This is Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection by the Russian painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. CNS photo/Wikimedia Commons

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Mary Magdalene -- Steward of the good news

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • October 24, 2021

If someone were to ask you who Mary Magdalene was, what would you tell the person?

On Nov. 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We remember our departed brothers and sisters who are in Heaven for their fidelity to God while they lived among us. One of these saints is Mary Magdalene. Despite her being prominently featured in all the four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is a saint whose life and role as a faithful disciple have been misunderstood by the faithful.

Over the years in my ministry, I have heard people of faith describing her as the first person to see the Risen Christ on the day of the Resurrection. However, others describe her as a repentant prostitute, the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus or the adulterous woman whose sins were forgiven by Jesus. Why is there a cloud of confusion surrounding this saint?

Who is Mary Magdalene in the Bible? Apart from our Blessed Mother Mary, there are a few other women named Mary in the Gospels. Mary Magdalene is named after Magdala, a small fishing town on the Sea of Galilee. Her name is mentioned either as Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala in several Gospel narratives and always in connection with events in the life of her Lord Jesus.

She is named to be among some women “who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” and accompanied Jesus and His disciples “providing for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:1-3). She is described as being at the site of the crucifixion with other women (Matthew 27: 55-56; Mark 15: 40-41; Luke 23:49), at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-26). She also brought spices and ointments to the tomb (Luke 23:56). All four Gospels place her at the tomb on the first day of the Resurrection (Matthew 28: 1-10; Mark 16:9-11; Luke 24: 1-12; John 20:1-18). However it is in the Gospel of John that we read about the vivid encounter of the risen Lord and Mary Magdalene. It was at this encounter that Jesus sent her to His disciples with the good news of the Resurrection (John 20:1-18).

Over the centuries the Church has celebrated her day as a memorial on July 22. However, on June 3, 2016, Pope Francis elevated her celebration to a feast. The Church has a hierarchy of celebrations from memorials to feasts to solemnities. The elevation of Mary Magdalene’s day recognized her role as a “true and authentic evangelizer” putting her on the same level as the apostles.

Preaching about St. Mary Magdalene, Pope Francis highlighted Christ’s mercy toward a woman who was “exploited and despised by those who believed they were righteous, but she was loved and forgiven by Him (Christ).” Historically, the true identification of St. Mary Magdalene may not be quite clear. However, from a biblical standpoint, because of her special mission to proclaim the good news, Mary Magdalene is sometimes referred to as the “Apostle of the apostles.” It is interesting to note that Mary Magdalene has a special place within the Dominican Order. She is the patroness of the Order of Preachers.

The stories about Mary Magdalene’s life as revealed in the Bible are stories of hope, courage, perseverance, compassion and love. She remained faithful and steadfast in her faith in times of uncertainty, doubt and challenges. Her struggles and her brokenness empowered her to seek God’s love, mercy and healing in her life. Her life is the embodiment of our humanity as people always in need of God’s love, mercy and healing in our lives. When we read the stories about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels we may be amazed to see how these stories speak to us about our own journey of faith as people called to proclaim the good news. Her acts of charity and her fidelity to God are her expression of her gratitude to God’s love and mercy in her life. This is an example of stewardship way of life. The stewardship way of life was the life of every saint.

We love the saints and have special devotions to our favourite saints. Do you have any sort of devotion to St. Mary Magdalene? Perhaps on this year’s celebration of All Saints, we can take the opportunity to reflect on what Mary Magdalene’s life can offer us as disciples. The story about Mary Magdalene’s mission as a messenger of the news of the Resurrection and the way she joyfully carried out the mission can be a source of inspiration to us.

The celebration of All Saints reminds us of our call to imitate the lives of the saints in their fidelity to God. Today let us ask Mary Magdalene to intercede for us that God may deepen our desire to faithfully proclaim the good news. When we share the good news of the Resurrection with others through our actions of love, we also spread the good news of God’s love in our communities.

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

Comments (1)

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Hats off to this article for its careful study of Mary Magdalene, drawing on all four gospel accounts.

However, the article may not pay enough attention to the question of which text people should use for exercises of this sort.

The life and...

Hats off to this article for its careful study of Mary Magdalene, drawing on all four gospel accounts.

However, the article may not pay enough attention to the question of which text people should use for exercises of this sort.

The life and teachings of Jesus are at the core of Christian beliefs, but reading about them is difficult because the story is spread among the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and must be mentally assembled from the four sources.

Help can be found in a long-neglected genre of Christian writing – the “harmony,” a consolidated presentation of the four gospels. This offers several attractive features.

First of all, a consolidated text makes the gospels easier for the new reader to follow. It puts events into their natural sequence, so that the birth at Bethlehem is followed by the visit of the wise men. It also brings together all the material about a complex incident, such as the life of Mary Magdalene, but also others, such as Jesus’ climactic interview with Pilate.

Second, it makes the gospels accessible to several audiences — people of faith, who can treat a harmony as a devotional work or study guide to the individual gospels; members of the secular world, who will find an easy way to read an essential work of our culture, basic to so much art and literature; and our Jewish and Islamic friends, who will find an account of an influential First Century reform rabbi.

Third, a consolidated text invites a new or usefully updated translation. This can aim to be clear on first reading, and to present familiar passages from the original King James, or from common figures of speech, in their familiar form.

Many excellent consolidated texts are on the market, and a reader can find one based on any standard Bible desired. I have written one such text myself, The Single Gospel, which prioritizes a smooth narrative showing cultural continuity. Other texts can be found that emphasize other qualities, such as maintaining individual sources in parallel columns.

Any of these provides a good point of entry to Christian spirituality and tradition.

Neil Averitt

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