Mary Magdalene

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Mary Magdalene. Is there another woman about whom so much misinformation has been spread throughout the years?

For the longest time, the Church put forth the idea that Mary Magdalene was the adulterous woman who Jesus saves from being stoned, and she is often portrayed that way in films and in art. Yet, biblical scholars have argued that there is no evidence linking Mary Magdalene either with the woman saved from being stoned or with the sinful woman who anoints Jesus when he dines at the home of the Pharisee.

On another front are those who claim some version of: Jesus and Mary had an illicit love relationship, Jesus and Mary were really married, Jesus and Mary had a child together, and so on. There is equally no canonical support for this view.

What do the scriptures tell us about Mary? We are told that Jesus cast out some demons from her and that she followed Christ throughout his ministry. There are several Gospel references to people who were with Jesus during his travels, and Mary is one of those listed. Following Jesus, listening to his teaching, watching him perform miracles all had an effect: Mary clearly grew in love of Jesus and in faith and courage. We know this because while Jesus is hanging on the cross, and so many of his disciples run away, Mary is one of the people who stayed. Mary remains faithful to the end.

Today’s Gospel reading has Mary going to the tomb on the third morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus. When she finds the tomb empty, she goes and brings Peter and John back with her. They then leave, and she stays – looking everywhere for Jesus, asking everyone where they have taken his body. In staying, she becomes the first person to experience the resurrected Christ – Jesus appears to her and calls her by name.

The story based on what we are told in the scripture is a lot less exciting than the alternative readings. “Adulterer saved from mob in the 11th hour by Jesus” and “Love Child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene reared in secret” make for much sexier headlines. But the “real” story is one of authentic discipleship.

It is also a great story on which to end an 8-day retreat. (My retreat ended with Liturgy and breakfast this morning.) At the end of the passage, Jesus sends Mary back to tell the others what she has seen. And isn’t that precisely what Jesus does with us at the end of a retreat. Come away and rest a while, yes. But then, go and tell the world what you have seen.