Tag Archives: Mary Magdalene

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross

Jesus-sorrows-healing

In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

Be God’s

“Let go of everything,” I thought as the Reiki Master placed her hands on my head.

Then I heard the words, “Be God’s.”

Be God’s what? I wondered. Vessel? Daughter? Voice?

Or is the emphasis on “be,” as in belong to God?

Throughout the Reiki treatment, I tried to let go of thoughts about work and other responsibilities and instead pondered the message to “be God’s.”

Over the next few days, I kept repeating those two words—”Be God’s.”

God-faith-spirituality

What does it mean to be God’s? to belong to God?

I think of myself as already knowing my dependence on God and being God’s creation, so what is this invitation?

Some of the saints came to mind and the ways they were God’s, the ways they lived their lives totally for God and God’s glory.

St. Frances Cabrini prayed, “Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you so that your will may be my will.”

I aspire to that kind of intimacy with God, but I haven’t achieved it. Just ask anyone who knows me.  

That very morning, in fact, just hours before the Reiki treatment, I made a big mistake when I misread a situation. So often, I speak before I think, and then I need to apologize. This was one of those incidents.

Sometimes, when I mess up, I send flowers, but always a note just to make sure the person knows I know that I made a mistake.

In response to my blunder that morning, I had spent that day wondering how to atone. I knew I needed to do something beyond just saying “Sorry,” because one word was not enough to undo the harm of my offensive words.

God-faith-spirituality

But that is the thing about God and about being God’s—God never gives up on me and keeps calling me back, again and again. Only hours after I mess up, I hear God saying, “Be mine.”

Was this simple two-word phrase simply a reminder of God’s forgiveness? Of God’s love?

Or was it tied into something bigger, more comprehensive? Is God inviting me into a new way of being in relationship?

Monday was the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the woman who most inspires me in my spiritual journey because of her devotion to Jesus. When everyone else fled, Mary Magdalene remained, and when she encountered the resurrected Jesus, she proclaimed it with confidence. Her relationship with Jesus healed her and changed her.

God-faith-spirituality

I want to be like Mary Magdalene—devoted to Jesus, open to being surprised and ready to witness to the ways Jesus enters my life.

St. Paul wrote “…whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away…new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This reading reminds me that who I once was I am no longer; who I will become is still being revealed. I pray to be open to the what God is offering because more than anything, I want to be God’s.

Living in the present

“Stop holding onto me,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene….” (John 20:17).

Holding onto Jesus sounds like a good thing to do, so why does Jesus tell Mary Magdalene to stop? This instruction puzzled me as I prayed with this passage recently.

One method of prayer is to imaginatively put myself into the scene, to see myself as one of the people in the story or as a bystander watching the events unfold.  When I put myself into this scene, I can easily imagine myself in Mary Magdalene’s situation. I can identify with what she must have been going through in the days leading up to this passage.

This person she loved had been brutally murdered and she is bereft in her grief. She keeps vigil by his tomb, weeping. Then, the next day, the stone has been rolled away and his body is gone. I can imagine her confusion and anxiety, the feeling of utter emptiness. How could this happen? Who would have taken his body? Why?

To have lost Jesus the first time was horrible, and now, this second loss must have been almost unbearable.

And then, miraculously, Jesus appears, but somehow different and unrecognizable. Is he the gardener? And might he know where Jesus’ body has been taken? I imagine Mary’s desperation as she pleads with this person. Her angst is palpable. When he speaks, though, she recognizes his voice. It is Jesus.

The shifting emotions in so short a time are almost too much to bear—deep sorrow, confusion, fear, anxiety and then joy at seeing Jesus alive again.

I think of the relief a parent feels after finding a child who had wandered off in a store or of hearing that a loved one is safe after news of an accident. At first, fear grows unchecked. Then joy overflows. We embrace and hold our loved one near, so happy to be reconnected.

So why is this situation different? Why does Jesus tell Mary to stop holding onto him?

When I imagine myself in this scene, at the moment of recognition, I can see myself embracing Jesus, and perhaps that is what happened, but the details were omitted from this passage. Perhaps Jesus allowed Mary a few moments of nearness, of holding onto him—and then Jesus gently separated from her. “Stop holding onto me,” he says, because he needs her to go tell the apostles what she has seen.

As I prayed, I remembered great losses that have left gaping holes in my life and plunged me into grief. What had once been was no longer, and I was bereft and uncertain of the future.

