Kathryn Lopez gathers a symposium of Catholic women to share their thoughts on the "Apostle to the Apostles"
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This July 22 marks the first time the Church celebrates the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. Pope Francis announced the news last month and with it elevated not just the day, but the role: Jesus looked at her with great love, revealed Himself and the fullness of His mission to her, and tasked her with telling the Good News. For all the media and politics that would suggest otherwise, women have critical leadership responsibilities in the life of the Church.
I often look to words from Blessed Paul VI which Pope Benedict XVI re-communicated during the final months of his pontificate: “At this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.”
It goes on: “Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
As with Mary Magdalene’s commissioning at the tomb, no small task.
Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a reminder of this and, with her intercession, may it make for tremendous renewal at a time of great need. I asked 14 other women what this new feast for the Church means for us.
Helen Alvare, law professor, George Mason University, founder, Women Speak for Themselves:
My first reaction to any person has to draw from Deus Caritas Est‘s “giving every person that look of love which they crave.” Jesus did that with Mary Magdalene. And such a look is the beginning of potential transformation.
Grazie Christie, M.D., radiologist, policy adviser, The Catholic Association
Alone among all the religious traditions of the world the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that women are the daughters of the most high. Just as men are his sons. And even though it is man that goes out into the struggle of life to conquer, it is woman who makes it all possible—with her inspiration, and the home she creates, the lives she welcomes and nurtures, her constant tender support. Does that sound old fashioned? Mary Magdalene was the clear-eyed, generous, affectionate, loyal friend that no one can do without. Even Jesus Himself.
Kathleen Beckman, author, God’s Healing Mercy
St. Mary Magdalene’s first feast day this week is a signal grace for the Church. The timing is Providential. She is referred to as the “apostle to the Apostles!” I recall when Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa spoke to 800 Magnificat women at a prayer breakfast and he boldly exclaimed, “Go and be an apostle to the Apostles!” For women, Magdalene reveals some of the feminine genius taught by St. John Paul II. For all, Magdalene models several ideals of discipleship: repentance, conversation, contemplation, hospitality, service, witness and exemplifies faith, hope and love.
Personally, I feel that Magdalene chose me, I did not choose her. At the request of a nun who directed an annual Passion Play every Lent as a fundraiser for a non-profit medical clinic, I was cast in the role of Magdalene for several years. As I entered into her character, I became profoundly aware of my identity as a sinner, and I grew in knowledge of the great gift of Divine Mercy!
I often contemplate Magdalene’s life before the Blessed Sacrament. Serving in the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism for twenty years, I’ve witness the power of the Christ’s victory over all demonic temptation, oppression, obsession and possession. Magdalene is a model warrior for Christ. In her is the perpetual realization of Christ’s victorious love. Magdalene’s life offers hope in consideration of the sin of the world. She is truly a saint for our time. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!
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Dawn Eden Goldstein, author,Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories: Mary Magdalene’s feast day is a recognition of the dignity that laity and particularly lay women have as cooperators with Christ in proclaiming the Gospel. I discussed this on Fox News.
Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in chief, OSV Newsweekly
St. Mary Magdalene’s deep love for and commitment to the Lord is an inspiration to all who seek to know the Lord more closely. Her story tells of the Lord’s mercy, and her unique role in the early Church — as the first witness to the Resurrection — is now given greater prominence as Pope Francis recently has raised her liturgical memorial to the rank of a feast. To me this emphasizes not just the pope’s desire to highlight the important role of women in the life of the Church, but is more of an invitation for all to experience the Lord’s mercy as St. Mary Magdalene did. Giving her greater prominence in the liturgical calendar is nothing but a blessing for all who seek Christ as she did, both male and female.
Maria Grizzetti, New Yorker
First thought: The feast of Saint Mary Magdalene is a feast that celebrates daring faith. We see in her both the grief for Christ who is dead, as well as the daring hope that He is who he says He is — a daring hope of the truth about Christ. She goes to the tomb to grieve, but comes to see Him face to face, and so she becomes for each of us a symbol that suffering, even tragedy, transforms us to come near to Christ, to near the fountain of life, to come near to the One who will soon manifest Himself alive, risen.
