22 July 2009. Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
Exodus 16, 1-15; Psalm 78; John 20, 1-18
I find it a great tragedy that many Christians are not as attracted to Mary Magdalene as other saints. The reason is that she is traditionally associated with prostitutes or with the sexually promiscuous. This unfortunate association defocuses on the true worth of this lady who have been part of the life of Jesus and his disciples. It is to this very sinner that Jesus first appeared to; the first disciple who witnessed the resurrection. And therefore we cannot talk of the Easter appearances without mentioning Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene holds a special place in my spiritual life. Her life gives me much hope. You see, Mary Magdalene knows how sinful she is, how to repent and beg for forgiveness, and how to continue to hope in the Lord. But most importantly, Mary Magdalene knows how to receive God’s forgiveness in faithfulness and service. It is in Mary that I find great hope. It is in Mary that I see what Easter means.
Let me explain. First, I am very much aware that I am a sinner. I know my deceits and my failures; I am aware of how I have hurt others and the Lord whom I love. Oftentimes, when I pray I am filled with remorse when faced with my own sinfulness; and often ask the Lord why He has called me to minister to all of you. I am definitely not worthy of the task. In fact, when I hear confessions, I feel that what I say to the penitent, I should also tell myself. In other words, every time I pray, a large part of me dies, and then when it is over, I stand up and promise to the Lord again and again that I will give my best shot, that I will try again to become holier and to become a better priest. I remember what Fr. Jojo Magadia SJ said about Easter:
“Easter is not about not dying. It is about dying first, and then rising, and that is what Easter is for each one of us. It is not about not sinning, or not doing wrong, or not hurting others, and not giving a damn about others, or not making mistakes. It is about being all these, and moving forward again, and giving our very best shot again, and again, and again.” –Fr. Jose Magadia SJ
Second, the experience of forgiveness and being given another chance by God is always an overwhelming experience for me. Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed by Jesus’ forgiveness that in her gratitude totally gave herself as one of Jesus’ women disciples. Her love of Jesus knows no bounds. We see that forgiveness is also part of the Resurrection event. The disciples who had forsaken Jesus, where not abandoned by God. In our human estimations, these disciples do not deserve trust again. And yet, they received from Mary Magdalene and the women, the Good News despite their unfaithfulness.
Bishop Chito Tagle of Imus writes, “to forgive someone is to say, “I hope.” To not forgive is to say, “I have lost hope in God’s capacity to renew you.” Forgiveness is an act of hope in God to work wonders in the person. To forgive is to be able to say, “God’s mercy and compassion is more powerful than all your failings and I have hope in God’s mercy and compassion.” Mary gives us that example: the sinner becomes the saint. Along with her, we see the likes of Augustine and Ignatius: the greatest sinners are the greatest saints.
Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ, the First Filipino Provincial of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus described a Jesuit as “a sinner yet called by God to be a companion of Jesus.” It is important to see that there is no denial of sinfulness, but there is an emphasis on the mission given by God — sinners YET CALLED. We should not be stuck by our sinfulness, or our low self-esteem, or else we will not be able to move forward. I guess it is true with Mary Magdalene. In the Resurrection, the women have been given the task of bringing the Good News to the disciples of Jesus. The women who were second-class citizens, properties of men, have been chosen by God to become intermediaries of the faith of men, those to whom the world has given power — a reverse social order. Mary Magdalene is considered as “the apostle to the apostles,” being the first to proclaim the central Christian message, “He is risen!” She is part of the beautiful history of women that is rooted in the Resurrection. It is to Mary that the Lord first appeared.
And so as we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, we celebrate with joy and hope in our hearts. We remember that Easter is about becoming forgiven sinners and bearers of hope. It is about dying and rising again and again and again.