A couple years ago, I viewed a fascinating documentary on a major cable channel about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple. The hypothesis put forth was that as the figure of the Mary of Nazareth achieved ascendency in Christian theology — as the new Eve and a model of faith and noble character — Mary Magdalene, whom certain noncanonical writings regard as equal to any of Jesus’ male followers, declined in a male-dominated church to an unflattering portrait of a reformed prostitute.
The scriptural record does not support this idea. Mary Magdalene is presented as a loyal disciple who stood by the cross of Jesus as he was dying, was among the devoted women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint his body, encountered the risen Lord in the garden, and was missioned by him to announce to his anxious followers that he was alive.
The evangelist Luke says of Mary: ”Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources” (8:2).
I write this because three years ago, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis raised the obligatory memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene to full status as a feast. On June 10, 2016, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published Apostolorum Apostola, in accord with the mind of Pope Francis. In the decree, the Congregation stated that this “decision is situated in the current ecclesial context, which calls upon us to reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the new evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of divine mercy.”
I have often said publicly that my maternal grandmother Agnes was among my first evangelizers. After my mother passed away suddenly at the age of 43, Grandma left behind a well-earned retirement of Canasta, leisure activities with friends and family, and personal pursuits to move in and care for the grieving husband of her older daughter and three minor children. It was at her feet that we first learned to pray and experienced the comfort of her love until the day she fell sick four years later and died.
She has been followed by many women evangelizers — aunts, cousins, neighbors, Racine Dominicans, women religious of other communities whom I have met and ministered with over the years, and so many women whose friendship, goodness, and compassion have inspired me . . . and still do!
In honoring the “Apostle to the Apostles” on her feast, let us thank God for the women disciples who accompany us on the journey of faith.
In This Issue
Redemptorist Dennis J. Billy continues his series on authors and Church figures who wrote on the Eucharist. He introduces us to the prophetic witness Catherine de Hueck Doherty, who sought to enrich Western Christianity with insights from the Eastern Church and also served the poor. Mary Jane Romero, OSB, offers a beautiful reflection on the sacramentality of the Church. We hope that these and all that this issue has to offer will be a blessing for your summertime reading and prayer.
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