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".                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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