Apostle to the Apostles

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, follower of Jesus and the first person the Gospels record seeing and proclaiming the risen Christ. Today’s Gospel from John records the encounter between the two outside of the tomb.

Why did Pope Gregory identify Mary as a prostitute in 591? Why did it take so many centuries for the Church to abandon the idea that she was? I don’t have answers to these questions, though we can all make some guesses.

Whatever was mistakenly thought (and still sometimes preached) about her, Mary Magdalene is a model of apostleship and discipleship. In his 1988 Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II wrote:

The Gospel of John emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. At first she thinks he is the gardener; she recognizes him only when he calls her by name: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God’. Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

Hence she came to be called “the apostle of the Apostles.” Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men. One can say that this fulfilled the words of the Prophet: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”

Today we celebrate Mary Magdalene, friend of Jesus and a model of apostolic witness. And we remember that, as was Mary, each of us is called by name and commissioned to proclaim the resurrection.

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Cure the Sick, Raise the Dead, Cleanse Lepers, Drive Out Demons

I arrived at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh last yeserday afternoon for my 8-day retreat. The drive from the Twin Cities was anything but relaxing – the combination of traffic from road construction early on and a wrong turn near the tail end of the trip added considerably to the normal driving time. But as I drove onto the retreat house grounds, I could feel all of the tension and fatigue of the drive fade away. It is good to be here.

At our opening Mass last evening, the Gospel was the commissioning of the apostles in Chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus instructs the twelve to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand and further to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”

During his homily, Fr. Tom Schloemer (who will be my director during this retreat) talked about what those insructions might look like for us. He interpreted the command to cleanse lepers as addressing our call to ministrer to those who are the outcast and the marginalized. The command to drive out demons as inviting us to try to help people with the various addictions they face. The command to raise the dead as a call to encourage those who cannot see the good in themselves. The command to heal the sick to bring courage to those who are weak.

Fr. Tom’s particular interpretations are not the only ones and may not be the ones that resonate with you. More important than the specific examples he gave is the reminder to us to focus on what the Gospel passages we read are saying to us in our lives. It would be easy to read this passage as simply an instruction to the twelve to whom Jesus spoke that day – after all, most of us don’t have the ability to lay hands on people and heal them and we dont’ tend to see a lot of lepers as we go about our daily tasks.

The invitation is to sit with each of these instructions and discern how we are each being asked to carry out that command. What does it look like for us to heal the sick…to drive out demons…to cleanse lepers…..to raise the dead? How are we meant to fulfill our commission to proclaim the kingdom?