Mary Magdalene: Perseverance Pays Off

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum of Art.

So much has been written about St. Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today, and yet so little is known. In today’s Office of Readings, St. Gregory the Great (see below) makes a point that is easily missed.  Why, in John’s Gospel, did Jesus appear to her first and not to Peter and the Beloved Disciple? Was it because she let the love of Jesus captivate her and become the only thing important at that moment. She alone stayed, persevering in her quest to find the body of her beloved rabbouni.

Note that she did not find Jesus; he found her. In her seemingly fruitless quest, looking for a dead body, but persevering, the living Jesus found her.

It is sometimes said that the important thing about prayer is not technique: how we pray. It is simply that we pray, no matter how we might feel about about it, even if our prayer seems fruitless and unanswered.  It is not important that we find Jesus in our prayer. He will find us. In his own way, which will be beyond our expectations if we’re paying attention.

What’s important about prayer? Just show up, and stay even in emptiness.

From a homily on the Gospels by Gregory the Great, pope

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

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Author: tomwelbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey. Now actively retired from parish ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.

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