As for the meaning of the feast to the Church as a whole, especially in this year of mercy, we look to Mary Magdalene both as an example of perfect repentance as well as the one who invites us closer and closer to Christ. In this way she takes on a particularly maternal role–one that she took on very clearly with Martha, as we believe they were related, and shows us to live out as well. The gift of the feast of the Magdalene is the gift of being close to Christ, it’s a feast where we can celebrate a woman who after the Blessed Mother is physically closest to Christ, as close as the apostles.
We can’t forget that Saint Thomas calls St. Mary Magdalene the “apostle to the apostles” and her announcement of the resurrection to the 12 becomes the first witness of the risen Christ. So the Church can rejoice, we can all rejoice with the Church, within the Church, that we are given such closeness to Christ still in the Eucharist. I would link the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene with daily Mass — we who every day and come to see the Risen Christ, encounter Him in the Eucharist, encounter Him living in the flesh on the altar, and He calls us each by name the way he called to her “Mary” and she recognized Him. We recognize Him in the Eucharist still as St. Mary Magdalene recognized Him on Easter morning.
Mary Rice Hasson, fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, director, Catholic Women’s Forum
In declaring Mary Magdalene’s feast day, the Church called her an “authentic evangelizer.” What stands out to me is that she became an evangelizer because her heart was brimming over with love for the Lord. Her heart first knew the sorrow of repentance, and then the overwhelming mercy and love of God. Healed by love, her heart was brimming over with love in response. And it was that heart, filed with anguished love, broken by his death, that brought her to the tomb. And God again did not leave her empty– because of her great love, she became the first to see and hear the news of his Resurrection. and that same great love–now entwined with joy instead of anguish– sent her racing to bring the “good news” to the rest. Her life shows all of us–not just women–that what matters is how well we love. And if our hearts can be like hers, brimming over with love for the Lord, then we too will race to bring the good news to all–we’ll be evangelists too.
As an added note, her prophetic voice, her role as evangelizer, has been under-appreciated in the Church. This is a great reminder to all of us–sinners that we are–that authentic love, not title, position, or power, is the stuff of which saints are made.
Gloria Purvis, co-host, Morning Glory, EWTN:
A woman from whom seven devils had gone out has a feast day! In this year of mercy, I pray the feast day serves as encouragement to women who mistakenly believe their sins are too great for God’s mercy.
I hope it squashes the notion that unless women are priests or deacons, we are less than the men. We have our own feminine roles which don’t require holy orders for us to be valuable in service to the Lord and His Church.
While she was not an Apostle, she was chosen to be the first to see the risen Lord. She was the one to tell the Apostles the wonderful news of the Resurrection. There is much to ponder about her repentance and subsequent choice to follow Him faithfully.
Sheila Liaugminas, host, A Closer Look, Relevant Radio:
In my zeal over days that honor certain saints near and dear to my heart, soul and life, I personally celebrate without special attention to whether they are Memorials or Feast Days, because to me, they involve feasts! It became a joke around my home when my sons were growing up that I would exult ‘It’s (name the saint’s) Feast Day! Cake!’ and we would celebrate. Some are famous with great popular following, some well-known and venerated, some mostly obscure, but I had a litany of favorites.
High among them has been St. Mary Magdalene, for oh so many reasons. She touched my heart, then grabbed it more profoundly, the better I got to know her and the story of her life and stunning devotion to Christ. She was so like us in human weakness and sin, and so radically transformed by meeting Christ, she remained in His presence for the rest of her life, totally focused on the love and mercy Christ showed and gave and was, she became utterly Christ-like. He delivered her of evil influences, then she remained pure and filled with the love of Christ. Mary lived for nothing else but that presence, to the point of being at the tomb sealed shut with Christ’s body inside, because she could be nowhere but by Him.
And it always captivated me that at the Resurrection, Christ first appeared to this woman, Mary Magdalene, and sent her to tell the apostles, becoming (as Pope John Paul II noted in Mulieris Dignitatem), ‘the apostle to the Apostles.’ What a message, and what a humble messenger!
I, a woman in communications, love that. And how she chose to spend the rest of her life.
In a visit to the Holy Land, I was so gratified to go by Magdala, her early home. And twice I’ve visited the area near Marseilles which she made her final home, and grotto in the church of La Sainte-Baume that holds her beautifully kept relics, near the hillside cave where she lived in seclusion to the end, in prayer and penance, just to contemplate Christ.
