St. Mary Magdalene, “the Apostle of the Apostles”

Friday, July 22nd

This morning, July 22nd, the solemn celebration in the Holy Sepulchre for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene was intimate and evocative. In the presence of many priests, religious, pilgrims and visitors, Father Noel Muscat celebrated Holy Mass at the altar dedicated to the appearance of Christ Risen to Mary Magdalene, portrayed in a fine bronze image by the Franciscan artist Andrea Martini, which is above the altar.

The readings, taken from the Song of Songs and the Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, introduce the sense of Mary Magdalene’s extraordinary experience, which reaches its climax in the episode told in the Gospel according to St. John, (Jn 20, 11-18) i.e., in the meeting and dialogue between Christ Risen and in perfect glory and that small woman from Galilee who is so bewildered in front of the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene does not appear to us as a distant model, but as a concrete and tangible figure, close to us in her passions and her fragility and yet such a central figure in a revolutionary personal transformation that she became the “first witness” of the resurrection, the “apostle of the apostles” as she is called in the Byzantine liturgy, the repository of a mystical treasure that springs forth from the resurrection.

“Like St. Paul,” Father Muscat underlined in his homily, “whose experience is that of the disciple who met Jesus through the senses, even though briefly, on the road to Damascus, and then went on to a deeper and mystical relationship that goes beyond appearances, Mary Magdalene also met Jesus who was no longer dead but eternally alive. Just as St. Paul will become the apostle of people, spreading the announcement of the Gospel everywhere, so Mary Magdalene, in her fervent love for the Master, becomes the first witness of the Risen One and announces the news to the Apostles.”

For the whole of the Franciscan community, the figure of Mary Magdalene takes on special importance as an example of a profound and intimate conversion of the heart and of a radical penitential path. Through Mary Magdalene, the Franciscan tradition of a penitential evangelical life takes on the most complete meaning of a lifestyle that springs from the change of love for Someone who has been encountered and recognized. From the Holy Place of the Tomb of Christ, the revolutionary message of the resurrection is spread throughout the world, thanks to this style of penitential life, of which Mary Magdalene has become a model.

For everyone the experience of Mary Magdalene represents the path of a full humanization, the story of a woman who touches the most sublime heights of friendship and love, releasing what in a person yearns upwards and represents the authentic vocation for the blossoming of human experience. “May what is base in us go downwards so that what is superior may go upwards,” Simone Weil writes. And Mary Magdalene is truly the example of an authentic education for asceticism, a deep search by an impassioned soul, which in the encounter and in the “dialogue of life” with Jesus is nourished at the sources of tenderness and responsibility. In this way the tenderness and discretion of Mary Magdalene, with her respectful questioning and her delicate and intense affection, meet the tenderness and compassion of Jesus, which are the most concealed, silent and precious aspect of love, the sharing of divine love. God and the human being therefore meet beyond suffering and through it, through the greatness of the love of Christ who has suffered and has risen, who gives meaning, strength and purity. “Through this miraculous dimension,” Simone Weil writes, “the soul, without leaving the place and the instant in which it finds the body to which it is bound, can cross the whole of space and time and reach the very presence of God.” The words of St. Paul are not far away when he says, “…that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3, 17-19).

This is the reckless action of the love of God that makes all things new.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Marie Armelle Beaulieu

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