Mary Magdalene is one of the most mischaracterized figures in biblical history. Among the false claims was that she was a public prostitute. The impression grew around the 6th century. Unfortunately, there is no clear biblical evidence to justify this claim. The Church has since rejected it also.
Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9 hinted that Mary Magdalene is the one from whom the Lord drove out seven demons. However, Scripture didn’t say those demons were due to her loose life or that she was a prostitute. Debates about this, called the “composite Magdalene,” aren’t the goal of this piece. Instead, I thought it appropriate to highlight it here as a prelude to our less academic, spiritual reflection.
Who Was Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene’s name is mentioned in the Gospels over twelve times, more than many apostles’ names. She was one of the very few whose loyalty to the Lord is strong. From the time of conversion to the Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, her discipleship was unwavering.
Mary Magdalene was likely from Magdala, a little town in Galilea. In this holy woman we see a true devotion to the Blessed Lord Jesus. She is a model for many who hardly allow their love of God to flow like a river in everyday life. Her love for the Lord was incredible. She deserves her title as the apostolorum apostola (apostle of the apostles), a title that grew in the 12th century.
Also, Saint Thomas Aquinas made a compelling argument in defense of this title for Mary Magdalene. After the resurrection, she was the first evangelizer of the apostles. She declared to them the goods news of the resurrection as the Lord directed. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, popularized the title in 2016. Through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in a June 10, 2016 document, he decreed that Mary Magdalene’s feast be elevated to the status of the apostles. Thus, on her feast day (July 22), we celebrate this great saint in the same way we commemorate the apostles.
Learning from Mary Magdalene
There is much more to learn from this holy woman. She wasn’t afraid to publicly express her faith in Jesus Christ. Despite the Lord’s crucifixion and the mainstream mockery of Jesus and disdain for his followers, Mary Magdalene remained faithful. She bore witness to Jesus. Her example is an excellent lesson for us today as the faith seems unpopular in the mainstream. With two other women, she was present on the first day of the week at the tomb of Jesus to anoint the Lord. The Gospel of John mentioned her name as the only first witness to the resurrection. She was the only one who stayed outside the tomb on the first day of the resurrection week, weeping because she didn’t find the Lord’s body (Jn 20:1-18).
Such a love is a pointer to what the saints will call the mystical union. The love goes beyond what is convenient. It sees the glory of pure love from the crucified one, bearing witness to the holiness shining forth from that cross. Thus, it is the love where the believer is united with Christ in affectionate way. In such a case, the only treasure of the believer—all that matters—is Jesus Christ. Jesus the Christ, dead or alive, is my Lord. It is the love which is so detached from self-centeredness that it is completely immersed in the Blessed Trinity’s intimate love. It is a love pouring forth to others in self-less sacrifices, adorned with the aroma of divine grace.
Finally, the Song of Songs is a beautiful description of how a person in love with God longs for divine intimacy. “I sought him, but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings, I will seek” (Song of Songs 3:1-4). Mary was in love with the Lord. She leaves us believers, with an example of love central to the life of true faith. Mary Magdalene, pray for us. Amen