Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, July 22, 2014 — Mary Magdalen “Started Wrong But Finished Strong”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

St Mary Magdalene by Quentin Massys

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene
Lectionary: 396/603

Reading 1 mi 7:14-15, 18-20


Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea
all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.

Responsorial Psalm ps 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8


R. (8a) Lord, show us your mercy and love.
You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Restore us, O God our savior,
and abandon your displeasure against us.
Will you be ever angry with us,
prolonging your anger to all generations?
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.
Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.
R. Lord, show us your mercy and love.

Gospel jn 20:1-2, 11-18


On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he told her.
Art: Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Rembrandt. (“Supposing him to be the gardener.”—John 20:15. He says to her, “Do not be afraid.”).
First Thought from Peace and Freedom
Mary Magdalene appears in the New Testament and in Christian art more than any other women save the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Both are at the “Foot of the Cross” as Jesus dies. Mary Magdalene famously washes Jesus’ feet. She “started wrong but finished strong” but  there is no proof in the Bible that she is a prostitute.  Jesus forgave her, this releasing  seven demons out of her….
Others that  “started wrong but finished strong” include St. Augustine and Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) who was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. He saw a bright light and was never the same.
These are but a few examples of lives with hardship that became a transformational event or period in life.
Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous had a transformational experience much like that of Paul on the road to Damascus. Like Paul before him, Wilson told the room filled with light and “the scales fell from my eyes.” Those are the same words Paul chose to describe his experience.
I’ll be you know dozens if not hundreds of people who can say their hardships caused them a new awareness of God, a kind of re-awakening or conversion….
What doesn’t kill us truly does make us stronger!
Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio
We read in both Luke 8 and Mark 16 that Mary Magdalen once had seven devils within her and they were cast out. In Luke it simply says that the demons went out of her, but it is explicit in Mark that it was Jesus who had cast them out. It ought to give us some encouragement that even someone who is full of devils can someday become a great saint by the grace and power of Christ.
Perhaps it is because Mary’s unsavory past was proclaimed in Scripture that she is traditionally thought to have been a prostitute.There isn’t any evidence of this, though I suppose it could be true.If the seven demons in her somehow personified the seven deadly sins, then lust would have been one of them.But that doesn’t make her a prostitute, only promiscuous.Take a look around you today (and probably in any age) and you will see that is it quite common for one to be promiscuous without actually taking up the trade of a prostitute (excuse me, I mean a “sex worker” or an “erotic service provider”; there’s actually a union of such in California, and there’s a movement to legalize the “oldest profession” in San Francisco).It might be worthwhile here to try to clear up some of the confusion regarding the identity of St Mary Magdalen in the Gospels.You’ll see many spiritual writers, both ancient and modern, who try to identify practically every Mary and every sinful woman in the Gospel with Mary Magdalen.It seems to me that they’re all wrong.I submit that the only person that should be identified with Mary Magdalen in the Gospels is the woman called “Mary Magdalen.”
Straightforward enough, eh?
In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Mary is identified with the woman taken in adultery, recounted in John 8.That’s sheer poetic license, for there isn’t a scrap of evidence for it (I don’t mean that no one has ever suggested it; I’m sticking to the Scriptures themselves).Many identify her with the sinful woman who wept at Jesus’ feet in the house of the Pharisee in Luke 7.There’s no evidence for this, either.Given the fact that Jesus cast no devils out of this woman, but simply forgave her sins, and the fact that she was not a disciple of Jesus (though she later most likely became one—wouldn’t you think?), it is too far a stretch to try to identify her with Mary Magdalen, who is mentioned in the next few verses in Luke as one who had already been traveling around with Jesus, and who at some previous time had the demons driven out of her.
Some try to identify Mary Magdalen with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

But there’s no evidence of this, either.It’s unlikely that Mary of Bethany would also be called Mary of Magdala.But, trying to conflate various characters in the Gospel into a composite Mary Magdalen, some would identify Mary of Bethany with her because Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus before his passion, and this would identify her also with the other unnamed woman in Matthew 26whoanointedJesusin Bethany (though not at Lazarus’ house but at Simon the Leper’s)—yet this one is not called a sinful woman, nor is Mary of Bethany—and who is then also identified with the harlot of Luke 7, simply because they all anointed Him, and Mary Magdalen, like the harlot, but unlike Mary of Bethany, was a known sinner.The Byzantine Liturgy in its Holy Week services gets these all mixed up as well.There, it’s all clear now, right?The safest approach is simply to realize that whenever the Scriptures speak of Mary Magdalen, they call her Mary Magdalen.“A woman” or “a harlot” does not identify her. The Gospel writers all knew very well who she was, and whenever they wrote of her they did so unambiguously.(Would the evangelists refer to, say, St Peter, as “a man” in some instances?No, of course not, and Mary Magdalen was aswell known in the early Church as any of the apostles.)So we’ll never know just what those seven devils drove Mary Magdalen to do in her pre-Jesus sinful life in the sleazy Judean underworld (or wherever she committed her sins).But how did they get into her in the first place?We’ll never know that either, but there is one other place in the Gospels where “seven demons” are mentioned (Lk. 11:24-26 and the parallel in Mt. 12).They are the ones that enter a soul after a lesser unclean spirit departs.


