This past Sunday was the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. My good friend Jenn Reyes Lay asked me to co-preach with her at our church community’s two masses. Here is the text of our preaching. Imagine our two female voices weaving in and out of the text. If you would rather just listen to the audio, you can do so HERE.
July 21st and 22nd, 2018, The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Sts. Clare and Francis Ecumenical Catholic Communion
Today we are celebrating and honoring the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala or Mary the Magdalene. What are some of the first things that come to your mind when you hear of Mary Magdalene? Take just a minute to share with a neighbor near you what you think of or what comes to mind.
So who was Mary Magdalene? It is a common misconception that she was a prostitute, a repentant sinner, or the woman caught in adultery that Jesus saved, but that is actually not true. Church tradition, art, popular myth and a patriarchal Church and culture have conflated stories and biblical characters to create a woman that is simply not the Mary Magdalene of the gospels.
Here’s what we DO know about Mary Magdalene, from the four canonical gospels: She was a woman, healed by Jesus, who became so devoted to him and his cause that she remains at the crucifixion, cares for him in his death and at his burial, and is the first to witness the resurrection, commissioned by Christ to spread the good news not just to the disciples, but to the world. This is why the Church has given her the title, “apostle to the apostles.”
Today in conjunction with this Feast of St. Mary Magdalene we will be offering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. We chose this day because Mary Magdalene offers us a beautiful model of how our own personal healing opens us up to support the healing of others. And we could certainly use more healing in our world today.
The Evangelist Luke, in one of the only scriptural accounts prior to the Passion accounts where the Magdalene is named, tells us that Mary is “freed of ‘seven demons’”. This is fascinating to me. I am a practitioner of yoga and a yoga therapist. In yoga therapy, we look at whole-body healing, tuning into the seven energy centers of the body, also known in the ancient Indian tradition of yoga as chakras. The chakras are like wheels in the body, turning energy through the body constantly. Each center corresponds to a core part of being human– grounding & rootedness; sexuality & creativity; will-power; love & service; speaking truth and resonance; inner wisdom & knowledge; union with all that is, the Divine. When all 7 of these wheels are turning, humming with life and flowing freely, a person is considered healthy. They are living into and integrating all aspects of their humanness, in balance and harmony. Energy flows from the heavens to the earth, and from the earth to the heavens, in the human person. In chakra-speak, this is often referred to as the rainbow bridge. In this way, every human is thought to be standing between heaven and earth, potentially a living Incarnation of Divine Life. This is what Jesus was, what he lived and embodied in wholeness. Salvation actually means to be healthy, integrated, whole. Jesus modeled this for us!
Now, most of us are not humming in this way, energy flowing freely and perfectly. Most of us have had pain in our life– emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. We have encountered obstacles– in ourselves and in the world– that have blocked some of these energy centers, kept us from living fully into our humanity. We experience pain in the body, illness and disease, soreness and anxiety, the wounds of social injustices like racism and sexism, depression, feeling unable at times to function. Or sometimes it’s simply an energetic dullness– we know there’s a fullness out there, an aliveness that we strive for.
When I imagine into this encounter between the Magdalene and the Christ, I imagine Mary so much like us– not there, wanting so badly to live a full life, but just very much in the world, encountering blockages and difficulties. Yet she meets the Christ– this person just radiating at every level, so full of life and love, and in an instant he looks at her, sees her in her full life and vitality and BOOM– she is healed of those blocks and obstacles in her seven energy centers. She steps into her full humanity, mirrored by him. She is converted in the truest sense of the word, transformed!! So of course, she gives her whole life over to him. She already has. It’s a choiceless choice. Their hearts resonate with the other, at the center of the rainbow bridge that teems with the life of heaven and earth.
This idea of becoming fully human is central to the Christian mission, the Christian path. Jesus is the Incarnate one and he came to teach us all how to be HUMAN. After his death, he urged his disciples to do the same. It is no coincidence that Mary was the one who was sent, first, to urge the disciples to continue onto this path of healing, of life, of love and of justice laid out by the Christ. She experienced it in her entire being, devoted her life to it, so of course would be trusted to carry on, to continue to embody, this central Christian mission.
