Saturday, July 22, 2006

Chosen Apostle to the Eleven, First Witness to the Rusurrection

Mary Magdalen was one of those people who has an "interesting" life. She was one of Jesus' closest disciples, first named among those who travelled with Him and ministered to His needs, and also named as having been delivered from seven demons [Luke 8:2-3]. She has also been traditionally (mis)identified with "the woman who was a sinner" who crashed the party at the home of Simon the Pharasee [Luke 7:36 ff.]. [How could she be this utter stranger, and then only two sentences later be first-named among Jesus' well-to-do benefactors?] She was present with Mary the mother of Jesus and with John the Beloved at the crucifixion, assisted in Jesus' burial, and at dawn following the Sabbath day, was the first witness to Jesus resurrected, becoming the chosen apostle to the Eleven. She was at the Ascension, the Scripture states that she traveled back to Jerusalem after that event with Jesus' mother and the Eleven and others. She can be safely presumed to have been present at Pentecost.

After that, the Scriptures are silent, and the tradition diverges. Some, older, sources say she went to Ephesus with John the Beloved and Mary the mother of Jesus, had an adventure concerning the Emperor and a miraculous blood-red egg, and lived with Jesus' mother in contemplation to a quite old age. Other sources have her traveling with St. Lazarus of Bethany, his sisters, [with one of whom she's also been misidentified!] and others to France, where they evangelized Provence.

Whether she spent the rest of her life in Ephesus with Mary and John or in Provence with Lazarus and his sisters, her glory forever will be her faithfulness and her bold proclamation, "I have seen the Lord! He is not dead, but lives!"

Here's what Pope St. Gregory the Great had to say about her, as given in today's Office of Readings:

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us:
Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says:
My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

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