Guest post 3: The Magdalene
Today’s guest post is from spiritual director, writer, and scholar, Christy Hicks-Aydt. Christy has composed a beautiful poem and then shares a personal account of the meaning of the Feast of Mary Magdalene and her often under-appreciated role in the Christian story.
Ignoring your wisdom,
The ages have tainted your
First witness of the resurrection
according to all four gospels.
Our imaginations are feeble when they see you.
Do we truly recognize you?
You are us and we are you,
if we open our hearts to be
Then perhaps we would see Jesus
with you, through you
By Christy Hicks Aydt
My graduate school professor made a large impact on me while we were studying the New Testament and I often quote her. She declared, “if Mary of Magdala was not the first witness of the resurrection, there is no possibility it would have been recorded in all four gospels in first century Palestine.”
It is enough to know this one fact about the Magdala to consider her centrality to the resurrection event. She was faithful and her faithfulness was honored by God, even while humanity ignored it for over two thousand years.
It already happened, I often proclaim. We can fail to elevate her role and overall we have succeeded to do this. I find it fascinating and distressing to know the Catholic lectionary does not proclaim her witness to the resurrection on any of the Sundays of Easter; if you are a daily Mass goer you will hear it proclaimed on Easter Tuesday or the saint’s feast day on July 22nd.
Mary is the first witness to the resurrection, so how did we manage to keep her out of our sight for over two thousand years? It is a sign of hope that in June of 2016 on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis elevated Mary Magdalene to the “level of a feast day,” an honor shared with the other apostles in the New Testament.
And yet we still fail to share this fact widely in the Catholic Church. Since her elevation to the level of feast in 2016, I have never heard mention of this shift at Mass, even when her feast landed on a Sunday. Sunday’s readings often trump a saint’s feast, so some may not find this suspect. But since it landed on a Sunday for the first time since its elevation to high feast a few years ago, one would think it would at least merit some mention. If it had been Peter or Paul or another apostle who had just been honored in this way, would it have gone completely ignored?
In fairness I only went to one Mass on the Sunday a few years ago, so perhaps the remainder of the Church proclaimed the feast; but I am skeptical. Most do not seem to perceive this change, one which took two millennia to fully name and I would argue is still named and proclaimed weakly.
But let us focus on the one whose festivity we celebrate this month as it is futile to blame failure to celebrate on the institution when, in fact, it is our great privilege as God’s people to recognize and honor the holy ones. And though the Church or churches may have failed to fully honor Mary through the millennia, even the institution recognizes the call to feast with heaven in gratitude for this faithful woman.
Thus, I turn to wonder. Little is known of the Magdalene from the gospels and so there will be some myth around her personage. She seems to often be remembered for the seven demons which were cast out of her, though this text only shows up only once in the gospels, in the gospel of Luke, who is credited for being most attentive to women’s narratives. Other women who had demons cast from them are also noted in this text. Could it be possible Luke was somehow illustrating their significance to his readers? In the ancient world, speaking of angels and demons was commonplace. Thus, it could be speculated Luke was stressing this to his readers in order to show the women’s significance and leadership. The text reads as follows:
If one listens or reads this text carefully, it sounds as if Luke is mentioning the women by name and stressing their role and power on purpose. This passage ends by highlighting the women as the ones fiscally supporting Jesus and the Twelve. Can we call ourselves to relearn the text in a more accurate light by considering the short passage fully? In a gospel illustrating women’s gifts, this text first shows Jesus having healed the women and secondly the women’s significant role as disciples or apostles and leaders.
A piece of the mystery we might also contemplate is the mention of the seven demons. Might this have been Luke’s way of illustrating a full restoration of Mary to herself as God created her to be? Luke begins this short text with healing; the women were healed. In our own time we might feel more comfortable calling to mind the seven deadly sins in Judeo-Christian faith circles and the seven chakras in Eastern traditions. To be healed or in full alignment is to be whole. These women have come home to themselves. Luke is focusing on their significance and it can be speculated he is inviting us to follow them, a notion which can comfort and strengthen our sense of call as people and as women. This brief text remembers Mary as a follower of Jesus on the Way. She was there as he ministered alongside the Twelve, a detail we cannot forget.
Beyond this text, we find Mary in the hard spaces and at resurrection. Three of the four gospel writers mention her by name near the cross. Mark has Mary and the women looking on Jesus dereliction “at a distance”; Matthew also records this detail. Luke mentions the women’s presence but does not call them by name. And John includes Mary Magdalene among the women while Jesus speaks from the cross to his mother.
In my own life this past year, I have felt Mary of Magdala near and an invitation to see her she witnesses, reflects, and is set on fire with God’s love. Did the Magdalene perfectly understand what was happening as she witnessed Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, likely no. Like us, she stands in the mystery, letting it flow over and through her. But she had the courage to be there and fully witness the whole of it. She walked with Jesus on the Way, stood with him at the cross, and finally was first to witness his resurrection. From there she was called by name: Mary, resurrected Jesus tenderly and lovingly said.
Though the gospels hold slightly different accounts of Mary’s encounter with Jesus at his resurrection, they all agree she was there. She was the first to witness the glorious news of restoration to life; the temple of his body, our bodies, has been rebuilt. Let’s pray through Mary of Magdala’s intercession, that she will assist us to see Jesus, to know God’s love for us, and to become ablaze with God’s light and fullness.
Saint Mary Magdala, your story mystifies us, your fullness scares us. It is sometimes easier to box you in than to follow you as you show us Jesus. Become our teacher about the Teacher. Show us the lessons you learned and lived and help us not to be afraid. Please help us to see you more clearly as the witness you were and the one you continue to be.
Christy M. Hicks Aydt is a Campus Minister at Saint Louis University and a spiritual director; also trained in the 19th Annotation, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Though her studies have been through the lens of Catholic-Christian faith and thought, she reverences the faith and beauty other traditions share. Eastern spirituality and culture has gifted her with a more expansive image of God. Christy lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and family. Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, University of Dayton. Certification in Spiritual Direction; Preaching Training. Aquinas Institute of Theology. Spiritual Companion/Director for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.