The lesson seems to be that it’s not enough to rid oneself of evil.If we don’t immediately fill ourselves with good, then worse evils may yet take over our vacuous souls.Perhaps Mary Magdalen had some Jewish exorcist cast out one demon (all wild speculation, I admit) and, not yet having met Jesus, she didn’t know how to maintain her freedom in a righteous manner and so became plagued with seven.Only Jesus could drive these out, because He could immediately fill her with his grace and love, and there would henceforth never be any room in her for evil spirits.Once she attached herself firmly to Christ and became his ardent follower, she was securely on the road to sanctity.

So, in conclusion—I’m afraid I don’t have one this time; what can we make of all those strange attempts to identify Mary Magdalen with practically every woman in the Gospels?


Perhaps I should just say: attach yourself irrevocably to Christ, and then you won’t go down in history as someone with seven devils…




When novelists and screenwriters try to insert something salacious into the life of Jesus, they focus on one woman: Mary from Magdala. Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute? Was Mary Magdalene the wife of Jesus?Birger A. Pearson addresses these popular notions in the article “From Saint to Sinner” below.As Pearson notes, there’s no substantial evidence to either of these theories. As for her being named in the New Testament, none of the Gospels hints of her as being Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus.
Three Gospels name her only as a witness of his crucifixion and/or burial. All four Gospels place her at the scene of Jesus’ resurrection (though Luke does not list her as a witness). Only in the Gospel according to Luke is there even the slightest implication that she might have had a past life that could raise eyebrows and the question: Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute?
Luke 8 names her among other female followers and financial supporters and says that she had been released from the power of seven demons.Theologians in later centuries consciously tried to downplay her role as an influential follower of Jesus. She became identified with the “sinful woman” in Luke 7 whom Jesus forgives as she anoints his feet, as well as the woman “taken in adultery” whom Jesus saved from stoning.

In the sixth century Pope Gregory preached of her being a model penitent.Only the Western church has said that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The Eastern church has always honored her as an apostle, noting her as the “apostle to the apostles,” based on the account of the Gospel of John which has Jesus calling her by name and telling her to give the news of his resurrection to the other disciples.As Birger A. Pearson sets forth in “From Saint to Sinner” below,anoncanonical Gospel of Mary enhances her role to a greater proportion. Her ongoing role in the early church is subject to speculation, but she is indeed getting more respect in theological circles, not for being Mary Magdalene wife of Jesus nor for being Mary Magdalene a prostitute but for being a faithful follower of her Rabboni—her teacher.

Mary Magdalene

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute? Was Mary Magdalene wife of Jesus? Her being a repentant whore was not part of the biblical text. Photo: Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library / Courtesy of IAP Fine Art



Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
• The Gospel today presents the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today. The death of Jesus, her great friend, makes her lose the sense of life. But she does not cease to look for him. She goes to the tomb to encounter anew the one whom death had stolen. There are moments in life in which everything crumbles down. It seems that everything has come to an end. Death, disasters, pain, disillusionments, betrayals! There are so many things that can make one lose the earth under our feet and produce in us a profound crisis. But something diverse can also take place. Unexpectedly, the encounter with a friend can give us back the sense of life and make us discover that love is stronger than death and than defeat. In the way in which the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is described we distinguish the stages followed, from the painful seeking for the dead friend to the encounter of the risen Lord. These are also the stages that we all follow, along our life, seeking God and in living out the Gospel. It is the process of death and of resurrection which is prolonged day after day.
• John 20,1: Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. There was a profound love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. She was one of the few persons who had the courage to remain with Jesus until the hour of his death on the Cross. After the obligatory rest of the Sabbath, she returned to the tomb, to be in the place where she had met the Beloved for the last time. But, to her great surprise, the tomb was empty!
• John 20,11-13: Mary Magdalene weeps, but seeks. As she wept, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. The angels asked: “Why are you weeping?” Response: “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” Mary Magdalene looks for the Jesus she had known, the same one with whom she had lived during three years.
• John 20,14-15: Mary Magdalene speaks with Jesus without recognizing him; the Disciples of Emmaus saw Jesus, but they did not recognize him (Lk 24,15-16). The same thing happens to Mary Magdalene. She sees Jesus, but does not recognize him. She thinks that it is the gardener. Jesus also asks, like the angels had done: “Why are you weeping?” And he adds “Who are you looking for?” Response: “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him!” She is still looking for the Jesus of the past, the same one of three days before. The image of the past prevents her from recognizing the living Jesus, who is standing in front of her.
• John 20,16: Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus. Jesus pronounces the name “Mary!” (Miriam). This is the sign of recognition: the same voice, the same way of pronouncing the name. She answers “Master!” (Rabbuni). Jesus turns. The first impression is that death has been only a painful accident on the way, but that now everything has turned back as it was in the beginning. Mary embraces Jesus intensely. He was the same Jesus who had died on the cross, the same one whom she had known and loved. Here takes place what Jesus had said in the Parable of the Good Shepherd: “He calls his by name and they know his voice”. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me!” (Jn 10,2.4.14).
• John 20,17: Mary Magdalene receives the mission to announce the resurrection to the Apostles. In fact, it is the same Jesus, but the way of being with her is not the same. Jesus tells her: “Do not cling to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father!” Jesus is going to be together with the Father. Mary Magdalene should not cling to him, but she has to assume her mission: “But go and find my brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father”. He calls the disciples “my brothers”. Ascending to the Father Jesus opens the way for us so that we can be close to God. “I want them to be with me where I am” (Jn 17,24; 14,3).
• John 20,18: The dignity and the mission of Magdalene and of the women. Mary Magdalene is called the disciple of Jesus (Lk 8,1-2); witness of his crucifixion (Mk 15,40-41; Mt 27,55-56; Jn 19, 25), of his burial (Mk 15, 47; Lk 23, 55; Mt 27, 61), and of his resurrection (Mk 16,1-8; Mt 28,1-10; Jn 20,1.11-18). And now she receives the order, she is ordered to go to the Twelve and to announce to them that Jesus is alive. Without this Good News of the Resurrection, the seven lamps of the Sacraments would extinguish (Mt 28,10); Jn 20,17-18).
Personal questions
• Have you ever had an experience that has produced in you an impression of loss and of death? What has given you new life and the hope and joy of living?
• Mary Magdalene looked for Jesus in a certain way and found him again in another way. How does this take place in our life today?
Concluding Prayer
God, you are my God, I pine for you;
My heart thirsts for you,
My body longs for you,
As a land parched, dreary and waterless. (Ps 63,1)


Art: Jesus revealing himself to Mary Magdalene by William Brassey Hole

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


SCRIPTURE READINGS: SONG 3:1-4 OR 2 COR 5:14-17; JN 20: 1-2. 11-18

Do you yearn for the Lord?  For many, the answer would be negative.  Why is that so?  Because they cannot see Him or even feel Him.  He does not seem to be real.  They do not even know whether He exists; much less whether He loves them. Perhaps for some of us, we do yearn for Him. Now and then we experience the emptiness in our hearts and like the psalmist we cry, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” And when we cannot find Him or experience Him, there is always the temptation to replace that emptiness with things and the loneliness with activities and people.

However, for those of us who are active in Church and in our faith, we might profess that we yearn for the Lord and that we love Jesus.  But how much do we love Him?  Do we love Him like the way we love our spouse and our intimate friends?  Do we yearn to be with Jesus, think often of Him and desire to talk with Him as much as we do with our beloved?  How is it that we have more passion and longing to be with our loved ones than to be with Jesus?  The truth is that our feelings for Jesus are very much different compared to our passion for our friends.  Clearly, we prefer human love to divine love.  Perchance, our love for Jesus could be more from the head than from the heart.  Like it or not, it is easier to love someone who is real, in the sense that we can see, feel, touch and hear, because we are constituted of body and soul.  The proverb says, “out of sight, out of mind!”

How is it that we do not have the same yearning for the Lord, the kind of intense passion for Him as Mary Magdalene did?  Love, for Mary Magdalene, was certainly not just a verbal declaration of love, or even an intellectual thought that she loved the Lord.  The gospel recounts her deep love for Jesus and her desire to be with Him, to see Him and be in union with Him.  Indeed, since the day Mary Magdalene encountered Him and received from Him the unconditional love and mercy of God, she could not stop loving Him more and more.  She was always following Him in His ministry, supporting Him and attending to His needs.  She was totally faithful to the Lord, even clinging to Him when His disciples abandoned Him.  She was there with Jesus at the foot of the cross, watching Him die a cruel death.  Her heart must have been so broken when Jesus suffered and died before her very eyes.  It was therefore not surprising that she was there at the tomb of Jesus, hoping to see Him again or at least be with Him.  Hence, we can imagine the horror and great disappointment when His body was not to be found.  She could only cry like a lost child, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.”  No words of assurance could comfort her.  She was so deeply immersed in her passion for Jesus that she was oblivious to anyone and would not listen to anything or any voice except for the voice of her beloved!

