What did she see in Jesus’ gaze? Reprehension? Yes, but also an immense compassion. And soon her life of sin became unbearable.
“Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.”1
When speaking of the two loves, St. Augustine did so with full knowledge of the facts, for he had experienced within himself the dynamism of both. In his youth, he had seen how the selfish soul seeks nothing but to glorify itself, clinging to corporeal goods and going to the extreme of despising God. After his conversion, however, his only goal was to worship God, to honor Him and to rely solely on Him.
But centuries earlier, history had already contemplated another soul who experienced the struggle of these two loves, perhaps even more powerfully than the Bishop of Hippo: Mary Magdalene, disciple of Jesus.
In the absence of historical documents providing us with details of her life, we will build some considerations on the visions of the German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich,2 beatified by St. John Paul II in October 2004.
In her childhood, praise and pampering
According to the revelations received by this Blessed, Mary belonged to a wealthy family who owned many properties in Judea. One of them was next to the Temple in Jerusalem, the principal place of pilgrimage for the Jewish people and, as a result, a site by which numerous people constantly passed.
Little Mary was very beautiful, and her mother spoiled her and took delight in showing her off, setting her in a window, seated on cushions and dressed up in fine clothes, so that she could be seen and praised by the passers-by. This encouraged the worm of vanity to develop in the girl’s soul, leading her to indulge in pride and self-contemplation from an early age…
Another factor influenced the course of her life in a decisive way: the death of her parents when she was still very young. After the inheritance was divided among her siblings – Lazarus, Martha and another sister, whose name is not mentioned in the Gospel – Mary received a castle in the village of Magdala, in Galilee. She went to live there, accompanied by her attendants and servants, when she was but eleven years old. Without a higher ideal to guide her decisions and little inclined to follow the advice of those who tried to direct her towards the good, Mary ended up sinking into the worst vices, always seeking to satisfy the follies of her self-love.
The encounter with the Master
While Magdalene spent her time and fortune in futile amusements, her siblings Lazarus and Martha drew closer and closer to Jesus. As both owned a large castle in Bethany, near Jerusalem, they offered hospitality to the Master on His way to His baptism by John the Baptist. It was on this occasion that Martha first spoke to Jesus about Mary and expressed her concern. Our Lord encouraged her to persevere in her prayers for her sister, strengthening her in the hope that Mary would eventually mend her ways.
After some time, Martha succeeded in persuading Mary to go to meet Jesus, who was then in Jezreel, in Galilee. However, since the Divine Redeemer’s stay there lasted only a few hours, the sisters were unable to see Him.
Shortly afterwards, again urged by Martha, the young woman agreed to accompany her to a place where Jesus had stopped with His disciples to preach to the people and work miracles. At a certain moment, when Mary was in the guesthouse, she went to a window to observe the activity below and caught sight of the Master walking by with His disciples. “He looked at her gravely as He passed, with a glance that pierced her soul.”3
A contemporary author rightly comments: “What was in those eyes? Reprehension? Yes, reprehension; but also compassion, immense compassion. Her life became unbearable for her.” From that moment on, “each sin engraved that gaze more deeply in her memory.”4
Some time passed until, faced with her sister’s insistence, Mary eventually gave in again and went to the place where Our Lord was to preach. “She was inwardly confused and a prey to interior struggle.”5 It was grace that was calling her! “When Jesus appeared and began to speak, her eyes and her soul were riveted on Him alone.”6 Hearing Our Lord’s words and witnessing the healing He performed softened that hard heart, which from then on, without knowing exactly why, sought to draw near to the Master.
“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven”
The opportune moment arose when a Pharisee invited Jesus to a banquet in his house (cf. Lk 7:36-50). As the seer recounts, Mary noticed that the Redeemer had not received, either before or during the meal, any gesture of honor or the respectful attention commonly shown to guests.7 This led her to take the initiative related by the Evangelist. She “brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Lk 7:37-38).
Mary wanted to express her repentance and beg forgiveness, but she could not manage to say a word; they were drowned out by tears. She could only kiss the feet of her Savior as she wept, not sure whether from love or sorrow.
With her head bowed, she heard Our Lord ask the Pharisee: “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Lk 7:41-42).
How those words must have echoed in Magdalene’s soul!
And then she dared to raise her eyes… meeting with that gaze that had once reproached her, now transformed into an ocean of gentleness and goodness. Turning towards her, Jesus said to the Pharisee: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave Me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. […] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Lk 7:44-45, 47).
Oh, wonder! As Mary washed the Savior’s feet, her soul was purified; as she anointed them with balsam, the pleasing odor of divine forgiveness inundated her entirely. And the Lord confirmed all that she felt in her soul, saying to her: “Your sins are forgiven. […] Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk 7:48, 50).
The first to announce the Resurrection
From then on, Magdalene “followed Jesus everywhere, sat at His feet, stood and waited for Him everywhere. She thought of Him alone, saw Him alone, knew only her Redeemer and her own sins.”8 She accompanied Him until the supreme hour of His Passion and Death: “standing by the Cross of Jesus were His Mother, and His Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19:25). And after the “consummatum est” she remained beside the Master’s lifeless Body until assisting Our Lady, with all care and delicacy, in embalming and burying Him, and finally leaving the sepulcher only because of the dangers of the night.
