The Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene: July 22nd
St. Mary Magdalene is sometimes referred to as the thirteenth Apostle. Tradition has it that she was a prostitute but then, after having been touched by divine grace, was inspired to follow Jesus Christ. Out of all the disciples- not including the Blessed Virgin –the Risen Lord had appeared to her first on that beautiful Easter morning.
The honor of being one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection hearkens back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) She was one of those early Christians who understood just what the forgiveness of sin costs. After all, she was one of the few who courageously stood at the foot of the Cross when our Lord breathed his last.
St. Mary Magdalene also knew just what it meant to be in spiritual darkness and moral confusion. She was a restless soul who was a victim of men’s lust. What St. Paul predicted about exploited women in the end days could arguably be said of St. Mary: “For some of these [i.e. “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God] slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:6-7).
Indeed, the saintly woman from Magdala, near Tiberius, can teach us a thing or two about looking for love in all the wrong places. But alas! She found a Man who gave her the love of a Father and a Brother. In her search for peace, our Lord saw a Saint in the making and he seized the opportunity! Jesus not only took her sins to the Cross but he paid a social price for reaching out to her. Unfortunately, the Savior had to choose between not offending the Pharisees (who were His religious peers and the religious authorities of first century Judaism) and as such, possibly lose the opportunity to save her soul- or -offend the Pharisees by defending her and by making her one of his disciples. He chose the latter. But make no mistake about it- he had to choose!
You see if Jesus winced at offending people- especially His religious peers who disapproved of having anything to do with her –Mary would have never become a Saint. St. Mary Magdalene or even Zachaeus, the short man who climbed the tree to see Jesus, would have never benefited from His divine friendship if, in fact, he avoided the hatred of men at all cost. Unlike many of us today, Jesus ventured off of his religious turf and went out to seek sinners. To be sure, all sorts of sinners traveled many miles to see our Lord. But it can be also said that as the Good Shepherd, he went out looking for his lost sheep too.
Perhaps this is where we, as Catholics, have played it too safe. We wait for the Mary Magdalenes to come to our parish, to our bible studies and to our retreats. Perhaps this is why the twentieth century teachers, evangelists and pastors of the Faith did not enjoy the robust harvest the early Christians enjoyed.
St. Mary Magdalene challenges us to venture into uncharted waters; to get out of our comfort zones and to visit those places that may appear to be unseemly to our tastes.
In the twentieth century many good Catholics have developed the habit of retreating to those places that are familiar to them. The apostolic zeal which once carried us to foreign lands to hazard risks and even dangers, does not burn quite as intensely for us in comparison. As Fulton Sheen said in the 1950’s, during prosperous times Christian pastors tend to visit their own. Staying within the confines of the church building they settle down into a comfortable routine of administrative duties. But in the throes of adversity, it often happens that pastors become shepherds by being "out there" where the people are; tending to their spiritual needs and taking risks they would not have taken during times of prosperity.
America may be at a time when adversity is becoming more pronounced than prosperity; when our challenges are more apparent to us than the promise of a problem-free tomorrow. As such, the people on the streets and those in public square need to see their shepherds, teachers and evangelists.
After all, “out there,” in the streets, is where we find the Mary Magdalenes. And in every prostitute, adulterer, criminal, atheist and anti-Christian bigot is where we need to see a potential St. Mary Magdalene.