Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mary of Magdala: 2016

By Alice Ann O’Neill, SC

Mary Magdalene: Disciple of Jesus! Apostle to the Apostles! Myrrh-Bearer! Prophet! Witness! Mary is remembered in many ways by Christians but perhaps her best title is Friend of Jesus!

Mary came from a town called Magdala, which was located near the modern day Israeli town of Migdal. Mary’s town of Magdala was on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee (now the Sea of Tiberias) with the hills of Mount Arbel as its backdrop. Incidentally, Mary’s ancient town is currently being unearthed through a large archeological project ( Magdala was near to Capernaum, the epicenter of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Where Mary came from is the reason for one of her new titles, Mary of Magdala, instead of referring to her as Mary Magdalene (meaning reformed prostitute). 

I recently read The Gospel of Mary of Magdala by Harvard Divinity school professor Karen King. This book is not exactly “spiritual reading” because you need to wade through it like a large academic article but it certainly was a fascinating story. I have often wondered why the writings of the women at the beginning of Christianity are not extant for us to learn from and grow spiritually through their perspective. Since I am a reformed conspiracy theorist, I will not mention that I had a theory that these women’s writings do exist and are locked away deep in the basement of the Vatican. The Holy Spirit helped a few words from Mary of Magdala to surface a few decades ago.  Maybe Pope Francis can go on a walk in the Vatican’s sub-sub basement someday and find some more writings for us.

King’s book begins with a full translation of the extant words from the scrolls that were discovered in Egypt. Here are a few excerpts which spoke to me:

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! Acquire my peace within yourselves! For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it.”

After the resurrection, Jesus said to Mary, “I saw you. You did not see me nor did you know me. You mistook the garment I wore for my true self. And you did not recognize me.”

Mary of Magdala said, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us true Human beings.”

Peter said, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don’t because we haven’t heard them.”

Mary of Magdala said, “From this hour on…I will receive rest in silence.”

When I professed my perpetual vows as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, the Gospel I chose for the mass was the Resurrection when Jesus meets Mary of Magdala in the garden outside His tomb (John 20: 11-18). Jesus says Mary’s name and in that moment, she recognizes Jesus. When my mother calls out my name in a large, noisy crowd, I recognize her voice. I have heard her voice since I was in her womb. I know her. When my dear, close friend calls me by my name, I always smile then turn around and speak to her. I love to hear her say my name because she knows me – the true me. I love to remember through the Resurrection story that Jesus knows me deeply and intimately and calls me by my name in every moment. My hope is that in calling out Jesus’ name in prayer, that moment by moment through my life, I will know Jesus more deeply and intimately like His friend, Mary of Magdala.

This painting by Akiane is how I imagine Jesus looked
when he said, "Mary!" in the garden outside the tomb.

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