Monday, July 31, 2023

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

St Ignatius holding a book open in left hand, pointing to text with right hand, looking upward.
This engraving is a reproduction of a print by Vermeulen after a painting by Nicolas de Largillierre.
From The Met Collection – Used with permission

Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola in 1491, the man known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world in Loiola, Spain. At the time, the name of the village was spelled "Loyola," hence the discrepancy. Inigo came of age in Azpeitia, in northern Spain. Loyola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia.

Inigio was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a blacksmith. His last name, "Loyola" was taken from the village of his birth. Despite the misfortune of losing his mother he was still a member of the local aristocracy and was raised accordingly. Inigio was an ambitious young man who had dreams of becoming a great leader. He was influenced by stories such as The Song of Roland and El Cid.

At the age of sixteen, he began a short period of employment working for Juan Velazquez, the treasurer of Castile. By the time he was eighteen, he became a soldier and would fight for Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera and Viceroy of Navarre. Seeking wider acclaim, he began referring to himself as Ignatius. Ignatius was a variant of Inigio. The young Ignatius also gained a reputation as a duelist. According to one story, he killed a Moor with whom he argued about the divinity of Jesus.

Ignatius fought in several battles under the leadership of the Duke of Najera. He had a talent for emerging unscathed, despite participating in many battles. His talent earned him promotions and soon he commanded his own troops. In 1521, while defending the town of Pamplona against French attack, Ignatius was struck by a cannonball in the legs. One leg was merely broken, but the other was badly mangled. To save his life and possibly his legs, doctors performed several surgeries. There were no anesthetics during this time, so each surgery was painful. Despite their best efforts, Ignatius' condition deteriorated. After suffering for a month, his doctors warned him to prepare for death.

On June 29, 1521, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Ignatius began to improve. As soon as he was healthy enough to bear it, part of one leg was amputated which while painful, sped his recovery. During this time of bodily improvement, Ignatius began to read whatever books he could find. Most of the books he obtained were about the lives of the saints and Christ. These stories had a profound impact on him, and he became more devout. One story in particular influenced him, "De Vita Christi" (The life of Christ). The story offers commentary on the life of Christ and suggested a spiritual exercise that required visualizing oneself in the presence of Christ during the episodes of His life. The book would inspire Ignatius' own spiritual exercises.

As he lay bedridden, Ignatius developed a desire to become a working servant of Christ. He especially wanted to convert non-Christians. Among his profound realizations, was that some thoughts brought him happiness and others sorrow. When he considered the differences between these thoughts, he recognized that two powerful forces were acting upon him. Evil brought him unpleasant thoughts while God brought him happiness. Ignatius discerned God's call, and began a new way of life, following God instead of men.

By the spring of 1522, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed. On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Before an image of the Black Madonna, he laid down his military garments. He gave his other clothes away to a poor man. He then walked to a hospital in the town of Manresa. In exchange for a place to live, he performed work around the hospital. He begged for his food. When he was not working or begging, he would go into a cave and practice spiritual exercises.His time in prayer and contemplation helped him to understand himself better. He also gained a better understanding of God and God's plan for him.

The ten months he spent between the hospital and the cavern were difficult for Ignatius. He suffered from doubts, anxiety and depression. But he also recognized that these were not from God. Ignatius began recording his thoughts and experiences in a journal. This journal would be useful later for developing new spiritual exercises for the tens of thousands of people who would follow him. Those exercises remain invaluable today and are still widely practiced by religious and laity alike.

The next year, in 1523, Ignatius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His goal was to live there and convert non-believers. However, the Holy Land was a troubled place and Church officials did not want Ignatius to complicate things further. They asked him to return after just a fortnight. Ignatius realized he needed to obtain a complete education if he wanted to convert people. Returning to Barcelona, Ignatius attended a grammar school, filled with children, to learn Latin and other beginning subjects. He was blessed with a great teacher during this time, Master Jeronimo Ardevol.

