By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
CHAPTER XXIV ST. MARY MAGDALEN, A TROPHY OF THE VICTORIES OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
IT was the custom for emperors and Roman consuls, when returning victorious from bitter warfare, to have carried in front of their triumphal chariot the weapons of the princes they had subdued. So also Our Lord Jesus Christ, victorious as He is over His enemies, adorns His Church with the weapons He has taken from them, as with the trophies of His glorious battles. Among these trophies of His victories, one of the principal is without doubt St. Mary Magdalen.
This woman was, as the Church sings, that lost groat which being found was put into the royal treasury: that precious gem which, cleansed from the mire, shone with the splendor of the stars. 1 Let us look more closely at this superb trophy of the victories of the Heart of Jesus. We shall thus learn to know better the power and clemency of this most tender King of our hearts: power, in snatching away from the devil the instrument with which this enemy of mankind designed the ruin of many; clemency, in admitting one who was a public sinner to His most sweet familiarity and secret intimacy. Power and clemency by no means thrown away, since they awakened in St. Mary Magdalen a full and generous response.
Jesus was passing through Galilee, scattering His good tidings like the heavenly Sower that He was, when a Pharisee invited Him to a banquet in his home. With His usual kindness, Jesus accepted the invitation. Hardly had the guests sat down when there came into the dining-hall a woman with burning cheeks, and disheveled hair, showing every sign of the deepest sorrow. She was carrying in her hand a vessel of alabaster full of precious balm. Timidly she makes her way to Jesus, throws herself at His feet, and bursting into tears and sobs, washes these same divine feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with the precious ointment.
But who is this extraordinary woman who in such company is bold enough to display so great signs of affection, doing what no other had so much as imagined? The holy evangelist says that she was "a woman that was in the city, a sinner" (Luke VII, 37.) and Holy Church, interpreting the tradition, has pronounced her name. She was Mary Magdalen. Let us admire the clemency of Jesus who with the burning dart of His grace arrests on the path of death, in which she was walking, this wandering soul and brings her back, penitent and purified, among the sheep of His flock.
The Pharisee who had invited Jesus could not refrain from murmuring in his heart: "This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner." (Luke VII, 39.) But Jesus defends the work which His grace is now accomplishing in that soul, hitherto the prey of the devil. In fact, turning to the Pharisee, "Simon" He says, "l have some what to say to thee." — "Master, say it" replies the Pharisee.— "A certain creditor had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both.
Which therefore of the two loveth him most?" Simon answers: "l suppose that he to whom he forgave most."— "Thou hast judged rightly'' replies Jesus. Then, turning to the woman, He says to Simon the Pharisee: "Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house: thou gavest me no water for my feet. But she with tears hath washed my feet; and with her hairs hath wiped them. Thou gavest me no kiss. But she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint. But she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefore, I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much." Then turning to Mary Magdalen He says: "Thy sins are forgiven thee." (Luke VII, 40-48.)
But Jesus did not end His beneficent mission toward Mary Magdalen with these words. He was not satisfied with an imperfect victory ; even when He was far from her, He continued to guide and sanctify the poor sinner now His devoted servant. He then established between His Sacred Heart and the heart of the penitent a beneficent current of light and grace which raised Mary to the most sublime communications of divine love. Henceforth, Jesus showers His graces upon her and endows her with celestial gifts, like a sculptor who spends his genius on a shapeless and clumsy rock to produce a statue worthy of his art. Thus, while the emperors and kings of this world do no more, with all the force of their armies, than have their conquered enemies bound and brought before them, the tender King of our hearts can make of His very enemies faithful servants and subjects.
Nor did the munificence of our blessed Lord toward St. Mary Magdalen end here. He even made her, during her very lifetime, the mediator and, as it were, dispenser of His divine favors.
On the death of Lazarus, the beloved brother of Mary Magdalen and Martha, Jesus betakes Himself to Bethany to console the sorrowing sisters and raise His friend to life again. On learning that the Saviour has come, Martha first goes to meet Him; then she says to Him weeping: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (John XI, 21.) But Jesus seems not moved by Martha's words. Soon after, her sister Magdalen comes weeping bitterly, making the same tender complaint: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." (John XI, 32.) At these words of Magdalen, Jesus is troubled in heart, and weeping goes to the sepulcher. Then with His life giving voice He commands death to give back to the sorrowful sisters their beloved brother.
See here the bounty and regal munificence of the divine Heart toward His penitent, but faithful servant. Who would not be moved, seeing Jesus, the King of souls, taking pleasure in bestowing His benefits with such pro fusion upon the soul of the penitent who had returned to Him?
But just as the fine scenery in pictures is thrown into greater relief by the background, so the grace given by the Heart of Jesus to Magdalen appears greater when she is seen assisting at the agony of her Lord and Master who dies despised on the bitter cross. Mary Magdalen is not afraid to approach the place of execution. As the love which binds her to the divine Heart is as strong as death, she stands by Him as He hangs on the infamous cross bearing upon Himself the maledictions of Heaven and earth.
But Our Saviour has already drawn His last breath; His dead body has been laid in the sepulcher. What will the lover of the Sacred Heart do now? With anxiety she awaits the third day; and before sunrise she runs breath less to the sepulcher. The sight of the empty sepulcher fills her with surprise and sorrow. She stands bathed in tears asking between sobs for her beloved Jesus: "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher: and we know not where they have laid him." (John XX, 2.) But Jesus does not wish to keep her long in suspense. He appears to her, as though He were a gardener, and Mary hastens to ask Him: "Sir, if thou hast taken Him hence., tell me where thou hast laid Him: and I will take Him away." (John XX, 15.)
Jesus then calls her by name, "Mary." Oh, how happy a moment was that for Magdalen! At this sweet and gentle voice she recognized her loving Lord and cast herself at His feet. She wished to kiss those blessed feet, but this was not allowed her, and instead, "Go" says Jesus, "to my brethren and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father." (John XX, 17.) So Jesus, while refusing to gratify a natural impulse in His ardent lover, raises her to an incomparable dignity, entrusting her with an embassy of very great moment, making her, by that mission, the teacher, as it were, of His own apostles and disciples.
But if the love of Magdalen for Our Lord was so vivid while He was still in this world, it was not in any way lessened after her divine Master had departed this life. Now, by what characteristic was this love distinguished? This love became a love of immolation. Mary Magdalen, retiring to a lonely place near Marseilles, consumed herself there in tears of contemplation like a grain of incense in a burning thurible. And, indeed, the fragrance of her virtues went up to Heaven as a cloud of incense most pleasing in the sight of God; for we see to this day that for those who go as pilgrims to that marvelous desert invoking her, she obtains from her heavenly Spouse signal graces. This clearly shows that Jesus makes those who subject themselves to His sweet empire, happy on earth and glorious in heaven.2
1 Hymn for Lauds on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen.
2 In this consideration we have followed the more common Tradition according to which the woman who was a sinner is identified with the sister of Martha and Lazarus and with the Magdalen to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection. This sentiment is held by St. Augustine and St. Gregory and consecrated by the Church in the office of St. Mary Magdalen.