For the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, one of the options for the readings at Mass [read here] comes from the Old Testament book called the Song of Songs – which we don’t get to hear from very often. The book can be described as erotic poetry. In it, we hear lyrics of love, the beauty, sacredness of sex in marital union that was appreciated as a metaphor for the Jews of the love that God has for His chosen people. Christians continued to understand that metaphor and understood that in the Sacrament of Marriage, the love of husband and wife was an example of Jesus’ love for the Church (calling the Church the bride and Jesus the bride groom).
Sadly, our hyper-sexualized culture along with heretics who like to take some depravity we witness and experience in the 20th and 21st centuries and like to try to distort things from millennium ago. It has sometimes made Christians awkward about really appreciating, and talking about things like passion, desire, love in our relationship with God (which is yet another manifestation of how evil works in turning something pure and beautiful into something else). As a result, even St. Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus has sometimes been twisted into something romantic or even scandalous. Interesting that those who advance those false narratives would often be described as advancing women’s dignity… but I digress.
But praise God, St. Pope John Paul II and his teaching of “Theology of the Body” has helped Catholics rediscover and embrace the language, the feelings and emotions that the Song of Songs gushes without any hesitation of embarrassment. When coupled with today’s Gospel, the first reading parallels quite beautifully to help appreciate St. Mary Magdalene. The Song of Songs speaks of the bride “at night sought him whom my heart loves” – John describes Mary Magdalene going to the tomb while it was still dark. In the first reading we hear of “watchmen” – who could be another term for angels that we hear of in this Gospel. The Song of Songs describes the bride “searching for him, whom my heart loves.” We hear Mary crying saying “they have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Just seeing these parallels brings an energy and emotion to this Gospel account. These images and language of love heightens the drama of the Easter story bringing out human dimensions in this eternity changing event which transformed human history forever. For example, when Jesus calls Mary by name, what her sight could not recognize, what reason could not comprehend, her heart reveals – the Jesus, in His love for her had given her new life, now Himself is risen from the dead…
St. Mary Magdalene gives us a witness of an essential part of the life of discipleship – the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus. We see examples in the Gospels how from the moment of her conversion till now in His risen body, Mary clings to Christ. Her life has been changed by Him and now she holds nothing back from Him. She perseveres in her faith and devotion to Jesus, even in the face of death – as we find her being one of the last people with Him at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and now being one of the first to arrive at the tomb on Easter Sunday… Even before the resurrection was revealed, walking through the valley of darkness her heart was still crying out the words of today’s psalm – “My Soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God… for you my flesh pines, my soul thirsts…” Jesus rewards Mary’s fidelity and devotion, in entrusting to her this task of great importance, saying “Stop holding on to me… go to my brothers and tell them…” In other words- Now is the time for mission. You are to go and tell the others – so she is identified as “The Apostle to the Apostles” by St. Thomas Aquinas.
The gift of St. Mary Magdalene to us modern day followers is to see what the love of Jesus has done for her. Love that is true, authentic, genuine speaks of eternal things, life-giving, transformational, eternal things. Love which conquers even death itself.