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Mary Magdalene, a Model of Mission

by Joel V. Ocampo

Every year, during the 22nd of July, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. However, in June 2016, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis raised the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a Feast on the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. In the document entitled “Apostolorum Apostola” (Apostle of the Apostles), the decree formalizing the decision, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated, “This decision, in the current ecclesial context, seeks to reflect more deeply upon the dignity of women, on the new evangelization and on the greatness of the mystery of God’s Mercy.”

Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena (1835) by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

Since the time of Gregory the Great, tradition has identified Saint Mary Magdalene, and the sinful woman who anointed Christ’s feet with perfume in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50), and the sister of Lazarus and Martha (Jn. 12:3), as one and the same person. However, these claims have no Biblical basis. What is certain is that Mary Magdalene was part of the group of Jesus’ disciples (Lk. 8:1-2), she accompanied him to the foot of the Cross (Jn. 19:25), and in the garden where she met him at the tomb (Jn. 20:1-2, 11-18). The Gospel writers also described Mary Magdalene as “from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk. 8:2; Mk. 16:9). During the time of Jesus, being possessed by a demon can mean having a mental health issue. She was called “Magdalene”, possible because she came, or experienced conversion in Magdala, an ancient Jewish city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

We can learn three things from the life of St. Mary Magdalene:

  1. serve a support group in the mission of the Church;

  2. stand in times of trials and difficulties; and

  3. proclaim the Good News of the Lord.

Serve a Support Group in the Mission of the Church

St. Luke recorded in the 8th chapter of his Gospel narrative: “Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources” (Lk. 8:1-3). The association of women with the ministry of Jesus is most unusual in the light of the attitude of first-century Palestinian Judaism toward women. In the culture during the time of Jesus, women were regarded as less important. However, this cultural discrimination did not hinder St. Mary Magdalene and the other women in participating in the mission of Christ. Rather, they serve using their time, talent, and treasure. St. Luke emphasized that these women “provided out of their resources” the expenses and needs of the missionary work of Christ.

Stand in Times of Trials and Difficulties

Second, like St. Mary Magdalene who accompanied the Lord even on His death on the cross, let us stand in times of trials and difficulties. St. John tells us, “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” (Jn. 19:25). We may not completely understand the events of times, let us remain steadfast. There may be times that we need to cry because of pain, like Mary Magdalene, let us stand up and continue our mission, and remain faithful until the end. As her name means “bitter”, Mary Magdalene turned her life’s bitterness into joy that comes from God’s mercy and compassion.

Proclaim the Good News of the Lord

On the first Easter Sunday, John tells us, “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (Jn. 20:1). After her encounter with the risen Lord, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” (Jn. 20:18). Thus, she was called “Apostolorum Apostola” (Apostle of the Apostles). Just us how the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene in time of her sorrow, the Lord also come to console us, appearing in various ways. Let us not allow the tears from our eyes to blind us from seeing the Lord. Rather, let us listen to His voice as He calls us by our name. “He encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Once we regain our strength, we once again proclaim the Good News of the Lord by our witness to His resurrection.

Let us pray,

O glorious St. Mary Magdalene, model of those who truly desire to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ. Obtain for me the graces that will enable me to pour out my soul as sweet perfume upon the feet of my Savior. You who mourned at the foot of the Cross and rejoiced at the Resurrection, intercede for me, for those who I now name (mention names) and for all who worship in churches dedicated in your name and to the Great Glory of God. Amen.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

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