Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Saint Mary Magdalene, Penitent
Today is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, apostle and penitent. She is mentioned by name in all the gospels, and is identified as the woman from whom Christ cast seven demons. In the sixth century, however, Pope Saint Gregory the Great conflated Mary of Magdala with the nameless woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), and with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42 and John 11), giving the Church a powerful figure of repentance and spiritual renewal: at once a reformed prostitute; one of the very few who stayed with Christ at the Crucifixion; in her identification with Mary of Bethany, the first contemplative; and, as the first witness to the Resurrection, apostola apostolorum, the Apostle to the Apostles. In the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene came to be identified also with the Samaritan woman, living in sin with her sixth "husband," who Christ asks for a drink of water (John 4:1-42), and with the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).
Nonetheless, on today, her feast day, the Common of Virgins is read. It was believed in the Middle Ages, when there was a strong popluar devotion to the Magdalene, that after her conversion her virginity had been restored; indeed, she was even called "Our Lady Magdalene." Mary Magdalene's ethos is reversal: she embodies not only the miraculous transit from great sin to great sanctity, but also the mysterious paradox of Christianity itself, whereby one state can be transformed by the grace of God into its complete opposite. As Christ says in John 16:20, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy."
May Saint Mary Magdalene intercede for us all.