Was Jesus telling Mary—and me—that even though what once had been is no longer, I need to stop holding onto the past? That when I can let go of what was, I can be open to what is to come? I only need to listen for Jesus’ voice and be open to seeing something other than what I might expect.

 

 

Following the rules

“I have seen the Lord” (Mary Magdalene, John 20:18)

While Mary Magdalene was able to run and shout the good news, I have been a much quieter witness to the resurrection. It is not a secret that I am serious about my faith and spiritual life; but until I started writing for this blog, I only shared little snippets of how God had touched my life and with only a very few people.

As I prayed about what fears have prevented me from shouting out God’s good works, I remembered an incident from when I was a child of about eight.

A girl from across the street had come over to play. My mother was nearby and overheard our conversation. After my friend left, my mother admonished me never to share as my friend had done. I didn’t remember my friend sharing anything significant, so I was confused. I tried to get a clarification, but my mother would only repeat her admonition that I was not to talk about our family as my friend had talked about hers.

Still confused, I decided that the only way to avoid the possibility of inadvertently revealing something my mother would think was significant was to never talk about anything personal.

Years later, when I became active in church as an adult, I attended parish activities that invited sharing, but I instinctively followed the “no-sharing” rule from my childhood. I became an observer in these groups, not trusting myself to be able to sort out what was ok to share and what was not. Rules instilled in me as a child seem to be the most difficult to confront and change.

By the time I was in my thirties and had enough of my own life experiences that I could share if I wanted, not-sharing had become a well-established pattern. Whenever I came close to disclosing something personal, I would be filled with anxiety—my heartrate would increase and my stomach would get queasy. Self-disclosing was not worth the angst I felt, and after a while I just stopped going to church programs that involved faith-sharing.

Through all of this, though, God continued acting in my life, lifting me up, forgiving me and changing me. In the midst of some pretty dark days and horrible experiences, God reminded me that I was not alone; Jesus had paved the way through suffering and was always with me on the journey.

I felt unworthy to be so blessed, so cared about, so loved. I was convinced that if I told people how God had touched me, they would be incredulous. The voices of skeptics in Jesus’ time echoed in my head. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” became “Isn’t she the…?” and I imagined the different negative things people could use to complete the question. I was a nobody. Why would God choose me? Why had God chosen me?

I admire people who share the good news about God and I desire to be so courageous.

Communion of Saints

“I believe in the communion of saints…” is one of my favorite lines in the Creed. It reminds me that I am part of something bigger, much bigger. It conjures up images of a more cosmic perspective, where I am connected to all those who have gone before me. It makes me think of a life-time continuum—from the spark that starts life, through this life and then onto new life—eternal life.

In the communion of saints, I feel more connected to some saints than others. Mary Magdalene tops the list of my favorite saints. She has inspired me and consoled me more times than I can remember. When I think of her, I think of how much she loved Jesus and how she was loyal to him to the end of his life and beyond. She reminds me of forgiveness and healing and love. I feel a deep bond of friendship with her.

On Good Friday, I posted a piece here about another Mary, the mother of Jesus—the other woman who loved Jesus and was loyal to him to the end of his life and beyond. I wrote about a vision I had of Mary two years ago.

Later that day, during the Good Friday Liturgy, I had another encounter with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It happened after an elderly man tripped and fell in the aisle near where I was sitting. Several people rushed to the man and someone called 911.

While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, the priest started to pray: first, the Our Father and then the Hail Mary. He continued to pray the Hail Mary, again and again, until the ambulance arrived.

Tears poured down my cheeks as I prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God….”  It reminded me of that day two years ago, praying the rosary with Jim, invoking Mary, the Mother of God.

I felt her presence.

“What do you want, Mary?” I asked in the silence of my heart.

For the rest of that day—and every day since—I have wondered what Mary wants.

When I reported all this to my spiritual director, she asked about my history with Mary. I told her that over the years, Mary has tried to get my attention—through scripture and prayer and art—but I have not been open. I already have my “best friend” saint in Mary Magdalene and did not see how the other Mary could fit into my life.

My spiritual director suggested that one thing Mary and I have in common is that we both store up things and ponder them (Luke 2:19).  She suggested I simply sit with Mary and be open to a new relationship.

I have been much more aware of Mary’s presence since Good Friday, as I ponder all these things and pray for openness.