Today is the feast of St Mary Magdalen. Who is this woman whose story more than any other in the gospels speaks to us of the Mercy of God?
From fragments of scripture, an image emerges.
In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3). It is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She was a repentant sinner who honoured her Lord through lavish displays of love and repentance (Luke 7:36-50).
Further she is recorded as standing at the foot of the cross of her dying Saviour (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49) and finally as seeing Christ placed in the tomb, and as being the first witness of the Resurrection.
This extract from St Peter Julian Eynard’s reflections on Mary Magdalen, however, goes straight to the core and draws out for us a beautiful teaching:
Before her conversion Magdalen was a public sinner. She possessed all the qualities of mind and body and all the gifts of fortune that can lead one to the worst excesses. And she fell into them. The Gospel lowers her to the rank of a public sinner. She was so degraded that Simon the Pharisee felt disgraced when she entered his home. And he even doubted the prophetic power of Jesus because the Master allowed her to remain at His feet.
But after having been forgiven, this poor sinful woman was to take her place among the greatest of saints. See her at work. Human “dignity”, more than anything else, is what holds back great sinners and prevents them from being converted. “I will not be able to persevere,” they say. “I dare not start what I cannot finish.” And disheartened, they go no further.
She went straight to Jesus without mistaking anyone else for Him. But where had she known Him? Ah! An ailing heart knows well where to find the One that will comfort and cure it! Mary dared not look upon Jesus. She said nothing: true contrition acts that way. Look at the Prodigal Son and at the Publican. The sinner who looks God full in the face after having offended Him insults Him. But Mary wept: she “washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head.” Her place is at the feet of Jesus. These feet trod the earth, and she knew she was but the dust of a corpse. The world is extremely fond of beautiful hair; she used hers as a rag.
She remained prostrate on the ground, awaiting her sentence. She heard the remarks made by the envious Apostles and Jews who honored only the triumphant and crowned only the virtuous. They did not like Magdalen who was teaching every one of them a lesson; for every one of them had sinned, but not one had the courage to ask pardon publicly. Simon himself, bloated with pride and hypocrisy, grew indignant. But Jesus avenged Magdalen. What beautiful words of rehabilitation: “More has been forgiven her because she has loved more …. Thy faith hath made thee safe,” said the Saviour to her. “Go in peace.” He did not add: “Sin no more.” Jesus had said this to the adulteress, who was more humiliated for having been caught in the act than repentant for having offended God. But Magdalen had no need of that advice; her love assured Jesus’ of her firm purpose of amendment. What a beautiful and touching absolution! Magdalen must have had a very perfect contrition! When you go to confession, unite yourself to Magdalen and let your contrition, like hers, proceed more from love than from fear.”
It was not for her faith then, or for any extraordinary feat of hers, but for her outrageous love, strong to the point of folly, that the Lord rewarded Mary Magdalen by choosing her to be the first to see Him after His Resurrection.
On this Feast of Mary Magdalen, might I ask you to say a short prayer for me, another repentant sinner, who bears this great Saint’s name.