After completing his primary education, Ignatius traveled to Alcala, then Salamanca, where he studied at universities. In addition to studying, Ignatius often engaged others in lengthy conversations about spiritual matters. These conversations attracted the attention of the Inquisition. In Spain, the Inquisition was responsible for ferreting out religious dissent and combating heresy. The Inquisition was not as it has long been depicted in the media. The Inquisition accused Ignatius of preaching without any formal education in theology. Without this training, it was likely that Ignatius could introduce heresy by way of conversation and misunderstanding. Ignatius was questioned three times by the Inquisition, but he was always exonerated.

Ignatius eventually decided he needed more education, so he traveled north, seeking better schools and teachers. He was 38 years old when he entered the College of Saint Barbe of the University of Paris. This education was very structured and formalized. Later, Ignatius would be inspired to copy this model when establishing schools. The ideas of prerequisites and class levels would arise from the Jesuit schools, which here heavily inspired by Ignatius' experience in Paris. Ignatius earned a master's degree at the age of 44. When he subsequently applied for his doctorate, he was passed over because of his age. He also suffered from ailments, which the school was concerned could impact his studies.

While at school in Paris, Ignatius roomed with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier. Faber was French and Xavier was Basque. The men became friends and Ignatius led them in his spiritual exercises. Other men soon joined their exercises and became followers of Ignatius. The group began to refer to themselves as "Friends in the Lord," an apt description. The circle of friends, shared Ignatius' dream of traveling to the Holy Land, but conflict between Venice and the Turks made such a journey impossible. Denied the opportunity to travel there, the group then decided to visit Rome. There, they resolved to present themselves to the Pope and to serve at his pleasure.

Pope Paul III received the group and approved them as an official religious order in 1540. The band attempted to elect Ignatius as their first leader, but he declined, saying he had not lived a worthy life in his youth. He also believed others were more experienced theologically.The group insisted however, and Ignatius accepted the role as their first leader. They called themselves the Society of Jesus. Some people who did not appreciate their efforts dubbed them "Jesuits" in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation.

Ignatius imposed a strict, almost military rule on his order. This was natural for a man who spent his youth as a soldier. It might be expected that such rigor would dissuade people from joining, but it had the opposite effect. The order grew. The Society of Jesus soon found its niche in education. Before Ignatius died in 1556, his order established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. The order was responsible for much of the work of stopping the spread of the Protestant Reformation. The Society advocated the use of reason to persuade others and combat heresy.

Today, the Society of Jesus is known for its work in educating the youth around the world. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit. The Jesuits also perform many other important works around the globe. Ignatius' passed away on July 31, 1556, at the age of 64. He was beatified by Pope Paul V on July 27, 1609 and canonized on March 12, 1622. He is the patron saint of the Society of Jesus, soldiers, educators and education.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year: A

The Liturgy of the Word opens this morning with a dream and God’s invitation to Solomon: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." In other words, “What do you want?” It is surely the question all of us heard deep in our hearts when our search for God’s will in vocation began - “What” better still, “Who are you looking for? Who is grabbing hold of your heart and your deepest desire? Are you willing to give up all things to follow that desire?” It’s what Jesus will ask that blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who keeps shouting out to him. Jesus comes close, leans in and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” A question that is almost laughable given the context. For what else could a desperate blind man want but to see? Jesus asks because he wants to hear; “Tell me, let me hear your voice.” And he wants Bartimaeus to hear the depth of his longing. Desperation is crucial. What do you want? It is the question we are meant to hear each time we try to pray, each time we seek to immerse ourselves in sacred reading, each time we quietly step into this church. “Ask something of me, and I will give it to you. What do you want? Who are you looking for? Why have you come here?”

This morning Jesus offers a story – a parable of buried treasure which emphasizes the immense value of what is discovered and the single-hearted response that this discovery calls forth. The unimaginable joy and  fascination of the discovery change everything. And the poor day laborer in the story does not hesitate for a moment. Totally captivated by the great value of the treasure, he has discovered by chance, he willingly sells everything he has to acquire the entire field where it’s buried. And in his greed to possess it, he does not bother to tell the owner of the field what he’s found. He’s a sneak. He’ll go to any extreme. And the excessive cost for this poor man is totally eclipsed by the incomparable attraction of the treasure that he wants so desperately, a treasure that to him is worth everything,  even his underhanded maneuvering.

