St. Mary Magdalene: A Model of Faith for Everyone

04-16-2017This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Will Schmid

Every year on Easter Sunday we hear the Gospel account of St. Mary Magdalene as the first person to experience the empty tomb and the Risen Christ. It is for this reason that she is considered to be "the Apostle to the Apostles." What a great honor the Lord bestowed upon her! What a great patron saint we have! As we celebrate the Easter sea- son, I think it would be a particular Penitent Mary Magdalene by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1640 blessing for us to contemplate the life of our patroness and discover how she can draw us deeper into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Recently, Bishop Olmsted gave me a beautiful book on our patroness titled, "Saint Mary Magdalene: Prophetess of Eucharistic Love," by Fr. Sean Davidson, a member of the Missionaries of the Most Holy Eucharist and currently serving at the Eucharistic Retreat Center in the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Long Island, New York. To reflect more deeply on the life and significance of St. Mary Magdalene, I would like to share with you some of the highlights of this beautiful book.

First, Fr. Davidson begins his book by noting that there is much confusion over the identity of St. Mary Magdalene. There are several different theories available concerning her life, and due to the fact that we are historically separated by nearly two thousand years of history, there will always be a hint of mystery surrounding the depths of her true identity. However, Fr. Davidson agrees with the longstanding Roman Catholic tradition that holds Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the penitent woman of Luke 7:36-50 as the same woman. He calls this theory the "identification theory," and he eloquently explains the Scriptural evidence and Church Father explanations that support this tradition.  

In doing so, he gives a beautiful walk-through of the life of this powerful saint: her likely struggles in the town of Magdala by the Sea of Galilee that led to her need for deliverance from seven demons; her penitential love for Jesus demonstrated by washing and anointing His feet with her tears, hair, and expensive perfume; her readiness to accompany Jesus and remain at His feet, attentive to every word that came from His mouth; her return home to her sister Martha and brother Lazarus in Bethany; her struggles with grief at the loss of her brother Lazarus and the joy of experiencing his resurrection from the dead; her foresight into Jesus' immanent death and her willingness to anoint His feet a second time in preparation for His salvific gift of self from the Cross; and her intense love for Jesus that led her to the empty tomb before anyone else to encounter the Risen Lord.

On account of all that Mary Magdalene experienced in her discipleship with Christ, Fr. Davidson believes she has much to offer those who seek to follow Jesus today: "Mary Magdalene is one of those saints who can appeal to all categories of Christians, for she provides an example to us all, regardless of our vocations. At times she is the repentant sinner, at times the perfect contemplative, the one who loves much. At times she is an apostle, running to proclaim the Good News, at times she is simply heartbroken and grieving. Whatever our state in life or whatever we are going through, this saint has something to say to us."

Second, Fr. Davidson sees Mary Magdalene as the source and inspiration of Eucharistic Adoration: "She was the model of those who discover the Real Presence of Jesus in the world and who cling to him as the only joy of their hearts. Magdalene became not only the perfect celibate, loving God with a totally undivided heart, but also the perfect contemplative adorer, motivated by nothing but pure supernatural desire…Only in the Real Presence of Christ was her soul at rest."  

Mary Magdalene's general disposition of locating herself and her entire life at the feet of Jesus is exactly what the Lord desires from us, especially when we make a visit to our St. Michael the Archangel Adoration Chapel. The joy and beauty of having a chapel dedicated to Perpetual Adoration is so that we can have regular moments throughout our week to share in the apostolate of St. Mary Magdalene - surrendering all to Jesus Christ and finding true rest for our souls in His Holy Presence.

Third, Fr. Davidson demonstrates how Mary Magdalene is a great source of hope for a church filled with sinners: "The first apostle of the Resurrection is not a soul who had been pure and perfect from childhood but rather a poor broken sinner from whom were expelled seven demons. None of us can say that we are not potential candidates for canonization, regardless of what we may have done in the past. She is hope for sinners and thanks to her we know that though our sins be as scarlet, in Christ we can become whiter than snow. If we follow the path of love traced out by the Apostle to the Apostles then at the moment of death we will be able to go in peace to the One who is friend of sinners."

At times in our spiritual life, we are confronted with a sense of inadequacy due to our own personal struggle with sin. It is easy to fall prey to the temptation of the Evil One to think that a life of holiness in Christ is not for us. Contemplating the life and love of St. Mary Magdalene reminds us that the Evil One is a liar, and that God is always calling us to a deeper life of holiness in Him. We too can become great saints at the feet of Jesus, basking in His love and mercy.

In summary, Fr. Davidson's book offers a renewing and refreshing look at the saint who has been given great spiritual responsibility over our parish community. Our families have been entrusted into her spiritual care, and it is a blessing to be drawn deeper into her model for discipleship. Also, this book helps further explain Pope Francis' decision last year to raise the status of her annual celebration on July 22nd from a mere obligatory memorial to a universal feast. Her great love for Christ is a celebration that the entire Church throughout the world should celebrate with higher liturgical solemnity.

I highly recommend reading this recent work which captures the rich history and tradition behind the woman for whom our parish is named. May St. Mary Magdalene help us proclaim with great love the Easter message that changed the world: "Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!"