Mary Magdalene: Model of Penance and Faithfulness
If anyone ever doubted the extravagance of God's merciful love, this one verse from today's Gospel is enough to banish all such doubts. Mary Magdalen had lived in bondage to the devil and to sin. Jesus came along one day and wondrously delivered her from her wicked past and put her on the path to sanctity.
One week ago at the Easter Vigil we heard these marvelous words:
The sanctifying power of this night dispels all wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. (Exsultet)
This sanctifying power of Christ, which is so beautifully extolled in the Easter Proclamation of the Church's feast of feasts, was manifested to Mary Magdalen in a mighty way on that day she first met Jesus. She never forgot what the Lord did for her and remained his faithful follower to the Cross and to the grave.
Prescinding from the unresolved questions of whether Mary Magdalene is also the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) as well as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, of this much we can be sure:
Jesus had rescued her from the grip of not one demon but seven (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She was among the women who accompanied Jesus and served him during his earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3). She was at the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:23). She was there when Jesus' body was placed in the tomb (Mark 15:47; Matthew 27:61). She is the first recorded eyewitness of the Risen Christ (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:10).
Following Mary Magdalene's stunning conversion, her gratitude to the Lord expressed itself in a life of total dedication to her Savior. "Conversion is the matter of a moment," once wrote St. Josemaria, "Sanctification is the work of a lifetime." (The Way, 285)
Jesus rewarded Mary Magdalene's perseverance in faithfulness by granting her the unexpected grace of being the first to whom he appeared after his resurrection from the dead.
We may or may not have a dramatic conversion story to tell. Nonetheless, we owe the Lord our most profound thanks because on the day of our baptism he delivered us from the darkness of sin and placed us on the road that leads to heaven. We would do well to ask God the Holy Trinity through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene, that "model penitent," for the grace to remain faithful followers of Christ all the days of our life.
On St. Mary Magdalene's feast day (July 22), the Church prays:
Father, your son first entrusted to Mary Magdalene the joyful news of his resurrection. By her prayers and example may we proclaim Christ as our living Lord and one day see him in glory. (Collect)
Before we close, we want to turn to another Mary, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, who by a unique grace and privilege, remained sinless from the moment of her conception until the day she was taken up to heaven in her glorified body and soul.
It should be noted that, notwithstanding the scriptural data cited above, there is a venerable tradition which holds that the Risen Jesus, even before he appeared to Mary Magdalene, revealed himself to his mother.
Without pronouncing dogmatically on this point, Blessed John Paul II seemed to indicate that he was inclined to believe that Our Lady was the first to be visited by her Son after his resurrection. In a Wednesday audience address, the Holy Father stated:
"Indeed, it is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not Mary's absence from the group of women who went to the tomb at dawn (cf. Mk 16:1; Mt 28:1) indicate that she had already met Jesus? This inference would also be confirmed by the fact that the first witnesses of the Resurrection, by Jesus' will, were the women who had remained faithful at the foot of the Cross and therefore were more steadfast in faith." (John Paul II, Wednesday Audience, May 21, 1997)
Whatever the case (and one is free to agree or disagree), let us ask Our Lady, Virgin Most Faithful, to gain for us poor sinners the grace to imitate St. Mary Magdalene in both her penitence and her faithfulness.
Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Pastor of Holy Innocents Church in Long Beach, California.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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