This is a parable of the kingdom. And we are given a glimpse of what life would be like if God’s will were always the driving force of our lives in the world, what our lives together might be like if we could consistently, joyfully find our treasure only in wanting what God wants and letting go of whatever impedes us as we seek God’s reign.

Best of all, today’s parable is about Jesus himself; he tells us his story. He is the One who has found his treasure in always doing the will of his Father. For the sake of the joy that is set before him, he does not cling to equality with God; he empties himself, lowers himself and comes down to us out love, to be hidden in our flesh, buried deep in the field of our ordinariness, its drudgery, confusion, humiliations, sinfulness and death.

When in the freedom of self-knowledge, we are brave enough to go down to these dark,  lonely places in our hearts, we find him there waiting for us. For Jesus has found his treasure there, in our messy truth. In love he has come down to meet us there. And as we become more and more fascinated with him and his way of love and compassion, we too will “be seized and overcome by the joy of the reign of God,” the desire to do only what God wants.

Discovering Christ Jesus hidden in the field of our flesh, with us in all things, we have found the heart of our desire. But to keep on the way to the kingdom toward him, with him, in him, we need a kind of ceaseless desperation, constantly digging and discovering more. In the end desire is all we have; it is our place of greatest openness to God in Christ. That’s why we’ve come here. We want to know him more and more. Our joy and our love for Christ demand everything. God’s reign demands everything. He is worth everything.

 Yet repeatedly, embarrassingly my heart wavers and wanders into other possibilities, lesser desires that intrude and encumber and pull at my heart - what I miss, who I could be with, what I could have, should have, might have done, all of it like so much rubbish caught in the dragnet of my wavering heart. And then sometimes a voice, “Am I not more to you than all of that?” And then better angels may arrive to help me sift through the mess and discard all that will impede my clinging to him alone.

Finally then we remember the story of an old lay brother on his deathbed in the infirmary at Our Lady of the Valley, it’s Christmastime and one of the monks brings him a little plastic manger scene, hoping to console him. The lay brother is suddenly alert, raises his hand. “Take it away,” he says. “What do I care about that, I want to see him face to face. Soon, soon.”

As we choose to remain here, our response becomes clearer and clearer: “Lord, you alone make me dwell in safety; it is you who are my portion and cup, you yourself who are my prize, my treasure. Nothing, no one else can outshine your beauty and truth. My happiness lies in you alone.” Then at best our life becomes incessant desperation for him. When we waver, distracted, daunted by the monotony, the humiliations and are tempted to turn back, Isaiah cries out: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” It’s all right here for us this morning.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Hosts of the Lord

In the household of Bethany the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them. Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the One who humiliated death. ~Congregation for Divine Worship, February 2, 2021

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). This is how John’s Gospel describes Jesus’ relationship with these siblings whom we honor together today. Of course, Jesus loves all people equally with the perfection of divine charity. So why does John’s Gospel single these three out this way? In the Gospel passage, the word “love” does not only mean the perfect charity in the Heart of Christ for all people. It also implies that Jesus had a special relationship with them, perhaps throughout His life, but at least during the time of His public ministry. This fact is helpful to ponder since it gives us a glimpse into the authentic humanity of Jesus. He formed friendships. He enjoyed spending time with those friends. As both God and man, He ate with them, laughed with them, listened to them, and loved them. Now, from Heaven, Jesus wants to extend that human and divine love He perfectly offers to everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus begins His public ministry in Galilee, northern Israel, He travels with His disciples to Jerusalem and continues His ministry. It is on that journey that Martha and Mary are introduced. Luke 10:38-42 tells the familiar story of Jesus entering their home in Bethany, just several miles east of Jerusalem, where He is a guest for dinner. As Jesus reclines, Mary also reclines with Him, at His feet, listening to Him. Martha, busy preparing the meal, rebukes her sister by asking Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the meal preparation. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

