Model Preacher, Evangelizer and Friend of Jesus
Tags: apostles, catholic RENEW program, Dominican sister, evangelization, Gospel of Luke, Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Magdala, Pope Francis, Pope Gregory the Great, preaching, renew catholic program, RENEW International, seven demons, Sister Terry Rickard, Sr. Terry, Sr. Theresa Rickard, Sr. Theresa Rickard OP, St. Thomas Aquinas
A good friend of mine, a no-nonsense man of deep integrity and dynamic faith, was once falsely accused of a crime and was eventually acquitted. He was famously quoted as asking the judge, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus who was included in his most trusted and intimate circle, could have asked the same question. Mary of Magdala was one of the many women Jesus included in his Galilean discipleship along with Joanna, Susanna, and the other Marys (Luke 8:1-3). She was, as St. Thomas Aquinas proclaimed, an “Apostle of the Apostles,” because she was the one who announced Jesus’ resurrection to the Twelve and to the world. And yet most people today think of her as “the prostitute” or as the “repentant sinner” and not as an apostle. There is no evidence in the Scriptures to support this indictment, so how did she garner this reputation?
In 591, Pope Gregory the Great preached a sermon in Rome that tarnished Mary’s reputation from that day forward. He erroneously combined the stories of three women found in the Gospels: an unnamed sinful woman who anointed and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-50), Mary of Bethany (John 11:1-45), and the demonically possessed Mary of Magdala (Mark 6:19). Not only was Mary Magdalene not the repentant fallen woman of legend, but she was not necessarily even a noteworthy sinner. The Scripture tells us she was possessed by “seven demons” that were exorcised by Jesus. Some scholars argue that she was probably more victim than sinner; in that time and place, serious illness was often explained as demonic possession.
The office of Pope Gregory the Great marred Mary Magdalene’s reputation, and now the office of Pope Francis has restored it. Pope Francis has declared that Mary Magdalene’s feast day, July 22, is elevated to a major feast marking women as the first evangelizers—placing Mary on par with the celebrations of male apostles. She is the first woman other than Mary, the Mother of God, whose liturgical celebration has been raised to a feast. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, says St. Mary Magdalene can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”
Although first-century culture usually minimized the importance of women, the Gospel of Luke portrays women as disciples and friends of Jesus, strong and courageous, and witnesses to his resurrection. I find it helpful to study the Gospel of Luke and reflect on the faithful women who were the first announcers of the resurrection.
According to Martin Lang, author of Luke: My Spirit Rejoices!—a Scripture-based resource from RENEW International—“Those who walk with Jesus are of central importance. They are not only the Twelve, as we would expect, but also the unexpected. They are the women, some of whom have been relieved of their infirmities and some of whom are followers and contributors to the cause. They accompany Jesus as disciples, unlike anything the Pharisees of the day would have tolerated.” Because the Church has raised Mary Magdalene to the stature of the male apostles both women and men can look to her as model of ministry, preaching, evangelization and, most important, a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus, the Christ.
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.