Mary Magdalene: Fiercely Loyal Friend and Disciple

Today the Catholic Church celebrates one of the most maligned women in history: Mary Magdalene, faithful disciple of Jesus.  She was one of the people who followed Jesus wherever he went. One of the few who didn’t run away at the end, but who stayed at the foot the cross until he died. And she is the first person to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection – the appearance that we hear about in today’s Gospel.

It is a beautiful encounter.  In The Twelve Voices of Easter, Woodrow Kroll and Keity Ghormley have a chapter on Mary Magdalene, which among other things, describes that encounter in Mary’s voice.  I share here an excerpt, which you might use as a meditation for today’s Gospel.

…when we arrived at the tomb, we were shocked: The stone was not there, nor were any soldiers to be seen. The stone had been rolled away–taken right out of its trough and tipped over.

As we stood and wondered at what had happened to the stone, two men dressed in dazzling white robes suddenly appeared. These garments were not the togas of Roman soldiers, nor were they the long white robes of the Pharisees. These were not men at all, but angels of God.

We were overcome and we fell to the ground. But the angels reassured us. They reminded us how Jesus had said that He would rise again. One of the angels bid us to look inside the tomb and see for ourselves. I ran as fast as I could to tell Peter and John. When we returned, the other women were gone. We looked in the tomb. Empty. I was convinced that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. The linen garments Joseph had wrapped Him in were lying there, neatly folded in their places. But the tomb was empty.

Peter and John ran from the garden, but I remained. I had nowhere to go. What had happened to the Master? Could it be that He actually did rise from the dead, or had the soldiers taken His body away? My heart was overcome again with sorrow. I just stood there, weeping.

Then I heard a voice behind me ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?” I assumed it was the gardener. “Sir, what have you done with Him?” I asked, wiping my face.

It was fully light, but tears blurred my eyes. I turned, but could not see clearly. Then He called me by my name. “Mariam.” That was my Aramaic name, the name my parents and my friends called me. A gardener would not have spoken Aramaic to me. A Roman would not know my name. I knew that voice. I looked up. I saw Him. It was Jesus. I answered in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” I threw myself at His feet, weeping, laughing, not believing, believing. My Master, my Teacher, my Savior, my Lord. He was standing there alive….

He told me to go tell the others, and I did. Marvelous news. A wonder beyond all wonders. God has accomplished great things in our midst. Jesus is risen from the dead!

Resurrections

Each day during this directed retreat, we directors have a team meeting, and a different person is responsible for leading the prayer and sharing.  Today’s meeting the director with that responsibility shared an excerpt from Joan Chittister’s book In Search of Belief speaking about resurrection and then asked each of us to share an experience of resurrection.

I shared that when I walked past the “lightening tree” on the property, I was reminded of the American Elm on the site of the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. It is called the “Survivor Tree” because it withstood the full force of the attack and there is no earthly reason it is not completely dead and gone. Yet it continues to stand and to grow. I felt its life and its power when I stood touching it during my visit to the site.  For me that was an experience of resurrection.

I don’t have a picture of the Survivor Tree, but here is the OshKosh Jesuit Retreat House “lightening tree” – still putting out leaves each year.

JRH_lightning_tree_Fall2010-0065

As we read in the excerpt from Joan Chittiester before our sharing, “To say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ…who rose from the dead’ is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever.  Every time Jesus rises in our hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again.”

 

 

On the Road to Emmaus

Yesterday, Fr. Dan Griffith and I co-led a session on the Post-Resurrection Appearances at Our Lady of Lourdes.  I discussed John 21 and Fr. Dan discussed Emmaus.  Since I have in the past shared my reflection on Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the beach you can find a podcast of one of my talks on that passage here, I thought I’d share some of the questions Fr. Dan left the parishioners with after talking about Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Do our hearts burn when we read the scripture?  (Do we take the time for Bible study and reading?)

Where to we recognize Christ in the world?

Do we understand Jesus is always with us?  Do we know he has something to say to us?

Do we witness to Christ from a place of faith?

As I’ve said before, I thing there is great value to spending time during the Easter season praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples.  In adddition to Fr. Dan’s questions, here is the two handout we gave parishioners today so further their prayer with the two appearances we talked about.

Death and Life

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.  One hundred sixty-eight people lost their lives that day, in what was, until 9/11, the deadliest terrorist act in the United States.