This passage provides us with much to prayerfully ponder. First, it’s clear that Jesus is very familiar with Martha and Mary. Martha would not have spoken so bluntly, in an almost critical way toward Jesus, if she did not know Jesus well.  Hence, this passage highlights the very real human friendships Jesus enjoyed. Second, Martha’s work of preparing the meal should be seen as a labor of love. Though she is frustrated, that doesn’t change the fact that her service is a service of love and is very important to the fostering of the siblings’ friendship with Jesus. Third, the image of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet is often used as an image of the contemplative life in which we are all called to sit at His feet in adoration. This “better part” must remind us that nothing is better or more important than prayer. The activity and good works we do will always pale in comparison to the act of adoration of God. Furthermore, only when adoration and worship of God come first, do good works follow.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus appear for the first time in John’s Gospel toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry, just prior to the first Holy Week (see John 11:1-44). The context of the story makes it clear that Jesus and his apostles are all very familiar with these three siblings from Bethany. Lazarus is ill, at the point of death, and Martha and Mary summon Jesus. Jesus waits for two days until Lazarus dies before He journeys to Bethany, converses with Mary and Martha, and then raises Lazarus from the dead. In this passage, Martha emerges as the witness to faith, not Mary. In her conversation with Jesus, Martha proclaims, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” This is true faith in the face of the painful situation of the death of her beloved brother.

In contrast to Martha who had run out to meet Jesus when He arrived, Mary stayed home, sorrowful, perhaps sulking. When Martha told Mary that Jesus wanted to see her, she went out to see Jesus in apparent despair. The Gospel says that Jesus became “perturbed” at the weeping of Mary and “the Jews who had come with her.”The Greek word literally means, “He snorted in spirit” which seems to be a response to Mary’s lack of hope. After this, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

In the next chapter of John’s Gospel, John 12:1-8, Jesus is once again at dinner in Bethany with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus just six days before Passover, six days before His death. While there, Mary enters the room with a “liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard” and pours it on Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. Though some have associated this act with the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-39 who came crying at Jesus’ feet, the two people might or might not be the same. What is clear, however, is that the anointing of Jesus in Bethany is not the same as the anointing in the home of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7, which took place in Galilee to the north. Was Mary of Bethany the sinful woman? Did she first anoint Him in Galilee and then later, again, in Bethany? We will never know for certain, but most scholars agree today that she is not the same person as Mary Magdalene. Hence, there might be two or even three women who have traditionally been confused as the same person: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the unnamed sinful woman in Luke 7.

All three of today’s saints appeared in the 1749 (updated in 1916) Roman Martyrology, the Church’s official list of saints. Of them, it says, “At Tarascon, in France, Saint Martha, virgin, the hostess of our Savior, and sister of blessed Mary Magdalene and Saint Lazarus.” However, only Saint Martha appeared on the General Roman Calendar as a memorial until 2021 when Pope Francis added Saint Mary and Saint Lazarus to the July 29 memorial, and clarified that Mary of Bethany was not the same person as Mary Magdalene, although either of them might be the sinful woman.

Copyright © 2022 My Catholic Life! Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Léon Bonnat, “The Raising of Lazarus,” 1857 (photo: Public Domain)

Thursday, July 27, 2023

From the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Around the third century AD, a movement comprising thousands of people chose to live an austere and holy life in the deserts of Egypt as a precursor to modern Christian monasticism. Alone or in small groups, they pursued God. Some produced words of wisdom that resonate today.

