She’s called the Apostle to the Apostles. She was the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus and tasked by him to tell the others. She’s wrongly referred to as a reformed prostitute and more heretically the secret wife of Jesus. We know little about her yet everyone knows her name. She is both mysterious and fascinating.
My daughter summed her up perfectly. When asked what she knows about St. Mary Magdalene her response was quick and simple:
“She was always there with Jesus. They had a really good friendship. We never hear about her wavering in her faith and trust in the Lord.”
What Mary of Magdala did, and didn’t do, is a shining example for us. She showed up, she stayed, and she trusted. On paper it seems easy. Show up. Stay. Trust. For her it led to a deep friendship with Jesus and later, sainthood. In our real, messy, twenty-first century, turbulent, uncertain, living-in-a-pandemic lives where our collective and individual futures hold a looming question mark, it’s harder, right?
I’m not a biblical historian but I think an argument could be made that lived reality today is no worse than that of Jesus’ time on earth. Life in the desert two thousand years ago was primitive and dangerous. They lived under Roman rule without the hope of heaven. People worked so they could stay alive, not so they could have luxuries or go on vacation. People died young. There was no reprieve from the elements. They had a Savior but many didn’t know it. They still lived under strict Mosaic law. Widows were often forgotten. Some had a good life, most tried to get by. It makes me think.
I realized recently that I’m mad about COVID and what has been taken away because of it. I’m mad that so many people lost their jobs and businesses. I’m mad that kids had their education cut short. My heart was sad for high school seniors who lost the best semester of high school. That’s a big deal for an eighteen-year-old. I’m sad for the people who died alone and for their family and friends who couldn’t be with them. I hated that I couldn’t go to Mass and receive Jesus in Holy Communion, that I couldn’t celebrate Easter with my parish community, and that the same might happen for Christmas. I’m angry that there is an invisible virus that we know little about unleashing loss and disorder on the world. At night, when I’m tired, it all seems very dim. I yearn for the pre-COVID life.
Then I open up the book I am reading that takes place during World War II and read about the blitz in London. Every night the Nazis rained bombs down upon that city. Every night. And each morning people awoke to fresh damage, weeping for their neighbor’s loss, thankful for their own safety. During that war, the entire world sacrificed. Everybody’s lives were changed and didn’t go back to normal. The uncertainty they lived with was bigger and more significant than ours. Just as in Jesus’ time, the question mark loomed large.
So with the clarity of morning I ask myself if it’s worse now. Probably not. That takes the edge off the anger but it simmers underneath. I’m still frustrated.
What We Know Matters
Enter Mary Magdalene and my daughter’s astute observation.
Mary is rightly held up as an example of God’s great mercy but there’s more. She’s an example, a role model because she too lived in a difficult time. She struggled as we do because no matter when or where you live, life is hard. She figured out the simple answer. She showed up. She stayed. She trusted. It’s unfortunate we don’t know more. Hers is an example of the hidden life. But maybe we don’t need to know more. We know what we need to know.
Mary was part of Jesus’ entourage. She was there listening, learning, perhaps asking questions. I can be like her when I go to Mass and Adoration. I can show up. But when Mass and Adoration get taken away, I can still show up in daily prayer. I can listen, because God is speaking to us all the time. I can learn by reading the Bible, the Catechism, and the writings of holy saints. I can ask questions. I can share my frustration and I can sit quietly in Jesus’ calming presence. It takes effort. It means I have to put aside other things for a time. Mary and the disciples she was with put aside much to be with Jesus. They dropped their nets. I can drop my net too.
The Gospels show Mary Magdalene at the Cross alongside the Blessed Virgin Mary and John. Mary Magdalene had the guts and the fortitude to stick around while her friend Jesus was tortured and killed. Being there was risky and she took that risk because she loved Jesus. She knew he was her Savior. She stayed. I must stay too. My soul needs Jesus. While in quarantine, unable to go to Mass, my sharp edges started returning. It was harder to go to prayer and when I did it was dry. It reminded me that it is imperative that, like Mary, I stay. I need to stay with my Lord. I need to rest in his love. By remaining with him, Mary Magdalene was a witness to a broken world. I need to do the same.
Mary trusted that Jesus was who he said he was. She had faith that he is the Son of God and that by his crucifixion he was saving her. She trusted that her sins were forgiven when she repented. She trusted in his goodness and his love for her. When it got hard, when it became risky she trusted that it would be OK. When he ascended to heaven, and everything changed, she trusted.
I can do that too. The things that occupied my hopes and dreams a year ago are changed now. Plans I made are canceled. But I can trust in Jesus’ goodness. I can trust in his love for me. I can trust that no matter what happens, whether COVID roars back, our political climate continues to be divisive, and the fall high school soccer season gets canceled, Jesus will be there and will help me as long as I show up and stay.
Show up. Stay. Trust. These four words will help sustain me; as will these words from Exodus:
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”Exodus 14:14
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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.
Featured image of The Penitent Mary Magdalene (c. 1620-1640) by Giacomo Galli sourced from Wikimedia Commons