Friday, July 22, 2016

An Apostle to Apostles

From the St. Alban's Psalter
Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. In previous years the day has been a memorial, but Pope Francis elevated her celebration to a feast, on par with the apostles, so that she could officially be hailed as “an example and model for every woman in the Church.”

When reading through the Gospels, it’s clear that Mary Magdalene was around in the ministry of Jesus. But when I stop and think about it, it’s amazing just how much of a role she played. She suffered from seven demons (sometimes considered seven men or the seven deadly sins) until Jesus cast them out. She was a single woman travelling around with the disciples. She was there at the crucifixion. She was the first to announce the Resurrection. She was front and center with the apostles, yet not an apostle herself.

Her being there caused trouble for later generations. Who exactly was this woman and what role did she play? Was she an apostle, ordained by Christ and silenced by patriarchy? Was she a prostitute, a red-headed sex pistol following this group of men around? Was she Jesus’ devoted wife (thanks for popularizing that one, Dan Brown)?

Here’s what I do know: Mary Magdalene was a repentant sinner who loved and followed Jesus. She was there in his darkest moments. She kept the faith. She’s a saint, a pretty awesome and important one at that. St. Thomas Aquinas referred to St. Mary Magdalene as “Apostle to the Apostles,” as she was the first witness of the Resurrection and the one to announce the Easter message to the men.

She’s a feminist icon, but not in the way modern feminism wants her to be. She did not set out to smash gender roles; she just followed Jesus. She was a woman of strong faith and devotion. She, and other women like Joanna, were welcome to follow and learn from Jesus, a radical notion in first century Palestine. Even more, she evangelized. One doesn’t have to be a bishop to share the Gospel.

She’s a great role model for women, but she’s also a great role model for all Christians. It doesn’t matter where you started or what people say about you. Love Christ, follow him unto the end, and preach the Good News. St. Gregory the Great said of her, “The one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.”

She's also holding the myrrh she was taking to
Jesus' tomb on Easter Sunday.
On a side note, St. Mary Magdalene is often depicted, especially in the East, with a red egg (settle down, Da Vinci Coders). Legend says that after the Resurrection, she was travelling around, evangelizing. In Rome, she gained an audience with Caesar Tiberius; she wanted to protest that the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and the high priests had executed an innocent man.

It was custom to bring the caesar a gift. Mary Magdalene handed him an egg, representing the rolled away stone, and said, “Christ is risen!” Tiberius obviously doubted her and said, “How could anyone ever rise from the dead? It is as impossible as that white egg to turn red.” At this, the egg turned bright red. Pilate was transferred to Gaul, and “Christ is risen!” became the traditional Easter greeting among Christians. Regardless of historical authenticity, the red Easter egg represents St. Mary Magdalene’s strong evangelization of the Resurrection.

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