On Opening the Heart

The nature of water is yielding, and that of a stone is hard. Yet, if you hang a bottle filled with water above the stone so that the water drips drop by drop, it will wear a hole in the stone. In the same way, the word of God is tender, and our heart is hard. So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God.— Abba Poemen

On Quieting the Soul

Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation. — Unattributed Desert Father

On Quarreling

There were two old men who had lived together for many years, and they never quarreled. Now one of them said: “Let us try to quarrel just once like other people do.” And the other replied: “I don’t know how quarrel happens.” Then the first said: “Look, I put a brick between us, and I say, ‘This is mine’ and you say: ‘No, it is mine,’ and after that, a quarrel begins.” So they placed a brick between them, and one of them said: “This is mine,” and the other said: “No—it is mine.” And he replied: “Indeed—it is all yours, so take it away with you.” And they went away unable to fight with each other. — Abba Poemen

On Staying in Place

If you happen to live in a community, do not move to another place, for it will harm you greatly. If a bird leaves her eggs, they never hatch. So also the monk and the nun grow cold and dead in faith by going from place to place.— Amma Syncletica

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Saints Joachim and Anne

In the Scriptures, Matthew and Luke furnish a legal family history of Jesus, tracing ancestry to show that Jesus is the culmination of great promises. Not only is his mother’s family neglected, we also know nothing factual about them except that they existed. Even the names “Joachim” and “Anne” come from Catholic legend and the Gospel of James, which is an unsanctioned, apocryphal writing form the second century AD. We do know from scholarship that the Gospel of James was not written by James, the Brother of Jesus, despite its claim to be so authored.

The heroism and holiness of these people however, is inferred from the whole family atmosphere around Mary in the Scriptures. Whether we rely on the legends about Mary’s childhood or make guesses from the information in the Bible, we see in her a fulfillment of many generations of prayerful persons, herself steeped in the religious traditions of her people. The strong character of Mary in making decisions, her continuous practice of prayer, her devotion to the laws of her faith, her steadiness at moments of crisis, and her devotion to her relatives—all indicate a close-knit, loving family that looked forward to the next generation even while retaining the best of the past.

Joachim and Anne—whether these are their real names or not—represent that entire quiet series of generations who faithfully perform their duties, practice their faith, and establish an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah, but remain obscure.

The Holy Family with Saints Joachim and Anne

Diego de Pesquera (Spanish, Castile (?), ca. 1540–after 1581, Mexico (?), active 1563–80) 

Medium:Wood, painted and gilt
Location:On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 535
Used with Permission

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Saint James the Greater, Apostle

St. James was the son of Zebedee, and was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus.  He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and his brother John was also an Apostle.  He is sometimes called James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is also known as James the Lesser. 

James is described as the first disciple to join Jesus.  In Matt. 4:21-22, we learn that James and John were there with their Father by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him.  James was one of only three Apostles whom Jesus chose to bear witness to his Transfiguration.  

James and his brother John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town, but were rebuked by Jesus in LK 9:51-6.  We also know that in the Acts of the Apostles 12:1 that Herod had James executed by sword.  He is the only Apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament.  That is the reason he is believed to be the first Martyr for his faith, Acts 12:1-2.  He was martyred just 11 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus.  

St. James is believed to have a fiery temper, and that is the reason he and his brother John earned the nickname “Sons of Thunder”.   Also according to local tradition, on January 2nd of the year 40 AD, the Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia.  She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Senora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated with the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain.  Following that apparition, St. James returned to Judea, where King Herod Agrippa I, beheaded him, in the year 44.  His body was carried by his disciples by sea to Iberia, where they landed at Paron, on the coast of Galicia, and took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.  

Many miracles have been related to St. James in Spain, around his burial site.  The authenticity of the relics at Compostela was asserted in the Bill of Pope Leo XIII, “Omnipotens Deus”, on November 1, 1884.   

St. James the Greater was the first Apostle to be martyred for his faith.  He willingly dropped everything at the seashore to follow Jesus as his first Apostle.  He knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and knowingly walked with Jesus.  He also knew that after the crucifixion he could be martyred for the faith, but never let that possibility stop him. 

Saint James the Greater

Gil de Siloe (Spanish, 1489–93)

Public Domain

Monday, July 24, 2023

Saint Charbel Makhlouf

On July 24, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. Charbel Makhlouf, a Maronite Catholic priest, monk, and hermit who is known for working miracles both during his life and after his death.