One one of my visits to the home of my friends Michael and Maria Scaperlanda, they took me  to visit the memorial of the bombing.  Here is the statue that stands across the street from the memorial entrance (which you can see in the background).

Part of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs, on which is placed one chair for each person killed, in the approximate position of where the person would have been in the building at the time of the bombing.  Large chairs for the adults and smaller ones for the children.

As we pray for the victims of terrorist acts….and for those who commit them, there is one other thing we should keep in mind, and that is what we celebrate during this Easter season: that death is not the end.  Although I didn’t take a pictures of it, there is something else on that memorial site I have never forgotten: an American Elm called the Survivor Tree. The tree withstood the full force of the attack that day and there is no earthly reason it is not completely dead and gone. Yet it continues to stand and to grow. I felt its life and its power when I stood touching it during my visit to the site. You can literally feel the life pulsing through it.

Dom Helder Camara writes, “in those most critical, most agonizing of moments, we Christians have no right to forget that we are not born to die; we are born to live. We must hold on to hope, to inner peace, since we have the deep certainty of having been born for Easter, the everlasting Easter Day.”

Here is the reflection my friend Maria Scaperlanda wrote for the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing.  It is worth reading again today.

Via Lucis: The Way of Light

We may be a week past Easter Sunday, but we are still in the Easter season. Since I haven’t mentioned them in a couple of years, I thought this would be a good time to suggest praying the Way of the Light. Although most Catholics are familiar with the Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten devotion that follows the course of Jesus’ passion and death, fewer are familiar with the Way of the Light, the Stations of the Resurrection.

As I wrote once before, these Stations were inspired by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome. The stations combine the events mentioned in the Saint Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create 14 stations, thus paralleling the Stations of the Cross. They emphasize the hopeful aspect of the Christian story and can serve to deepen our appreciation of this Easter season.

Here are the fourteen. My suggestion would be to take one each day, perhaps reflecting on the scriptural passage associated with the event, a number of which I include below. You can also find version of these stations online (e.g. here).

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead

2. The Disciples Find the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:12)

3. Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

4. Jesus Walks with the Dsiciples to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-26)

5. Jesus Reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:27-32)

6. Jesus Appears to His Discipes (John 20:19-20)

7. Jesus Confers on His Disciples the Power to Forgive Sins (John 20:23)

8. Jesus Confirms Thomas in Faith (John 20:24-29)

9. Jesus Appears to His Disciples on the Shore of Lake Galilee (John 21:1-14)

10. Jesus Confers Primacy on Peter (John 21:15-19)

11. Jesus Entrusts His Disciples with a Universal Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)

12. Jesus Ascends into Heaven (Acts 1:6-12)

13. Mary and the Disciples Await the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:13-14)

14. Jesus Sends the Spirit Promised by the Father to his Disciples (Acts 2:1-3)

Jesus Appears to His Mother

In this week following Easter Sunday, the Gospels proclaimed at Mass recount appearances by Jesus to his friends following his resurrection. Today he appeared in the upper room, yesterday he encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and so on.

In Week  Four of the Spiritual Exercises, we spend time praying with these appearances.  The grace of Week Four is to “feel glad and rejoice intensely because Jesus rises in exultation and in great power and glory.” Joseph Tetlow explains it this way:

In his humanness, Jesus triumphed over death. He had embraced everything human without ever acting unfaithful to his Father, to Himself, or to his friends. He had lived his life in uprightness and in joy. Now, He is confirmed eternally in His own joy – to be with the children of humankind….

This is the Jesus Christ who lives now. If you do not come to know Him both full of joy and exuberantly sharing his happiness, then you will not really know Him at all. You have asked in past days to know Jesus and to love Him and to follow where he goes. It is into fullness of life and complete human joy that he goes! If you do not follow him into his joy, you will ultimately find it hard to believe that you are following him at all.

The first post-resurrection appearance St. Ignatius invites us to pray with in Week Four is one that has no scriptural basis: Jesus’ appearance to his mother. St. Ignatius writes in his book on the Exercises:

He appeared to the Virgin Mary. Though this is not mentioned explicitly in the Scripture it must be considered as stated when Scripture says that He appeared to many others. For Scripture supposes that we have understanding, as it is written, “Are you also without understanding?”

Or, as I paraphrased it more colloquially, Ignatius says: Let’s be real, here. Who do you think Jesus would appear to in one of his first appearances? Of course he went to see his mother. It is impossible to imagine otherwise.

