Saturday, July 22 is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. This great saint is sometimes called the “Apostle to the apostles” because she was the first to see the Risen Lord and to announce his rising to the apostles. Resurgence in interest about Mary Magdalene has been, in part, because of the best-selling novel and movie the DaVinci Code. But she has captured the imaginations of Christians throughout the ages.
Mary Magdalene was once thought to be the woman caught in adultery and perhaps the penitent woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century even proclaimed this. Many of us grew up believing her to be a former prostitute or sinner who was converted by Jesus. But this teaching was officially reversed in 1969 by the Vatican. Biblical scholars, archeologists and anthropologists generally agree that there is nothing to support the identity of Mary Magdalene as these unnamed women in the Gospels. What has been reported in the scriptures is that Mary Magdalene was the one of the last people to leave Jesus’ side during his crucifixion and death. And she is named as the first to be entrusted with the good news of his resurrection.
The book and movie, The DaVinci Code, popularized a theory that Mary Magdalene was actually the wife of Jesus. Unfortunately, this modern reconstruction of the image of Mary Magdalene is as unfair as it is inaccurate. Mary Magdalene’s sanctity does not rely upon her conversion from a sexually promiscuous life nor is her holiness dependent upon a romantic relationship with Jesus. Mary Magdalene is an example for all Christians because of her unwavering fidelity to Jesus and her recognition and proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. Her leadership and prophetic voice in the earliest Christian community is described for us in scripture. We have a flesh and blood example to emulate as women in the Church, in the person of Mary Magdalene.
As we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, we owe it to her to retrieve an image of her life cleansed from myths and cultural biases against women. We owe it to ourselves to claim her as a model witness of faith and example of the power of women to proclaim Christ’s presence to the world.