It takes a lot of passion to be a great sinner. It takes even more passion, and a hefty dose of courage, to be a great lover. Mary Magdalene was both.
The Church honors her as a saint because she allowed the power of God’s merciful love to invade the depths of her wounded heart and transform it. In fact, she has so much to teach us that this year Pope Francis elevated her liturgical memorial to a feast.
We know she started out as a great sinner because St. Luke tells us Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Lk. 8:2). St. Gregory the Great believed those seven devils symbolized the seven capital sins, meaning every conceivable kind of sin. Yet once she encountered the healing love of Christ, Mary Magdalene became arguably the greatest lover the world has ever known, second only to Jesus and His mother.
Just look at the gospel of St. John, who relates, first, that Mary was one of the few who stood the death watch at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. Then on Easter Sunday, John tells us “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb” (Jn. 20:11). The tomb lay empty, the body of Christ apparently stolen by enemies. The apostles Peter and John saw—and then walked away, bewildered and shocked.
It’s clear that Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, but the profound courage of her love in this moment tends to go unnoticed. We all love the idea of loving Christ passionately, and even of giving Him our lives in return for His saving death for us. Something resonates deep within every soul at the idea of having a profound relationship with God, even if so often we let our hearts wander off after other things instead. But how many of us are willing to keep on loving Him when it seems we’re not going to get anything out of it?
Mary loved Jesus so much that when the other apostles left the empty tomb, apparently thinking as any logical person would that they could do nothing more, she stayed put. Certainly, like the rest of His followers, she was reeling from the shock of so much grief in such a short space of time. Yet she loved her Lord too much to walk away, even when it seemed that all hope was gone—even the scant comfort of giving the corpse a decent anointing for burial.
Mary Magdalene stayed outside the empty tomb because she loved Jesus for Himself, not for what she got out of the relationship.
I’ve always been struck—and admittedly a bit frightened—by the raw quality of Mary Magdalene’s love. She let herself be vulnerable in her love for the Lord, and perhaps that’s why He had such a special place for her in His heart. Because that’s how He loves each of us: He lets us wound Him and even kill Him in His incredible desire to be close to us. Mary was not afraid to stand and stay in the place where love hurt the most, because she was willing to be vulnerable with her Lord, just as He had been vulnerable during those excruciating hours just three short days before.
Mary, weeping in the garden outside the empty tomb on Easter morning, knew what it meant love to the point of death. And only after she had shown that she would stay with Him there, on the other side, past all human understanding and hope, did He reveal Himself to her fully alive.
We honor St. Mary Magdalene because she teaches us to let Christ invade our hearts. She teaches us to let Him cast out our demons so He can fill those open wounds with Himself.
May she remind each of us on her feast day that He wounds us only in order to draw us closer to Himself. We can stand and stay put when love hurts, because ultimately He is going to fill us as He did her to the point of bursting with the crazy joy of the resurrection.