Mary of Magdala: A Model of Faith

By Rev. Ronald P. Raab, C.S.C.

The Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene on July 22. We proclaim the gospel, John 20:1-2, 11-18, at Eucharist, and we listen to the story of Mary approaching the tomb of Jesus and discovering his body was missing. She ran back to tell Simon, Peter, and John that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Her fear overflows in this gospel, and we feel her concern about what is next for her and those who loved Jesus.

She remained a follower of Jesus and not a bystander. She immersed her life in his prophetic life. Jesus healed her of seven demons. She understood his generous presence firsthand. Mary Magdalene turned her life around after Jesus healed her. After he died, she journeyed to the tomb to find rest. She entered the chaos accompanying his suffering, his death, and burial. As morning came, she desired to view his body. She pondered all the disciples had gone through, losing their master and teacher. She wanted to say her goodbyes in the morning light.

Mary of Magdala encounters two angels. Her tears tell us a story of love, grief, and letting go. Then, Jesus appears and asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” These two questions evoke another turn of faith for Mary. She recognizes him. She knows him not only by sight but deep within her heart. Jesus tells her to flee at once to the disciples and tell them what she had seen with her own eyes.

Her firsthand account of Jesus’ death and resurrection gives her the name “Disciple to the Disciples.” She understands that what she has experienced must be shared. She is a witness to and proclaimer of Christ. Her testimony has formed followers of Christ for centuries, and her witness gives us all courage. An encounter with Jesus Christ also compels us to reveal the love and integrity we experience in the empty tomb.

Mary of Magdala models faith for every Christian. Everyone is called to show others that they have encountered Christ in prayer. Mary’s tears cleanse us all. Baptism challenges us to live our faith and not to be a spectator. We are called to share God’s divine intimacy with all we meet. Jesus’ question to Mary, “Whom are you looking for?” may very well become a source of prayer for all Christians. The one we look for is Christ, who opens the miracle of reconciliation and healing, love and commitment for us.

I celebrated 40 years as a Holy Cross priest this past April. I have witnessed Christ in Indiana, Illinois, California, Oregon, and Colorado parishes. Ministry in Holy Cross has taken me to various communities to serve marginalized people. The one thing that always remains is that I do not accomplish tasks, ministries, jobs, and services, without fully encountering the love Christ has for me and those I serve. My prayer has compelled me to offer Masses, sacraments, and to help people know and follow Christ. Christ’s compassion shows me how to minister beyond my expertise and to listen to the pain of other people in need. I find this love daily in my heart, in my prayer, and the fidelity of the Church. Mary of Magdala is a sincere model of prayer and mission for me. She constantly reminds me to chase the dreams Christ has for me, and to tell others of what I have found and encountered. Love is the key to prayer and service. Mary reminds all of us of the way toward love, well beyond the empty tomb.

I have learned to follow Christ from many encounters with people. Some years ago, I met a woman who was in recovery from alcohol. She was lost. She hoped for sobriety but also something more beautiful than waking up every morning with a hangover and memory loss. She and I had many serious conversations about her past and the steps she could take to build a new future. She began to encounter scripture in an entirely new way. Faith began to open up for her. Mary of Magdala became a mentor and guide for her. She held on to the fact that Jesus cured Mary of seven demons and hoped Jesus would do the same for her. She so desired to be free of the darkness of her addiction and the overwhelming grief she had carried in her heart from past mistakes and family miseries. She also held the grief of losing her teenage son to a drug overdose.

On one Holy Saturday, she was received into the Church. It was a glorious night for her. She had left so much of her old life behind and looked forward to where Jesus Christ would lead her. As she approached the baptismal font, she rolled up the sleeve on her left arm. She revealed a full-sleeve tattoo of Saint Mary of Magdala. She had been preparing for the tattoo all the time she was preparing for baptism. I was filled with joy as I viewed the colorful image of her mentor.

Faith in the Risen Christ takes us into many beautiful places. Faith gives hope to people who need the security to live one day at a time. Faith opens doors and compels us into the world. Mary Magdalene models the unexpected journey to Christ Jesus and offers us the courage to spread the word to every corner of the world.

Fr. Ron penciled this simple image of Mary Magdalene several years ago based on an icon. His inspiration was a legend of Mary from the early Church. The legend is that after the Resurrection, Mary went to Pilate to tell him that she had seen the Lord, that he had risen from the dead. There was a basket of eggs near Pilate. Pilate said he would believe such a story if the eggs turned red. Mary picked up an egg, and it turned red in her hand. She is often portrayed holding a red egg in many icons from across the ages. The legend tells the beauty of Mary’s fidelity to witness to the Risen Christ.


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