord; the effort at the dawn of day to anoint his body in death and the astonishing reward of encountering Him risen and glorified pronouncing her name.

Scripture scholarship encouraged by the Church over the last 75 years has brought us to new understanding of who Mary Magdalen was. A great effort has been made to correct a thousand years of popular Christian culture which had conflated or mistakenly combined the accounts of three women in the Gospel stories and identify the result as Mary Magdalene. Art, popular literature and poor teaching lumped the woman caught in adultery, the sinful woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany and Mary Magdalene, "from who seven demons had been driven out." Scholars uniformly tell us that these are three separate woman. There is also no hint at all about the nature of Mary Magdalene's demons. We do know that in Jesus' time any physical infirmity or abnormal behavior was attributed to the evil work of demons dwelling within the person. So Mary may have suffered from some physical illness or disability or some mental illness that we might label as a personality disorder or depression among others.

So what might the Church be teaching us when they describe St. Mary Magdalene as "example and model". It is clearly not an image of repentant sinner, as she has so often been depicted. Rather she is a model of dedication and devotion, courage and conviction and very great love. These gifts enabled her to contribute to Jesus' ministry, to support Him on the path to Jerusalem, and to work well with others in the effort. Not to be forgotten is the scene at the foot of the cross; she steadfastly remained rooted in face of horror still supporting her Lord as well as his agonized mother.

On the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene may we be inspired to working well with others to speak as Jesus spoke supporting His teaching of love and mercy wherever we find ourselves. May we learn to be remain rooted at the foot of the Cross as we struggle with our own suffering and that of our poor world. And may we carry in our hearts the hope offered to her in the garden so that we too may declare, "I have seenthe Lord".                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"The West Wing" As Corrective Civics Lesson

Notes on Instructive Television

Two factors have driven me to the ranks of Amazon Prime and Netflix users. In 1961, Newton Minow, one of the seven Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President John Kennedy, famously labeled commercial television "a vast wasteland" in a speech before the National Broadcasters Association. More than fifty years later his observation is no less true. More channels are available than ever before but the quality of programming seems only to decrease with quantity. The second factor is my personal need to update myself in the area of cultural literacy. Older nuns speak of "the black out years" of their early religious life when TV and newspapers were often strictly forbidden. Although things were very different in my experience, there still was not much TV and certainly no cocktail party conversation about the latest media.

Wanting to watch something worthwhile and fill the gaps in my cultural literacy, I have been binge watching "The West Wing". Wikipedia reports "The West Wing is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006. The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and `offices of presidential senior staff are located, during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen)."

Some may be commenting, "Poor Hilda, is she really reduced to that?" But I have found that this awarding-winning television series offers a brand of dignity, righteousness and patriotism which makes the current political scene in our country look like the worst of vulgar situation comedies.

Wikipedia also commented:

Despite acclaim for the veracity of the series, Sorkin [creator] believed, "our responsibility is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention." Former White House aide Matthew Miller noted that Sorkin "captivates viewers by making the human side of politics more real than life—or at least more real than the picture we get from the news." Miller also noted that by portraying politicians with empathy, the show created a "subversive competitor" to the cynical views of politics in media. In the essay "The West Wing and the West Wing", author Myron Levine agreed, stating that the series "presents an essentially positive view of public service and a healthy corrective to anti-Washington stereotypes and public cynicism.

Dr. Staci L. Beavers, associate professor of political science at California State University, San Marcos, wrote a short essay, "The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool". She concluded, "While the series' purpose is for-profit entertainment, The West Wing presents great pedagogical potential." The West Wing, in her opinion, gave greater depth to the political process usually espoused only in stilted talking points on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press.... In Beavers' opinion, a critical analysis of the show's political views can present a worthwhile learning experience to the view.

Although admirable for other reasons, the later popular political drama series moved into a much darker place presenting totally disillusioning stories of nefarious political motivations and downright evil in "House of Cards." And then came "ABCs "Scandal" where the adjective depraved may be most apt.

So this reviewer highly recommends viewing "The West Wing" as a valuable civics lesson for the uninformed or merely jaded. You may find it restorative in its hopeful reality and in observing the better angels of our nature play their part on behalf of the interests of this democracy and all its people.