Indeed, this is passionate love!  This is the love between two human beings as described in the first reading from the book of Song of Songs.  Intense passionate love is described as nuptial love. The bride says, “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the City; in the streets and the squares I will seek him whom my heart loves.” Unless we love the Lord in this manner as God loves us, so intensely, like a man for a woman, we do not understand the nature of love.  Union is the consequence of love.

Why is it then that we do not have this intensity of love for Jesus, like Mary Magdalene, St Paul and all the saints did?  They all expressed their desire to be in union with Jesus in passionate and affective terms.  The key to intensifying our passion for Jesus is dependent on how much we have known Him as a person in His humanity. This is so true even in human relationships. When we are physically intimate with a person, we tend to long for the person more.  When two persons seldom spend time with each other physically, sharing with each other one’s feelings and thoughts, or doing things together, their feelings for each other will eventually fade.  This will then be reduced to an “intellectual love” for each other.  As time develops, emotional distancing will give way to intellectual distancing, as they no longer feel and think alike.  This is the beginning of the end of the romance.  When we no longer feel with the other person, the relationship will become lukewarm, then indifferent, cold and then estranged.

Hence, we must learn from Mary Magdalene if we want to strengthen our intimacy with the Lord; our passion for Him.  We must fall in love with the humanity of Jesus as Mary Magdalene did.  Her passionate love for the Lord arose from her personal contact with Him and her being loved by Him so unconditionally and totally, considering the fact that she was an insignificant person in the eyes of the world.  She was trapped by sin.  The principle of life is that love begets love.  Her life was completely transformed by the love and mercy shown to her by Christ.  Set free by the Lord to love, she became an apostle to the apostles. The evangelist noted, “So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.”  This is why Pope John Paul II insistently and repeatedly reminded us that the way of Christian prayer must be Christocentric.  It must be founded on the contemplation on the humanity of Jesus.  In his apostolic letter, “Novo Millennio Ineunte”, he invites us to contemplate on the humanity of Jesus as the program for all times.

But doesn’t this contradict what Jesus said to Mary when she tried to cling to Him?  Jesus said, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Indeed, this is true.  Our love for the Lord must go beyond physical and sensual love to a spiritual and intellectual love.  We cannot cling on to physical love alone in any relationship, even in human relationships.  We must move on to a higher plane of love, namely, that of the soul and the spirit, the mind and the heart.  To rest on the level of physical love is unhealthy as it suggests an egoistic love, centered on oneself, one’s needs and gratifications rather than the other person.  Such a love is not a loving of the other but making use of the other for oneself.

Thus, it is not sufficient to remain on the physical aspect of this relationship.  One must purify that love and sublimate it to a higher level of intellectual, spiritual and mystical love.  This is what Jesus was asking of Mary.

Only when we have arrived at this level, will we be ready to enter into the dark night of the Spirit.  On this level, even when we do not feel His love, we still will love Him no less.  We demonstrate this mature and higher form of love in the way we love others. It is a love that demands death to oneself for others because we see Christ in all.  This is the full proof of our love for Christ.  As St John wrote, “We are to love then, because he loved us first. Anyone who says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen.” (1 Jn 4:19f)  So the final criterion of whether we truly love Christ is not even having sentimental feelings for Him but whether we love Christ in others and not just merely loving others.

Does it mean that we no longer yearn for Christ or even those whom we love?  Or course we will still long for union with Christ and all our loved ones who cannot be with us physically now.  But loving them spiritually and being in union with them in mind and heart, we know that one day we will eventually meet in heaven where we will all be reunited in Christ.  This pining however is not one of sadness or a self-centered craving, but a reaching out to the other.

In the meantime, we continue to sustain this hope in faith and in love through intimacy, brought about through constant prayer in Christ.  Only in such intimate moments with the Lord, can we hear the Risen Christ calling our name as was the encounter of Mary Magdalene. To be called by name by the Lord will sustain us, knowing that we are unique and important to Him.  Let every Eucharist that we receive be also an encounter with the Risen Lord who says to us, “This is my body given up for you … This is my blood shed for you.”  Through the Eucharist, we are already having a foretaste of our communion with the Lord, for we know that if we receive Him personally, consciously, in purity of mind and heart, and worthily, He and His Father will come to dwell with us through His Spirit.

– See more at:



A surprising number of spiritual people started out on the wrong side of the law and everything else. Many even had a “near death experience” that was instrumental in their “conversion” and a new way of life…..


Art: Penitent Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier, Palace on the Water, Warsaw


Thomas Merton: You should want to be a saint.

You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.

Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.

But many of us are challenged to do more….

One of our favorite stories of Thomas Merton is here:

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