St Mary Magdalene

(entered heaven in the first century)

Dear Madge,

I think your dilemma may be less thorny than you suspect, for two reasons.  First, even though your foresight is commendable, there’s no reason you have to make a final decision on career/vocation right now.  Junior year went well, you’re looking forward to a productive senior year and have plenty of worthwhile things on the agenda – there’s no rush.  Don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate or hem and haw, but don’t let yourself fret unnecessarily.  Second, and this is the more important reason, the issue is less “Where can my talents be better used?” as you put it in your last email, and more “What is God asking of me?”  Maybe today’s saint can clarify my point.

According to the Roman liturgy (that’s the one that we Roman Catholics follow, the one the Pope follows), today’s saint appears under three guises in the New Testament: the woman who was a public sinner (Luke 8) and a public penitent, whose sins Jesus forgave as she washed his feet with her hair, much to the scandal of his Pharisee host; Mary Magdalene the Lord’s disciple, who was present at the crucifixion and was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection (John 20); and Mary of Bethany (Luke 10, John 12), sister to Martha and Lazarus.  Though identifying these three personages as one person is still challenged by Christians in the east (and even some Catholics), it coheres with one of those ancient traditions that are difficult to refute.  Mary was a public sinner whose heart was moved to repentance by the Lord.  From then on, she devoted herself to following him, serving him, and living out his doctrine.  Most ancient writers agree that after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, she went with St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary to Ephesus, where she dedicated herself to prayer and works of charity until she died.  Through the centuries she has become the archetypal Christian figure of conversion, and also of contemplation – she is one who “loved much” since she had been “forgiven much”.

You may remember the scene from Luke 8, when Mary came bursting in to Simon the Pharisee’s villa, where he and his guests (Jesus included) were eating.  Everyone knew that she was a far from exemplary woman (this doesn’t necessarily mean she was a prostitute, she may have simply been someone who abandoned her Jewish customs and faith in order to make progress with the wealthy, pagan upper class).  She goes right to Jesus, does him homage, and begins to anoint and wash his feet with her tears and her hair.  It was a scene repeated later in the Gospels, when Jesus was dining in Bethany the week of his Passion, though on this occasion Mary didn’t use her tears but a costly perfume – she broke the alabaster jar that contained it and poured it out generously to honor her Lord and Savior.  And Judas complained.

The Church has always seen that gesture as an eloquent expression of the kind of love we ought to have for Jesus – uncalculated, unlimited, generous love.  Judas was the calculating one, and we know where he ended up.

I suggest that you pray the way Mary Magdalene did: pour out all your love before the Lord, break the alabaster jar of your talents and give them to him without reserve, trusting that he will know how to make the best use of them.  If you can cultivate this attitude of total surrender, I have no doubt that your life will spread the beautiful aroma of Christ throughout the world, just at St Mary Magdalene’s has.

Your loving uncle,


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