It is a good prayer exericise you may want to try sometime this week in between praying with the post-resurrection appearances described in the Gospels. Ignatius invites us to imagine Jesus coming to Mary…to stay and hear what they say and what they do. Let them share with you what they experienced together. Eperience Jesus consoling his mother. And be with them in their joy.

The Resurrection Process

On this Easter Monday, it is good to reflect on this poem written by Brazilian theologian and writer Leonardo Boff.  It is titled The Resurrection Process.

He penetrates the entire cosmos,
pervades the whole world,
and makes his presence felt in every human being.
The resurrection is a process that began with Jesus
and that will go on until it embraces all creation.
Wherever an authentically human life is growing in the world,
wherever justice is triumphing over the instincts of domination,
wherever grace is winning out over the power of sin,
wherever human beings are creating more
fraternal mediations in the social life together,
wherever love is getting the better of selfish interests,
and wherever hope is resisting the lure of cynicism or despair,
there the process of resurrection
is being turned into a reality.

A Foretaste of Our Bodily Resurrection

Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a day that commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay.

For a long time, this was not a feast that I really appreciated. One of the difficulties for me is that the “Mary, Queen of Heaven” image that tends to be associated with this feast is not an image of Mary I relate to. When I see pictures depicting Mary’s Assumption or Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven they bear no resemblance to the Mary of my prayers. Mary, the woman with the strength to say Yes to what must have seemed an insane and frightening proposition that she give birth to God. Mary, the woman at Cana who told the servants to do as Jesus asked. Mary, who stayed with Jesus til the end and then took the dead body of her son in her arms. Mary, who stayed with the apostles after the death, doubtless comforting (mothering) them in their loss of Jesus.

But what this feast does is give us a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Mary’s experience is an embodiment of the reality of our Resurrection.

To be sure, Jesus resurrection is the true victory over death – that which gives creates the possibility of our own resurrection and ultimate full union with God. But with Jesus there is always the nagging thought, “Well sure, he was God, of course it worked for him. He may have been fully human, but he was also fully divine from the get go.”

But Mary was human, like us. And Mary’s assumption into heaven, body and soul, symbolizes for us the reality of what will happen for all of – resurrection of the body into full union with God. You can phrase it various ways as a matter of dogma. But her experience is, in simplest terms, a foretaste of our own.

Praying with the Resurrected Jesus

The Resurrection of Jesus, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, as faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the new Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross. Christ’s resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself during his earthly life.”

As important as Jesus’ passion and death are to who we are as Christians, it is the Resurrection that is the crowning truth of our faith, and we need to internalize what it means to be a resurrection people.

Two weeks ago we celebrated Easter. But we are still in the Easter season, a season celebrate until Pentecost. And we are meant to use that period to reflect on what Jesus’ resurrection means in our lives.

Yesterday I offered a reflection at Our Lady of Lourdes on praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. I talked about the importance of praying with the Resurrected Jesus, made some suggestions for prayer, and then focused some comments on the Jesus’ appearance to the disciples recorded in the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel. After my talk, we had some wonderful sharing about which appearances speak most powerfully to the participants and about what the Resurrection of Jesus means to them.

You can listen to the reflection I gave here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 26:11. I distributed two handouts to those present with some reflection questions and suggested reading. You can access those here.

Praying With the Resurrection Through Poetry

In addition to praying with the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, you might consider reflecting on some poems with resurrection themes as a way to deepen your prayer during this Easter season.

I often encourage people to pray with poetry. Pope Benedict expressed well why poetry can be so moving in our prayer in one of his general audiences. He spoke to the people that day about artistic expression as the “way of beauty,” saying

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another – before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music – to have experienced a deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter – a piece of marble, or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds – but something far greater, something that “speaks,” something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul….

Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, opened to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward….

[T]here are artistic experssions that are true roads to God, the supreme Beauty – indeed, they are a help to us in growing in our relationship with Him in prayer.

You may have some of your own favorite prayers with resurrection themes, but here are a couple you might reflect on:

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection, Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Resurrection, John Donne

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in Thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day.

The Death of Death, Scott Cairns

Put fear aside. Now
that He has entered
into death on our behalf,
all who live
no longer die
as men once died.
That ephemeral occasion
has met its utter end.
As seeds cast to the earth, we
will not perish,
but like those seeds
shall rise again—the shroud
of death itself having been
burst to tatters
by love’s immensity.

Remember: it is still Easter!