Modern Need for St. Mary Magdalene
Jul 23, 2018
The Arch-Virgin Mary Magdalene
Many people today insist that every time we identify St. Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute we marginalize her. And/or share the view that identified as the woman caught in adultery, it is an attempt to oppress women. There are a number of books dedicated to "rehabilitating" her, trying to make out that she was an ordinary, wealthy woman of the first century (Lk 8:1-3), respectable, perhaps liberated from seven demons or merely healed of mental illness, but not lifted out of a life of marginalization, exploitation, use. The model for Christians are Jesus and Mary, His Mother, so it's true that the ideal Christian is someone who has never fallen, never sinned. But they are the two exceptions to the rule. As for the rest of us, "all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). It is only by the Divine Mercy, by God's merciful grace sent through Jesus, that our sins are forgiven and glory restored. The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”. As biographer Joseph Pearce describes in The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde, Wilde was a notorious hedonist, known for any number of debaucheries — indeed, he fully lived up to his name. Towards the end of his life, Wilde was jailed on charges of sodomy. He entered the Catholic Church on his deathbed. "Wilde had a lifelong love affair with the Catholic Church," says Pearce. "His art is always overtly moral and the morality is overtly Catholic in nature. He is a timeless Christian writer." Wilde's deathbed conversion is not somehow reduced by his life, but magnified by it. "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Mary Magdalene "had a past," and then she met Christ, who opened the way into a future of sanctity, of life in the Spirit and eternal joy. One of the Beatitudes that no doubt would have resonated the loudest when she heard Jesus deliver His incredible Sermon on the Mount is Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. Hearing that, was she crestfallen, ashamed, embarrassed or perhaps at that moment, her heart swelled with great peace and love for right before her eyes, she was not only hearing but seeing not just a man but her Lord, Messiah, her Savior.
This is what an encounter with Jesus Christ does, it dispossesses us of the oppressions of evil spirits so that in recovering from their self-destructive presence room is made by the Father and Son to give to us the gift of the Holy Spirit whose self-resurrecting presence empowers us to lead lives of greater purity, love and mercy.
Saint Augustine once referred to Mary Magdalene as the Arch-Virgin…not as in arch-enemy but sharing a position of great distinction and honor which is second to that of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Did not Mary Magdalene have every right to be at the Foot of the Cross with Mary? Though some may contend she did not, given her past and the never having sinned Immaculate Conception she knelt beside. Looking down from that Cross, Christ would see Mary Magdalene and know with great joy that His being on the Cross was worth it…that His total self-sacrifice for our Redemption was at its most successful in the life and soul of the woman who would be the first witness to His Resurrection. Perhaps more than His own Mother, it was Mary Magdalene who provided Christ with the most comfort that day seeing in her converted example all of us who like her are daily in need of Christ’s redeeming and transforming love, compassion and mercy. We need the model of the woman who was forgiven much, and so loved much (Lk 7:47), since "faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). We especially need the model of the prostitute turned penitent, of the woman who had been exploited and used until she found in Jesus the man who would never abuse her, the God who would not condemn her but rather raise her up to everlasting life. We need an icon of hope for the trapped, the trafficked, the sinful and sorrowful in this vale of tears. In an age of objectification and a rising tide of online pornography, when people are reduced to sources of pleasure, the powerless bought and sold for the gratification of greed and lust, when the world slides as far into darkness as any age we have ever known, we need the hope offered by a repentant sinner turned saint. We need someone who has been there at the heart of darkness, who turned again to God and was saved. Let us ask her prayers for those under her patronage, such as penitent sinners, reformed prostitutes, and those struggling with sexual temptation. Let us pray in reparation for our sins of the flesh and the sins of others, especially those who profit from the pornography industry or sex trafficking. Let us intercede for those enslaved to addictions or forced to sell themselves to satisfy the greed and lust of others. Let us go out with our prayer to the marginalized, those deepest in darkness, those most in need, as Pope Francis and Jesus call us to do, and help draw the lost sheep, the people in darkness, into great light.