She is one of the saints I invoke in daily prayer, certainly at every Mass, and celebrate on her day that is now, properly, a Feast. Her example, witness, humility, courage, complete conversion and dedication to Christ is profoundly needed in the Church today and in the modern world, by women and men, the churched and unchurched, people of prayer and unbelievers. She shows us that love is more powerful than evil, and stronger than death. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!
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Mary Matalin, White House veteran/political strategist
Mary Magdalene is all of us. Our struggle is to admit her, understand her, and forgive her, because He forgives all and Mary Magdalene was practically the flagship recipient of His grace and mercy, showing us the way. I cannot say what the feast day may mean to the Church, only what it means to me, which more than I could or did anticipate, is soul expanding. The joy in your heart feeling that leaves a new cell of personal sunbeam.
Lizanne Pando, former director of communications, World Meeting of Families 2015:
Mary Magdalene represents the good and bad of us, the human side of us and how Jesus forgives all. Also, she forgives herself, which all of us have a hard time doing. If God/ Jesus forgive us, who are we to hold our sins against us.
Frankly, I believe she was a follower of Jesus and probably a good friend of his and his disciples. I think history probably made her more of a social problem than she was.
A woman traveling with men, this will usually turn into a story. No matter what the circumstances.
But either way – she is like a proverb – there to teach us a lesson. I look forward to talking with her in heaven and hearing her side of the story. Wanna join us?
Elise Italiano, senior fellow, Catholic Voices USA, executive director of university communications, the Catholic University of America:
If anyone needed a field hospital in Jesus’ time, it was Mary Magdalene. One thing we hear definitively about her is that seven demons were expelled from her — those are wounds that must have run quite deep. For the Church to hold up Mary Magdalene with a feast is for Her to say, “There is no wound that Christ cannot touch and heal.” We also know that she was the first to witness the resurrected Lord. From wounded to witness — what other life story could be more inspirational for sinners seeking sanctity?
Sr. Frances Marie Seale, foundress, Daughters of Mary, Mother of Priests, director, Adopt-a-Priest
Providentially falling within the Year of Mercy, this special feast of St. Mary Magdalene is so very meaningful to me. Among the first fruits of the redemption, Magdalene perfectly exemplifies the responsive heart of one washed in the Blood of the Lamb – restored by Him who came to make all things new. The fact that she was chosen to be the first witness of the Resurrection is testimony to the power of redeeming love—which is mercy, and the new life it gives to those receptive to it.
I, too, have encountered the merciful Christ in the person of his priests and in the charity of his members. Brought back to a life of grace and unity in the Church through the prayer and sacrifices they offered on my behalf, I understand what it means to be the recipient of Mercy. Mercy opens the door of unity—it breaks down the walls of division; mercy welcomes—it does not judge; mercy restores that which is broken—it raises as it heals; mercy sees the good in the other—it is love in action.
My heart has been transformed by Mercy; its response–sheer gratitude for this unmerited grace. Like Magdalene, I am a witness to the Merciful Christ; an apostle calling others to support in grateful prayer and sacrifice his priests–living vessels of his Mercy.
This first feast of St. Mary Magdalene is testimony to the esteem and reverence that the Church places upon the virtue of mercy. Following in the footsteps of Christ who went in search of those who were lost or who had strayed, she opens the doors of the “field hospital” to all who will come to the font of Mercy and wash in her cleansing waters. The Church honors Mary Magdalene with the dignity of a feast during the Year of Mercy to stress its own missionary mandate as the universal sacrament of salvation. Mercy begets mercy—we are therefore commissioned to go forth and give as we have received. St. Mary Magdalene – pray for us!
Vicki Thorn, founder, Project Rachel: As an apostle/disciple we need to recognize her absolute loyalty. At that time in history her presence in the unfolding story speaks to a great deal of courage as well. It is an acknowledgement of the role of women in the life of Christ! She is also a sign of the healing power of God empowering those who are broken and in need of God’s mercy in this Year of Mercy. I do a reflection on Jesus’ encounters with women needing healing–without judgment, but with a call to become a new being! Mary Magdalene embodies that.
Luanne Zurlo, business executive, assistant professor of finance, The Catholic University of America: I love Mary Magdalene! For me Mary Magdalene shows me how to passionately love Jesus! I can relate more personally to Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross than the Virgin Mary. When I learned that Mary Magdalene is one of the patron saints of the Dominicans (along with Catherine of Alexandria) it made me appreciate them even more. By the way, there is a great painting of Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria on both sides of St Thomas Aquinas in the left chapel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.