On Saturday, July 22nd the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. This has been true for many, many years. What makes it news worthy is that Pope Francis raised the July 22 memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast on the church's liturgical calendar. Now, as with the other named apostles, she is recognized as “the Apostle to the Apostles”.
Unfortunately, it has taken centuries – two millennia- for Mary of Magdala’s reputation to be cleared. We have all seen paintings, read novels, heard preaching about Mary as a prostitute, a fallen woman, a temptress. She has been mistaken as the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) which precedes the story in Luke 8:1-3 and the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus feet with oil (Matt 26:6-13). We do know that Mary of Magdala was at the foot of the cross in every Gospel and was also at the tomb. The Gospel of John tells us that Mary was the first witness to the Resurrected Jesus who sent her back to the other disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord”. Thus her title, “Apostle to the Apostles.”
So why did Mary of Magdala get so misrepresented? Mary of Magdala is first named in Luke 8. “Accompanying him (Jesus) were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” In the first century, “seven demons” would have meant she was cured of a very serious illness not that she was sinful. Not understanding many illnesses at that time, the community believed it was the work of evil spirits. Then during the time of Pope Gregory the Great, Mary’s identity as a public repentant sinner became official.
But today, we remember with joy and gratitude how Jesus called both men and women of his time and still today to be witnesses of his resurrection, of his love and mercy, of his trust in each of us to bring about the reign of God. In the article for the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the congregation, wrote that in celebrating "an evangelist who proclaims the central joyous message of Easter," St. Mary Magdalene's feast day is a call for all Christians to "reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.” Amen. Alleluia!
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