As we mark her feast day, here’s something to ponder, from the pen of St. Anselm:
St Mary Magdalene,
you came with springing tears
to the spring of mercy, Christ;
from him your burning thirst was abundantly refreshed;
through him your sins were forgiven;
by him your bitter sorrow was consoled.
My dearest lady,
well you know by your own life
how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator,
what counsel a soul in misery needs,
what medicine will restore the sick to health.
It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God,
to whom were “many sins forgiven, because she loved much”.
Most blessed lady,
I who am the most evil and sinful of men
do not recall your sins as a reproach,
but call upon the boundless mercy
by which they were blotted out.
This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair;
this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.
I say this of myself,
miserably cast down into the depths of vice,
bowed down with the weight of crimes,
thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins,
wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.
Therefore, since you are now with the chosen
because you are beloved
and are beloved because you are chosen of God,
I, in my misery, pray to you, in bliss;
in my darkness, I ask for light;
in my sins, redemption;
impure, I ask for purity.
Recall in loving kindness what you used to be,
how much you needed mercy,
and seek for me that same forgiving love
that you received when you were wanting it.
Ask urgently that I may have
the love that pierces the heart; tears that are humble;
desire for the homeland of heaven;
impatience with this earthly exile;
searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity.
Turn to my good that ready access
that you once had and still have to the spring of mercy.
Draw me to him where I may wash away my sins;
bring me to him who can slake my thirst;
pour over me those waters
that will make my dry places fresh.
You will not find it hard to gain all you desire
from so loving and so kind a Lord,
who is alive and reigns and is your friend.
For who can tell, beloved and blest of God,
with what kind familiarity and familiar kindness
he himself replied on your behalf
to the calumnies of those who were against you?
How he defended you, when the proud Pharisee was indignant, how he excused you,
when your sister complained,
how highly he praised your deed, when Judas begrudged it.
And, more than all this,
what can I say, how can I find words to tell,
about the burning love with which you sought him,
weeping at the sepulchre,
and wept for him in your seeking?
How he came, who can say how or with what kindness,
to comfort you, and made you burn with love still more;
how he hid from you when you wanted to see him,
and showed himself when you did not think to see him;
how he was there all the time you sought him,
and how he sought you when, seeking him, you wept.
But you, most holy Lord,
why do you ask her why she weeps?
Surely you can see;
her heart, the dear life of her soul, is cruelly
O love to be wondered at;
O evil to be shuddered at;
you hung on the wood, pierced by iron nails,
stretched out like a thief for the mockery of wicked men;
and yet, ‘Woman,’ you say, ‘why are you weeping?’
She had not been able to prevent them from killing you,
but at least she longed to keep your body for a while
with ointments lest it decay.
No longer able to speak with you living,
at least she could mourn for you dead.
So, near to death and hating her own life,
she repeats in broken tones the words of life
which she had heard from the living.
And now, besides all this,
even the body which she was glad, in a way, to have kept,
she believes to have gone.
And can you ask her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’
Had she not reason to weep?
For she had seen with her own eyes
if she could bear to look
what cruel men cruelly did to you;
and now all that was left of you from their hands
she thinks she has lost.
All hope of you has fled,
for now she has not even your lifeless body
to remind her of you.
And someone asks,
‘Who are you looking for? Why are you weeping?’
You, her sole joy,
should be the last thus to increase her sorrow.
But you know it all well, and thus you wish it to be,
for only in such broken words and sighs
can she convey a cause of grief as great as hers.
The love you have inspired you do not ignore,
And indeed you know her well,
the gardener, who planted her soul in his garden.
What you plant, I think you also water.
Do you water, I wonder, or do you test her?
In fact, you are both watering and putting to the test.
But now, good Lord, gentle Master,
look upon your faithful servant and disciple,
so lately redeemed by your blood,
and see how she burns with anxiety, desiring you,
searching all round, questioning,
and what she longs for is nowhere found.
Nothing she sees can satisfy her,
since you whom alone she would behold, she sees not.
How long will my Lord leave his beloved to suffer thus?
Have you put off compassion
now you have put on incorruption?
Did you let go of goodness
when you laid hold of immortality?
Let it not be so, Lord.
You will not despise us mortals
now you have made yourself immortal,
for you made yourself a mortal
in order to give us immortality.
And so it is; for love’s sake
he cannot bear her grief for long or go on hiding himself.
For the sweetness of love he shows himself
who would not for the bitterness of tears.
The Lord calls his servant by the name she has often heard
and the servant knows the voice of her own Lord.
I think, or rather I am sure,
that she responded to the gentle tone
with which he was accustomed to call, ‘Mary’.
What joy filled that voice, so gentle and full of love.
He could not have put it more simply and clearly:
‘I know who you are and what you want;
do not weep, behold me;
I am he whom you seek.’
At once the tears are changed;
I do not believe that they stopped at once,
but where once they were wrung
from a heart broken and self-tormenting
they flow now from a heart exulting.
How different is, ‘Master!’
from ‘If you have taken him away, tell me’;
and, ‘They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him,’
has a very different sound from,
‘I have seen the Lord, and he has spoken to me.’
But how should I, in misery and without love,
dare to describe the love of God
and the blessed friend of God?
Such a flavour of goodness will make my heart sick
if it has in itself nothing of that same virtue.
But in truth, you who are very truth, you know me well
and can testify that I write this for the love of your love,
my Lord, my most dear Jesus.
I want your love to burn in me as you command
so that I may desire to love you alone
and sacrifice to you a troubled spirit,
‘a broken and a contrite heart’.
Give me, 0 Lord, in this exile,
the bread of tears and sorrow
for which I hunger more than for any choice delights.
Hear me, for your love,
and for the dear merits of your beloved Mary,
and your blessed Mother, the greater Mary.
Redeemer, my good Jesus,
do not despise the prayers of one who has sinned against you
but strengthen the efforts of a weakling that loves you.
Shake my heart out of its indolence, Lord,
and in the ardour of your love
bring me to the everlasting sight of your glory
where with the Father and the Holy Spirit
you live and reign, God, for ever. Amen.