The Woman from Magdala
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.