In a time of scandal, Mary Magdalene can turn the weeping to a “waterfall” of love
Some years ago, a beautiful 80-year-old ailing priest became my friend. He told me to stay in Christ’s presence and seek only him, like Mary Magdalene, and he urged me to have confidence and comfort in telling what I’ve seen with him, sharing his perfect love with everyone.
My friend has since gone to the Lord, and every day I think more and more about what he said. It’s straight out of a Resurrection scene. And even as we approach Christmas, how much do we need resurrection? That is, after all, why he came as an infant in a humble manger — to save us.
Keep seeking Jesus, is one takeaway from such advice. Also, it’s an opportunity for a meditation on the fact we are all sinners. It’s the common ground upon which each and every one of us can meet. And the desire for something better. The desire for him. The desire to lift people out of anger and bitterness into divine light.
I was struck by this listening to Kathie Lee Gifford on “The Today Show.” The morning news broke that Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC. She talked about God’s healing power.
Even as the focus was on the shock of a man who is a household name and his abuse of power, she approached it from a place of humility. We all sin. There are different degrees, but we’ve all fallen.
In recent weeks and months, some of the biggest household names have fallen in ways that seemed impossible not so long ago — particularly to the women who had been wronged by unmanly wielding of power to inflict indignities, in a radical perversion of complementarity and the beauty that man and woman were made by God to be.
The fall of these men, much like as the season of autumn changes things and makes things visible that wouldn’t otherwise be when foliage is in its fullness, helps us see what’s going on. Power didn’t bring out the best in some of these men. And many women have been living in misery.
One can’t help but think of Blessed Pope Paul VI and “Humanae Vitae” (“On Human Life”) which faced such opposition 50 years ago — the anniversary is 2018.
At the time, he wrote, concerning the consequence of widespread artificial birth control:
“How easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. …
“A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and … reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
“Finally … it could well happen … that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”
These are just excerpts. But reading them is like an avalanche of headlines from the current day flashing before our eyes.
We could point to men behaving badly in the workplace, reducing women to instruments, as the pope warns. We can think of the Little Sisters of the Poor having to go to the Supreme Court to protect religious liberty in faithfulness to the divine law the encyclical talks about and to resist the interventions of public authorities that the pope warns of.
It’s hard not to be amazed by his prophetic wisdom, as he saw our world today before we got here, and regretful we did not take his words to heart.
But more than that, what a treasury of grace we are missing when we hold women in all of their fruitfulness down and suppress the beauty implicit in their nature.
I always go back to a letter Pope Benedict XVI handed me in 2012, which had first been addressed to all the women of the world by Pope Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council. It says in summation quite clearly: “Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
So how do we do that, women of the world?
In 2016, Pope Francis elevated Mary Magdalene’s memorial to a feast on the Church calendar for celebration every July. This year, recalling her encounter with the risen Christ, the Holy Father reflected on how “Each one of us is a story of the love of God. God calls each of us by name.” He pointed to Mary Magdalene, who had lived a life of sin, as “the apostle of the new and greatest hope.”
That’s what we need to be: loving and transforming the men and women and children who encounter us by the presence of God radiating from our sacramental encounters with his mercy and grace.
We may liturgically be reading from the beginning of the Gospel of John, but we could benefit from reading closer to the end, too, about now. We recall the scene of Mary Magdalene, weeping by the empty tomb:
Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. …
She turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
“Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. ...
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord.”
There have been decades of weeping. We have been lost, but the Lord is near and he wants to set us free. Not one of us is without sin, and that can be where we have our credibility with others — we are loved and weak, God is our strength.
Let us lovingly restore mankind — men and women both — as loved sinners who have heard the call of the Lord to conversion, testifying to and sharing his mercy. That’s the healing waterfall our culture and lives need.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.