Today we celebrate a great and extremely interesting Saint, Mary Magdalene.
A woman of considerable mystery and controversy, her exact identity is not clear. Is she the same as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus? Is she the unnamed sinner who anointed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair? Was she a prostitute?
Her name brings to mind repentance, conversion, and liberation from evil. One of the few clear statements about her in scripture says that she was exorcised of seven demons, and after that she followed Christ on His journeys.
We also know with certainty that she was present at the Crucifixion and that she was the first person to receive and announce the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection. Dominicans regard her as a patroness of our Order, for she was the preacher to the preachers and the apostle to the apostles.
Even with such scarce evidence, we can conclude that St. Mary Magdalene had a remarkable and dramatic spiritual journey, a profound conversion.
While some might take umbrage with identifying her as a great sinner, the mention of her possession by seven demons suggests that for some period of time her life was far from saintly. As a woman who has in the past has lived dangerously close to the demonic, I have long identified closely with St. Mary Magdalene. When talking about my experiences with fellow Catholics, I have occasionally been met with appalled and scandalized responses, a very un-Catholic recoiling from my past as if it were still my present and my future, as if there were no such thing as repentance, conversion, and salvation of sinners. And I have to admit that I am sometimes the most appalled of all, nearly tempted to doubt my own salvation.
But just as St. Mary Magdalene cannot be defined by her past errors, neither can I be, nor can anybody who turns their face to Christ and opens their heart to His saving grace! The only sense in which we are defined by our past is that the great darkness which is behind us makes the transforming light of Christ gleam all the more radiantly! Where sin abounded, grace abounds all the more, as St. Paul said. And as St. Augustine said, every Saint has a past, and ever sinner has a future. (Sts. Paul and Augustine should know very well, for they too are well-known as repentant and converted sinners.)
What greater grace could there be than to encounter the resurrected Christ in person? And what greater future for a sinner than to announce that Good News for the first time in human history? Those are the reasons we honor the great Saint, Mary Magdalene, and because she who was once Satan’s possession became Christ’s, preacher to the preachers, apostle to the apostles, and a glorious model of hope, repentance, and conversion for all of us sinners.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!