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Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalen in Penitence (El Greco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Mary Magdalen in Penitence
Mary Magdalene, who is the patron saint of penitents, could also be called the patron saint of mistaken identity. Western tradition has long held that she was a prostitute or an adulteress, but her actual story, according to modern Catholic scripture scholars, is probably less lurid than popular belief. In fact, other than the Virgin Mary herself, Mary Magdalene is one of the most honored female saints of the New Testament.
 
She appears definitively in the Gospel of Luke 8:2 as one of the Galilean women who, along with the apostles, is listed as a follower of Jesus. Here she is identified as one “from whom seven demons have gone out.” Whether this indicated that she was in the throes of extreme demonic possession or severe illness, the fact remains that her healing inspired her to become an ardent disciple of the Savior, and one of those who “provided for [the apostles] out of their resources” (Luke 8:3).
 
Confusion enters in when another unnamed woman appears in the same Gospel. Immediately before the Magdalene is identified as a follower of Jesus in chapter eight, there is a story in chapter seven in which a sinful woman – believed to have been a prostitute – enters the house of Simon, where Jesus is a guest, in order to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. The juxtaposition of these two stories has created the perception that the two women were one and the same, and that Mary Magdalene was not merely a sinner, but a particularly immoral woman. Modern scripture scholars have concluded that there is really no basis to conflate the two, even though Western tradition has been putting them together for more than two millennia.
 
Actually, it is what happened afterward that led to Mary Magdalene being called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Near the end of all four Gospels, when Jesus is crucified, it is very clear that, with the exception of John, none of His male companions were present at Golgotha; the only ones who stayed with Him throughout His ordeal were the women who had always accompanied Him. Although the names of the other women change from evangelist to evangelist, Mary Magdalene’s is mentioned specifically and consistently.
 
Even more telling is the fact that, in each Gospel, it is Mary Magdalene who is the first witness of the resurrection. Of all those who could have been given that privilege, it was granted to her; because of the male-dominated culture of the time, scripture scholars note that no Gospel writer would have placed her in such an honored position unless the story was incontrovertibly true.
 
Little is known of Mary Magdalene after the resurrection; tradition has her journeying to Ephesus to live out her life in the company of the Virgin Mary. Whatever happened, it was her witness to and extravagant love for Jesus for which we honor her now. 
 
Mary Magdalene’s feast day is July 22.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
Catholic Study Bible, The Pope, Hugh. "St. Mary Magdalen." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
 
Last modified onTuesday, 16 May 2017 08:26
Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

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