Tuesday, 22 July 2014

St. Mary Magdalene

Today we remember  Mary Magdalene. Over the centuries, the story of this great saint has, of course, been the subject of  various interpretations.  Far a long time Mary of Magdala was confused with other Marys and other women: most notably the unnamed woman ( supposedly a prostitute) who washed and kissed Jesus's feet mentioned in Luke ( 7 : 36-5) as well as
the attentive Mary of Bethany ( sister of Martha and Lazarus) - who chose the 'better part'.  She is mentioned by name in several places in the gospels- in Luke and Mark as being a woman who had been freed from 7 evil sprits - or perhaps  7 deadly sins. ( Luke 8. 2; and Mark 16.9)  It is this woman who was healed of evil spirits - 'delived from evil ' - who was to be with him at the foot of the cross and who was first to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection who appears on the icon of the Sacred Heart.  But  this image in many ways is a composite of three very different women: the sinner who comes weeping to kiss the feet of Christ; the women who sits at the feet of Christ and listens to the word of God as her sister attends to housework and cooking; and the woman who is freed from  7 evil spirits, and who stands at the foot of the cross and is the first to see the risen Lord. By tradition she is therefore a prostitute, a woman who sits with the men and becomes an apostle, and a woman who is freed from the grip of evil and opens her heart to Jesus utterly and completely.  Whatever the historical facts of the matter Mary Magdalene becomes the Apostle to the Apostles.  Perhaps, however,  what matters is not that we are not quite sure who she is, one thing is plain enough. The icon shows a woman who - because of the love of Christ - is a new creation.

 The reading at mass today from St Paul, (2 Corithians 5:14-17) speaks of the love of Christ overwhelms us and that those who are in Christ are new creations.  Mary Magdalene is - as is clear from the gospel account in John (20: 1-2. 11-18) -  someone who is over-whelmed by the love of Jesus.  She arrives at the tomb whilst it is still dark, and finding his body gone, she weeps.  She weeps because she cannot see his dead body.  Recently,  seeing the poor people who  have lost loved ones in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,  our hearts go out to anyone whose loss is made all the worse by the fact that they do not know where the body of their loved one is.   Mary Magdalene weeps like this in the darkness: she weeps not because Jesus is dead, but because his body is missing. And then out of this darkness she sees what she believes to be a gardener : perhaps he will know more than the men inside the tomb?  Weeping from  the very core of her being, she begs the gardener to tell her where he has put him. And then, the darkness lifts: Jesus, her beloved teacher, his alive. She hurries off to tell the apostles.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart has, for many centuries, drawn upon the Song of Songs ( 3: 1-4).  It is fitting that at mass today we hear words which capture the sense of love we find in John, chapter twenty. The Song of  Songs describes a woman searching for him 'whom her heart loves'. She searches through the City streets, and asks the night watchmen if they have seen who her heart loves.  And then she find the love of her heart.   And that is the image we contemplate in the icon: the image of a woman who, in the darkness, sought the love of her heart.  It is a woman who has been freed from sin and the power of evil.  It is the image of a broken hearted woman who wept for the love of Jesus and who sees the risen Christ through her tears. Opposite her is Adam - the old creation.  We turn and look again on the new creation that lives no longer for themselves, but in the love of Jesus. We see a woman is no longer enslaved to 7 deadly sins, but one who is now full of the 7  waters of eternal life. Eve brought death to Adam, Mary Magdalen brings the good news of the new life in Christ.  Whatever our sins, Mary Magdalene reminds us that when we humbly open our hearts and ask for mercy we too can be made into a new creation.  However dark it is, we can search and we can find Jesus.

As we prayed at mass today:

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant we pray that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and Come to see him reigning in your glory. 

Lord, instil in us that persevering love with which Saint Mary Magdalene clung resolutely to Christ her Master.  Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

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