4 Things to Learn from St. Mary Magdalene
in 2016, Pope Francis elevated the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast day, giving it the same importance as the memorials of the Twelve Apostles. Scholars debate Mary Magdalene’s background. While some people believe she is also the woman who bathed Jesus’s feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50), or the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or both, others believe that these are three separate women. What is known for certain is that Mary was a sinner who showed repentance, was given the great gift of God’s mercy, and went on to follow Jesus. What can we learn from this saint of the early Church?
1. God’s mercy is infinite.
Mary Magdalene, like all of us, was a sinner. While we don’t know the exact nature of her sin, we do know that when Jesus met her, he cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9). Before meeting Jesus, there were some very serious concerns in Mary’s life, and she seemed far from salvation. Yet by the time of the Passion, everything had changed, and she became the first witness to the Resurrection. How did such a monumental shift happen?
The answer can only be God’s infinite mercy. When Jesus saw Mary’s repentance and sincere love for Him, He forgave her sins and called her to a new life. Mary humbled herself, accepted this mercy, and embraced the call. Like Mary, we are called to begin anew when we receive God’s mercy, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
2. Women are essential in evangelization.
The life and witness of Mary Magdalene are a reminder that women are not just good contributors to the task of evangelization, but are essential to the mission. As the first witness to the Resurrection, Mary had the great responsibility of announcing this news to the Apostles. For this reason, St. Thomas Aquinas has called her the “Apostle of the Apostles.” Just as Jesus placed great value on the women who followed Him during His public ministry, He chose Mary to deliver the very first message of the Resurrection.
Women today are similarly called to proclaim the Good News. It is important for us to remember to value our sisters in Christ and listen to their unique and indispensable witness. When we listen to and love our sisters in the same way that Jesus valued his female followers, we open the door to a more complete evangelization.
3. When Christ calls us, we must follow Him.
Forgiving Mary’s great sin was not the end of Jesus’s interactions with Mary, but the beginning. It marked Mary’s call to leave her life of sin and follow Jesus completely. Because God gives us the gift of free will, we must choose to accept His mercy in order to be saved. This is a choice each person must make individually.
In Mary’s case, she could have rejected God’s mercy and returned to her life of sin. Instead, she answered Jesus’s call and followed Him to the foot of the Cross. Then, after the Resurrection, she continued to answer His call by spreading the Good News to the Apostles and abroad. When she heard God’s call for her, she left everything else behind to answer that call. As the patron saint of converts, Mary teaches us to follow Christ when He calls us.
4. True joy is not found in earthly pleasures.
In his prayer for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis says, “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured paradise to the repentant thief.” In her sinful life, Mary was not concerned with heavenly things, but with the pleasures of the earth. This clearly did not bring her true happiness. If Mary Magdalene is the same sinner who bathed Jesus’s feet with her tears, then her unhappiness with earthly life was literally poured out onto Jesus’s feet.
It was only in following Jesus and focusing on eternal life with the Father that Mary was able to learn what true joy is. This joy is forever tied to the love and mercy of God. Like Mary, we will find joy if we reject earthly pleasures and instead seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!