On the occasion of his beatification in 1965, the Eastern Catholic hermit was described by Pope Paul VI as “ a new, eminent member of monastic sanctity,” who “through his example and his intercession is enriching the entire Christian people.”

Born into humble circumstances in Lebanon during 1828, Yussef Antoun Makhlouf was the youngest of Antoun Zaarour Makhlouf and Brigitta Elias al-Shediyaq's five children. Antoun, who had been taken away from the family and forced into hard labor, died when his youngest son was only three.

Yussef studied at the parish school and tended to his family's cow. Engaged in prayer and solitude from a early age, he spent a great deal of time outdoors in the fields and pastures near his village, contemplating God amid the inspiring views of Lebanon's valleys and mountains.

His uncle and guardian Tanious wanted the boy to continue working with him, while his mother wanted him to marry a young woman. Yussef had other plans, however, and left home in 1851 without informing anyone.

Yussef would become “Brother Charbel,” after making a pilgrimage on foot to his new monastic home. In this, he followed the example of his maternal uncles, who were already living as solitary monks at the Hermitage of Saint Paul in the Qadisha Valley.

Charbel took his monastic vows in November of 1853, during a solemn ceremony which was closed to the public and off-limits even to his family. He subsequently studied for the priesthood and was ordained, returning to the Monastery of St. Maron.

The priest-monk lived and served in the monastery for 19 years, showing great devotion to the life of prayer, manual work, and contemplative silence.

Charbel's superiors observed God's “supernatural power” at work in his life, and he became known as a wonder-worker even among some Muslims. In 1875, he was granted permission to live as a solitary monk in a nearby hermitage dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.

Rigorous asceticism, and a profound union with God, continued to characterize the monk's life for the next 23 years. Deeply devoted to God's Eucharistic presence, he suffered a stroke while celebrating the Divine Liturgy of the Maronite Catholic Church on December 16, 1898. He died on Christmas Eve of that year.

St. Charbel's tomb has been a site for pilgrimages since his death. Hundreds of miracles are believed to have occurred through his intercession with God, both in Lebanon and around the world.

He was canonised in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, who had earlier hailed the Lebanese Maronite saint as an “admirable flower of sanctity blooming on the stem of the ancient monastic traditions of the East.”

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles

On July 22, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, one of the most prominent women mentioned in the New Testament. 

Her name comes from the town of Magdala in Galilee, where she was born. Scripture introduces her as a woman “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk. 8:2).

Some scholars identify Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Christ with oil in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50). Others associate her with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11). Some believe the three figures to be one person, while others believe them to be three distinct individuals.

What the Scriptures make certain about Mary Magdalene is that she was a follower of Christ, who accompanied and ministered to him (Lk. 8:2-3). The Gospels record her as being one of the women present at Christ’s crucifixion.

In addition, she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. The Gospels all describe Mary Magdalene going to the tomb on Easter morning. When she saw that the tomb was empty, she stood outside, weeping. Jesus appeared to her and asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (Jn. 20:15)

She did not recognize him, however, and thought he was the gardener, until he said her name, “Mary!” (Jn. 20:16) Upon hearing this, Mary recognized him. She returned to the grieving disciples to announce to them the message of the Resurrection. 

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Mary Magdalene in his address before the Angelus on July 23, 2006. He referred to her as “a disciple of the Lord who plays a lead role in the Gospels.” 

The Pope recalled Mary Magdalene’s presence “beneath the Cross” on Good Friday, as well as how “she was to be the one to discover the empty tomb” on Easter morning. 

“The story of Mary of Magdala reminds us all of a fundamental truth,” Pope Benedict said. “A disciple of Christ is one who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him and has set out following closely after him, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love that is stronger than sin and death.”

On June 10, 2016, the liturgical celebration honoring St. Mary Magdalene was raised from a memorial to a feast, putting her on par with the apostles.

Saint Mary Magdalene

Bartolo di Fredi, Italian, 
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 952
Used with permission