On the first day of the week, our Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of the priest-prophet-king she loved and found it empty. She told Simon Peter and others, but she remained, faithfully, at the site and saw the angels and then saw Jesus himself. She knew him when he called her name; he promised he would be with her forever once he ascended to the Father, and he told her to announce the Good News of the Resurrection.
Mary Magdalene is one of the great saints of the Church, known all over the world, and for a long time for the wrong reason. From Dr. Susan Calef of Creighton’s Theology department I’ve learned that Church tradition conflated a number of women in New Testament narratives into the figure of Mary Magdalene, Penitent. Before she was penitent, of course, she had to sin, so the good point of this identification was the teaching that the Great Sinner became the Great Saint. Thus, all the rest of us, ordinary sinners, are called to holiness too. That’s nice to know!
But as Dr. Calef and other scholars have demonstrated at length, Mary Magdalene herself is actually not portrayed as a sinner in any Gospel, although Jesus “had cast out seven demons” from her. She is named first among several women at the Crucifixion who “had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him.” Although she’s alone in John’s telling of the Easter Morning appearance of the Risen Christ, in other Gospels she’s with another woman or women.
As a Great Saint, Mary Magdalene is a great role model for us today. First, as Dr. Calef and other scholars have shown, she was an independent woman of some means who followed Jesus and his disciples and “had provided for him” (Mt 27: 55). Thus she is a model for faithful Christians who are called to support the work of Christ in the world today. We can’t all go out to announce the Good News in faraway lands – or put computers in classrooms in Uganda and Kenya, or medical supplies in clinics in Haiti and the Dominican Republic – but we can contribute from our prosperity to provide for those who do.
Second, Mary Magdalene is named in each telling of how women remained faithful to Jesus even during his Crucifixion – while others, with understandable fear for themselves, ran away. Today I pray to be faithful to Christ Crucified, and to His Church, the Body of Christ, in trouble as well as in triumph.
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