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James Martin, S.J.July 22, 2009

A reflection for today's Feast of St. Mary Magdalene for Living with Christ.

Thanks to The Da Vinci Code, millions of readers and moviegoers suspect (falsely) that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus.  Thanks to a misguided sermon by Pope Gregory I in the sixth century, many of Christians believe that she was a "sinful woman" or even a prostitute.  Most likely she was none of those things. 

It's a scandal that St. Mary Magdalene is still seen not as a powerful church leader but as a "fallen woman."  It's just as scandalous if she is considered important only if she was married to Jesus—a new kind of sexism.

None of this is surprising.  The raising up of relatively few women in the early church--most notably the Virgin Mary--occurred at the same time that the contributions of almost every other woman in Jesus's circle were forgotten, ignored or suppressed.

The woman from Magdala needs to be restored to her proper place in church history.  Just from the evidence of the Gospels, Mary enjoyed an exalted standing.  She was not only the first person to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection, but also the one who proclaimed the Easter news to the disciples, including the “official” leaders of the early church--Peter, James, Andrew and the rest.  Thus her traditional title: "Apostle to the apostles."

What does Mary say to us today?  For women, of course, she is a vivid model of discipleship.  What was it like for her to exercise leadership in a patriarchal society?  Most likely it was doubly hard: the task itself was difficult, and the fact that a woman was doing it probably earned her contempt.  Today women are exercising more and more leadership roles in the church--in parishes, schools, hospitals, retreat centers and chanceries.  Mary Magdalene can be their model.

For men, too, Mary shows that following Christ transcends everything--including the world's expectations and concern for your good name.  Nothing should get in the way of our relationship with Jesus.  Mary Magdalene knew this. 

She prays for us that we may know the same.

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14 years 9 months ago

There is tradition which suggests that she was the sister of Lazarus, and that she did perfume his feet in preparation for burial--not because of any sexual sin, but because she realized that the person she was married to really is God and that she was ashamed that her faith was incomplete.  Additionally, a married relationship explains why Jesus would say "don't cling to me" after his resurrection, since by his death the marital bond was broken.
The folks in the Jesus seminar suggest that the marriage at Cana was theirs.  I think it is more likely that he was the presiding Rabbi and the groom was likely John the Evangelist, or some other relative - which is why his mother would be involved in the miracle.
Scripture also shows that for a time, Jesus was a working Rabbi in Caphernum.  Traditionally, working Rabbis were and are married.  If he was married to anyone, it would have been Mary Magdalene.
This is not to support The Da Vinci Code, which is a bastardization of the Roma legend of Sarah Cali, who is reputed to be the daughter of Jesus and Mary and who is reputed to have died a virgin - so the legend of the Merovingian kings is impossible.

14 years 9 months ago
Mary was more than a leader of the early Church. She is the critical witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. At the end of Matthew's Passion narrative is this sentence "But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb." Matthew, 27:61. We cant know how long Mary Magdalene stayed there staring at His tomb, but you get the feeling that the location of that tomb was etched in her soul. She was the one who knew for certain where Jesus was buried - the others had fled or left. So she was the one who could lead the others to the tomb on Sunday morning and act as a witness to the empty tomb. She saw where He was buried - the male apostles did not. Without her and her loyalty to Jesus, there could be no proof of the Resurrection. That is why Jesus appeared to her first - He knew she was the one who remained to the end and the only one who would be believed when she said the tomb was empty. No one would doubt that she had the right place. The Church has done a disservice to her.  
14 years 9 months ago
Fr. Martin said: "The raising up of relatively few women in the early church-most
notably the Virgin Mary-occurred at the same time that the
contributions of almost every other woman in Jesus's circle were
But, it was exactly during this period and continuing into the middle ages that Mary Magdalen was called Apostle to the Apostles and her body was venerated in Southern France.  Yes, she was mistaken as a prostitute, but this made her patron saint of penitents, that is, reformed prostitutes, and did not hurt her cult in the middle ages.  Surely, you read Katherine Jansen's great book on her?  If not, you would like it. 
Jansen says the Magdalen has been demoted in modern times.
Thanks for this reflection.  I love saints too.
14 years 9 months ago

I don’t think she was mistaken for a prostitute, rather her reputation, I believe, was later slandered in order to put her in her place, at the bottom. I don’t think that she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple when she saw the stone removed. That add-on was another swipe at her position.
If references to the (male) disciples and (my) brothers are removed; if the social dynamic of Mary having to report to the men is removed, this gospel becomes the telling of an intimate encounter. Its not important whether or not she was the wife of Jesus, any discussion on that matter is just speculation.
his is a wonderful story, though, …her going to the tomb in the early hours, discovering His body missing and desperate to find Him. Widows and widowers, parents who’ve lost a child, they can re-tell this story better than any.  The absolute heartbreak and desolation, sick with grief.  One can understand, now, why she mistook Jesus for someone else, why she didn’t recognized Him right away.
I imagine Jesus speaking in soft tones when He asked why she was weeping …for Whom she was looking, speaking gently because He loved her.
There’s a lesson in discovering their relationship in this story.  The words have to be soft; Mary lost someone she loved very much.  “Mary!” had to have been spoken very tenderly.  Jesus is now risen, is now the Christ, is now the High Priest and Mary acknowledges that, very humbly in her reply “Rabbouni.”  This is a great love story.  Grieving takes some time, its hard to accept that there comes a time when you do have to let go.  This relationship had to mature beyond a physical yearning bracketed by time and place to a greater love.  Mary Magdalene witnessed the resurrection, she saw for Whom we hope; she knows Him as the Risen Christ, as we yearn to know Him.


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