True Adoration

07-21-2019This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Chris Axline

It is with great joy that we once again celebrate the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. For us, since she is our patron, we celebrate her feast day as a liturgical solemnity which means that we treat July 22 as if it were a Sunday, or another high holy day (such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost). This means that we can (and should) celebrate her feast day with great joy!

Recently, a priest invited me to cultivate a deeper devotion to St. Mary Magdalene in my own prayer life, and, heeding his advice, the Lord revealed two very powerful attributes about St. Mary Magdalene. First is the radical conversion and re-orienting of her life entirely to Christ. Second is her ability to surrender all things to Him.

Praying and reflecting over Mary Magdalene's conversion, and subsequent re -orienting of her life, proved to be quite a powerful experience. For example, in the Gospel accounts, Mary Magdalene is one of Christ's most faithful followers who follows Him even to the Cross. But this only came after a profound encounter with Christ caused her to change every aspect of her life. I often pray over her (and other disciples') conversion stories and one thing stands out to me above all: how few words Christ speaks in these encounters. For many of them, Christ says no more than a handful of words. However, Mary Magdalene's initial encounter with Christ, the one in which the seven demons were driven out of her (Lk. 8:2), is not recorded in Scripture.

Instead, we see the fruit of conversion that Christ effects within her soul, a conversion that Christ desires for each of us as well, as she leaves her old life behind in order to follow Christ and to support Him throughout His ministry (Lk. 8:1-3).

Mary's willingness to leave everything behind in order to follow Christ is rooted in the deep love she has for the Lord. A love that we see demonstrated in Luke's Gospel as she anoints Jesus's feet and then dries them with her hair (Lk. 7:36-50). The love that she demonstrates here is a powerful love at the heart of conversion and, as we see by her example, shows what happens when a heart finds its solace, the fulfillment of its deepest desires, in Christ. Christ restored her dignity and gave her new purpose, a vocation. Her vocation would be to support Christ and, eventually, even the Apostles as she is privileged to be the first witness to the Resurrection and then go and proclaim to the Twelve that He rose and is alive. Reflecting and preaching on Mary Magdalene's great love for Christ, Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) encourages all Catholics to reflect on St. Mary Magdalene:

We should reflect on Mary Magdalene's attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought, she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for Him who she thought had been taken away. And so, it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see Him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tell us: "Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved."'

Contemplating Gregory's words, we see another important element in conversion, the desire to never be separated from Christ no matter the cost or the sacrifices that must be made. Her story then becomes both an inspiration and a challenge for each of us to reflect on our life - honestly and openly - and see where and how we still need to surrender ourselves over to Christ and foster a deeper conversion.

The second aspect of Mary Magdalene's life, surrendering all things to Christ, proved equally fruitful in prayer. Contemplating St. Mary Magdalene leaving everything about her old life behind in order to follow and support Christ presents an opportunity to see the fruits of detachment from worldly goods and clinging single-mindedly to Christ alone. The courage it took for Mary Magdalene to leave her entire way of life behind is nothing short of heroic and manifests her desire to serve (and please) God alone. Again, looking at the anointing accounts shows that Magdalene acts with disregard for worldly image, motivated purely by a desire to give herself entirely over to God. In his book, St. Mary Magdalene: Prophetess of Eucharistic Love Fr. Sean Davidson describes these accounts thusly (it is rather lengthy, but it is worth reading in its totality):

In the first anointing she had used her hair to dry the feet of Christ she had soaked with her tears; in the second one, she uses her hair to dry off the excess perfume with which she drenched his holy feet. Even the apostles were probably made uncomfortable by the boundless liberty of this woman; however, Mary does not act to please them but Jesus Christ alone. To use her long hair, which had been the symbol of her beauty, in this humble way symbolizes the offering of all that she is and all that is most precious to her as a living sacrifice to God. This is true adoration, to submit everything, even life itself, as a gift to God [emphasis added] (Davidson, 137).

Part of surrendering all things to Christ means giving all of who we are over to Him - not just in word, but in action. There is another challenge for us, as well, as we reflect and pray on our response to the Lord when He asks us to surrender ourselves and our lives entirely to Him. Do I resist? Do I follow Him? What holds me back from giving myself entirely over to Him?

1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love." Mary Magdalene shows us how to let the perfect Love of Christ into our hearts so that we need not be afraid. Today (and everyday), let us ask for her intercession that our own love for Christ might be perfected in order that our lives, like hers, might belong completely to Christ.

St. Mary Magdalene……pray for us!

P.S. In light of the announcement about my installation on July 28 during the 11:30am Mass, I want to personally say thank you for your prayers during this past year. It is a great blessing and source of consolation for me to serve as administrator, pastor, and spiritual father for the parish of St. Mary Magdalene. This parish is truly a gift from the Lord and a beautiful witness to God's work in the world. May St. Mary Magdalene continue to lead us deeper into God's great Love!