In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which obviously did not make it into the official canon of the Church, but is nevertheless an important source of wisdom for us, it says, “Then Mary arose, embraced them all and began to speak to her brothers: ‘Do not remain in sorrow and doubt for his Grace will guide you and comfort you. Instead, let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us for this. He is calling upon us to become fully human [Anthropos].’ Thus Mary turned their hearts toward the Good, and they began to discuss the meaning of the Teacher’s words.” (“The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” Jean-Yves Leloup, translator and commentator)
As Mary makes clear, this fullness of humanity is not just for her, not just for Jesus. We are all called to be so radiant, so alive with divine-meets-human reality. We too are called to live and move and have our being in the heart of the Heart. When we live with this awakeness and aliveness in our bodies, seen and named in great love by the Christ, we cannot help but become healers in the world; we are so totally transformed that we cannot help but work for transformation in the world.
So what gets in the way of living into this call? There are many obstacles that block the flow of God’s love and life in our lives and in the world today: fear, prejudice, ignorance, ego, hurt, trauma, etc. Just as our body is a living organism invited into the fullness of life God create us for, we are also a small part of a larger organism: the whole of creation. There are many ways that we create walls around our own heart, that cuts us off from the flow of life, the flow of the Spirit – separating us not only from other humans but also from the living organism of creation. Think about the body and what happens when the flow of blood is cut off to a certain part – it dies! There are literal and metaphorical walls we create as societies and countries, that cut off the flow of God’s liberating love. Creation as one living organism, cannot be fully alive while we build more walls that keep us divided and cut off from one another and the flow of God’s love. It isn’t good for our personal or collective health.
Mary Magdalene offers us an example of how to continue the work of Jesus as one who knows his light and love flowing freely through her and welcomes that presence of life to lead her prophetic ministry, even when her closest friends and fellow apostles disagree with her, deny her prophetic vision, and even seek to silence her. Many might have even labeled her a “nasty woman”, but “nevertheless, she persisted.”
We have many women in our Catholic tradition and in our personal lives who embody many characteristics of Mary Magdalene for us. We heard in our Gospel that Mary recognized the resurrected Jesus when he called her name. We invite you now, as you listen to each of these descriptions of Mary Magdalene, to call out the names of women you know or have been inspired by, so that we can hear them and know the presence of the risen Christ who lives in and through them.
Migdala means fortress temple, watchtower, stronghold, and elevated pulpit in the in Aramaic and Hebrew. What women have been a fortress or stronghold for you during difficult times?
The gospels name Mary of Magdala first and foremost as one of the women who funded Jesus, allowing the good-news movement to extend from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. What women have supported you with resources to carry out your good work in the world?
In the gospels, Mary and other women in the movement “ministered to [Jesus].” The Greek word diakonos means minister. What women have been diakonos and ministered to you?
Mary of Magdala stood with many women until the bitter end, witnessing Jesus die on the cross. She with other women went to the tomb with myrrh and entered into the rituals of mourning and burial. What women have accompanied you in times of pain or mourning?
In the gospels, Mary – either alone or with other women – is the first to experience the Resurrected Jesus. And she is commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the others the good news of his Resurrection. What women have been bearers of Good News in your life?
For all these women named and unnamed who live into these callings every day…We give thanks and praise for this cloud of witnesses that accompany us.
How can we follow these and other brave, faithful women to open ourselves up to become channels of God’s love and liberation? These are trying times and we need people living into their full humanness, we need channels of God’s love to flow through our communities, our families, our country. So as we transition into the Sacrament of healing, think about where are the hurts, the blockages that need to be healed in your life, in your family, in our community? Invite that healing into your body, as a microcosm of the whole. Sit with it after you are anointed. If you receive the healing oils on your hands, consider placing your hands on an area of your body that feels tense, restricted, or tight. In your anointing pray for openness and healing in the areas you need to be an open channel of God’s love and liberation.
Modern Mary Magdalene Icon by Robert Lenz