Nevertheless, burning with love for the Lord, so uncontainable was her desire to be near His Sacred Body that she resolved to anoint it once more.9 Accordingly, on the day after the Sabbath, before dawn (cf. Jn 20:1), Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and was stunned by the discovery that the Body had been “stolen”… It was the consummation of the separation, which brought with it the quintessence of sorrow.
Fr. Antonio Vieira, with his characteristic eloquence, makes the following comment: “The sorrow of seeing Him stolen, or not seeing Him because He was stolen, was the sorrow of absence: Et hic dolor maior erat. Take note: Christ was as dead, stolen, as He was deceased; but deceased was less absent than stolen; because death was a semi-absence, it took His Soul, and left Him the Body; theft was total absence; it took His Body after the Soul had been taken. And as theft was the greatest absence of the beloved, so it was the greatest sorrow of the lover.”10
Such was her urgency to find the Body that, even when questioned by Angels, she does not stop to wonder that they are heavenly spirits speaking to her; the only thing she wants to know is where the Beloved is: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (Jn 20:13). Mary fears nothing and is ready to overcome any difficulty. And she shows this when, without recognizing the Master in the One who asks her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”, she answers: “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away” (Jn 20:15).
But when He calls her by name – “Mary” (Jn 20:16), a series of impressions, graces and delights flooded her memory. What nostalgia would she not have felt of hearing that “Mary”?
Such was her intimacy with Our Lord that her first impulse was to throw herself at His feet to embrace Him. Jesus does not need to show her His hands and side, as He will do later with the disciples, in order to prove to them that He was not a ghost (cf. Lk 24:37). “Mary does not even question that He had died and risen: it was He, the Master.”11
Seeing her robust faith and not wishing to deprive her of merit,”12 the Redeemer does not allow her to touch Him, but sends her as the first herald of the Resurrection: “go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17).
“Arise, my beloved, and come!”
After the Resurrection, the Evangelists no longer mention Mary Magdalene. However, “a prevalent tradition leads her out into the desert and even brings her with the Jewish diaspora to the shores of Marseilles.”13 It is said that during the persecutions that took place in the years following the Lord’s Ascension, Mary Magdalene, together with her siblings Martha and Lazarus, were put into a boat and left adrift on the high seas, to be shipwrecked and buried beneath the waves. However, God ordained that they should land in France.14
Once in Marseilles, St. Mary Magdalene ardently preached the name of Jesus. After converting many to the Christian religion, nothing else attracted her in this world. Far from her Beloved, any corner of the earth was an exile for her. How could she assuage her longings and shorten the great distance that separated her from Heaven?
It was in the desert that Mary found the way. Having taken refuge there, she made her abode in a place prepared by Angels! And there she remained incognito for thirty years.15
At the end of that long period of heavenly communion and penance for the sins of her past life, there was nothing further to prevent Mary Magdalene from fulfilling her long-held desire: to throw herself once more at Jesus’ feet, to embrace them and kiss them with all her love. At the Resurrection, Our Lord had prevented her, claiming that He had not yet ascended to the Father (cf. Jn 20:17). Now, however, the situation was different: Jesus was already with the Father; she must go to meet Him.
It is said that angelic spirits led her to Bishop St. Maximinus, who administered Holy Communion to her. Then, lying down before the altar, Mary Magdalene delivered her soul to God and was able to be with her Beloved forever.”16 ◊
Taken from the Heralds of the Gospel magazine, #165.
1 ST. AUGUSTINE. De Civitate Dei. L.XIV, c.28.
2 Cf. Cf. BLESSED ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH. Maria Madalena. 2.ed. São Paulo: MIR, 2015.
3 Idem, p.17.
4 LUCA DE TENA Y DE BRUNET, María Luisa. Santa María Magdalena. In: ECHEVERRÍA, Lamberto de; LLORCA, SJ, Bernardino; REPETTO BETES, José Luis (Org.). Año Cristiano. Madrid: BAC, 2005, v.VII, p.589.
5 BLESSED ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH, op. cit., p.31-32.
6 Idem, p.32.
7 Cf. Idem, p.37.
8 Idem, p.60.
9 Cf. CLÁ DIAS, EP, João Scognamiglio. New Insights on the Gospels. Città del Vaticano: LEV; Nobleton: Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, v.I, p.270.
10 VIEIRA, Antônio. Obra Completa. Parenética. Volume II. São Paulo: Loyola, 2015, v.IV, p.313.
11 CLÁ DIAS, EP, João Scognamiglio. Homily for the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. Mairiporã, July 22, 2005.
12 Cf. CLÁ DIAS, João Scognamiglio. New Insights on the Gospels. Città del Vaticano: LEV; Nobleton: Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, v.VII, p.365.
13 LUCA DE TENA Y DE BRUNET, op. cit., p.597.
14 Cf. DE VARAZZE, Jacopo. Legenda áurea: vidas de Santos. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2003, p.545.
15 Cf. Idem, p.549.
16 Cf. Idem, p.550-551.