July 22, 2016 –
I was invited to give a reflection at our evening prayer celebration on the Feast of Mary Magdalene at St. Benedict Parish in Chicago. Here are my reflections on this great witness to the Resurrection!
Last Sunday at the 12 Noon mass, we celebrated a baptism – baby Raymond Edward! I was reminded as the priest placed a white garment over this child, and anointed him with oil – that each of us -ALL THE BAPTIZED- are initiated into the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Christ. Priest, prophet, and king! This is our call as people of faith – to be priestly people of prayer and sacrament, to be prophets seeking justice and righteousness, and to be a king but one like Jesus, a humble servant, one who seeks peace, leading by example and laying down one’s life.
It is good to be reminded of our baptism, especially on a night when we celebrate the feast of one of the great disciples, the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene.
No one expected Resurrection.
Everyone was surely frightened, scared, uncertain. I imagine the disciples hovering in the upper room with the doors locked, fearful of who would be attacked next. We hear about two friends on the Road to Emmaus – running away. Have you not heard what happened in our city?
And where were the women? We know that the women stayed. And I’m sure the women did what women do – someone made a casserole, and someone else baked bread, and one may have even offered to watch the children while the rest went to bring flowers to the tomb – along with spices to anoint the Body, as was their custom.
It is there that Mary encounters Jesus as we heard in the Gospel tonight.
Jesus recognizes her. He calls her by name – MARY. He knows her; and once again she is reminded that she is known by him and called by name to be his follower.
It’s funny, isn’t it- how often historians have gotten this WRONG. There are at least three women in scripture who writers have misrepresented as Mary Magdalene. The repentant sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears was NOT Mary Magdalene. No where in scripture is Mary Magdalene named as a prostitute. And Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, friends of Jesus – has also been confused or conflated over time with Mary Magdalene.
There is one person, however, who had no doubt what so ever, about the identity of Mary Magdalene. And that was Mary Magdalene herself.
What makes Mary Magdalene a disciple worthy of her own feast day is this sense of identity. She knew who she was as a disciple of Jesus! There are 3 things that we hear in tonight’s gospel that bear reflection and draw us deeper into our own sense of discipleship with Mary Magdalene as our role model – her encounter with Jesus, her courage to stay with him at the cross, and her witness to the resurrection.
An Encounter with Jesus
Mary Magdalene had a personal encounter. What we hear tonight is Jesus calling her by name, “Mary!” Surely this is not the first time she hear her name spoken aloud. Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary’s other experience with Jesus was when 7 demons were expelled from her. Jesus heals her – he touches her in that very place where she is most weak, vulnerable, uncertain, the places that have caused her to sin. He knows her, intimately, and she has allowed him into the dark spaces – and he has drawn her into the light.
In the opening lines of his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict says that as Christian disciples, followers of Jesus, “We have come to believe in God’s love: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
This happened to Mary, and it happens in our lives, too. An encounter with Jesus, especially one that brings healing, also leads to courage. The courage to face trials, to speak out on behalf of the poor, to seek God and praise God without ceasing in all that we do. Identity is essential to being a disciple! We have to know WHO we are, and we need to constantly be reminded of WHOSE we are. We belong to God, hidden with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Courage to Stand at the Cross
All four gospel writers place Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. And all four gospels, although differing in detail, place Mary at the tomb – as the first witness to the Risen Jesus.
The first thing Jesus says to Mary, when he appears to her in the gospel, is “Why are you weeping?” While I suspect the Risen One intended this to bring comfort, any one of us who has mourned a loved one would know that comfort does not come quickly.
Each person’s path of discipleship is different, but I can guarantee you one thing – two things, really. I promise you that God is always faithful! But I can also guarantee that as a disciple there will be struggle, suffering, and opposition – almost always.
Our lives are fashioned to model Jesus’ life, death, resurrection – the Pascal Mystery.
We are never far from the cross. This too is a necessary, but difficult, hallmark of life as a disciple of Jesus. And we know that Mary stood with Jesus, and watched him suffer and die a humiliating death.
If we take one thing from Mary Magdalene, it is her courage to stay with Jesus. We are never far from the cross. And we have to ask ourselves, do I dare to stand there?
What would it mean to stand at the foot of the cross with our African American neighbors, friends, and colleagues – as we face an ever widening gap in the racial divide in our country? Can I listen and accept the truth of their experience? Am I willing to speak up when I hear racist rhetoric that permeates our public discourse?
How close are we willing to get to the foot of the cross to meet our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning community members? Including and ESPECIALLY those in our community at St. Ben’s? Do I accept them with respect, compassion, and sensitive?
Do we truly know and understand the cross that is carried over thousands of miles by Refugees who are fleeing places like Syria, Iraq – seeking safety for themselves and their children? What would it take to learn about the cross they carry? How can I alleviate their burden?
There is a cross that hangs tonight over Baton Rouge, and Dallas, and Minneapolis, and Nice, and Istanbul. There are 49 crosses in Orlando, 9 more in Charleston SC, 26 in Newtown CT. Across the city of Chicago, there are 362 men, women, and children who have lost their lives to gun violence – this year ALONE. These individuals did not choose their crosses, but we can choose to stand with them.
Mary Magdalene could have easily said “He’s not MY son.” She could have turned to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and offered a sympathetic look, then ran away with all the rest. There are no easy answers to the crosses of our world, except to love. Mary Magdalene stayed. To be a disciple of Jesus, with is to stay at the foot of the cross. And to trust that the poor and suffering will show us the way forward.
Witness to the Resurrection
The most compelling line in this Resurrection narrative is when Mary Magdalene runs back to the disciples and shouts, “I have seen the Lord!” It is a line that any disciple must worthily shout and recognize!
Indeed, I have seen the Lord!
I am humbled each year to celebrate an interfaith Iftar, a breaking of the fast, during the Islamic holy month of Ramandaan. I attend at the invitation of one of my former work colleagues, and she always retells the story of what happened at our office on September 11, 2001. She recalls the countless number of colleagues who called, emailed, or stopped by to ensure that she would get home safe that day – and in the days to follow. I am encouraged in my own journey of faith because of our friendship and the witness of her fidelity to prayer and fasting as a Muslim woman.
I have seen the Lord!
My colleague Emily, serves in a countries throughout Africa and the Middle East, coordinating peace-building efforts in countries experiencing civil war. We asked her recently, “What gives you hope?” Especially in the face of such violence and destruction. She told us stories of individuals finding healing, families seeking restoration, and enemies reconciling. She said that for any goodness to be found in the face of injustice, that has to be GOD. There is no other explanation, except that the Holy Spirit must be involved, and this is what gives her hope.
I have seen the Lord!
A few months ago, a group of us from St. Ben’s, attended an art show at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. Located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Precious Blood serves predominantly young, black men recently released from jail. They offer a positive alternative for kids in the neighborhood. They offer job training, community gardens, the arts program, peace circles, places of dialogue and reconciliation, and they are strong advocates for criminal justice reform especially for children who were convicted of crimes and then tried as adults. Life is not easy, and the situation is complicated. There are no easy answers. But it begins by sharing stories and offering mutual respect. As I’ve gotten to know the staff and kids there, they all use the same word to describe the Precious Blood Center –this is a place of HOPE!
I have seen the Lord!
Pope Francis, in “The Joy of the Gospel” tell us, that Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel. (Joy of the Gospel)
We celebrate Mary Magdalene for her faithfulness, her strong sense of identity and friendship with Jesus. We remember her courage in staying with Jesus at the foot of the cross. And we celebrate her as the first eye witness to the Resurrection. Knowing that we are called and sent to do the same!