Was it a coincidence that this happened on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? On June 3, 2016, Pope Francis raised the July 22 celebration of St. Mary Magdalene from a memorial to a liturgical feast. In a letter announcing the change, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Wisdom and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Arthur Roche, said that the decision means one "should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy."
In a talk I gave about St. Mary Magdalene at Our Lady of the Lake parish in Leominster, Massachusetts, I raised the following questions:
Did Mary Magdalene ever realize the legacy she left to us — deep love and unquestioning faith in Christ?
Do we women of the church recognize the legacy we leave to those around us? Are we aware of the impact we have on others as we live out the Gospel message in witness to a loving God?
John was the only disciple standing with Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross, but Mary Magdalene and several other women stood there watching Jesus die. How helpless they must have felt in that painful and frightening time, unable to do anything for him.
As I was preparing to leave on retreat one year, I wondered: would I have remained at the foot of the cross watching Jesus suffer and die, or would I have fled? My retreat director listened as I discussed this question with her, but as my week unfolded, God showed me the answer.
In 38 years of being a registered nurse, I have been entrusted with the care of many people. During that retreat, I remembered patients I haven't thought of in years. Some of them went home to their families, others went home to God. I was blessed to be able to care for my own parents and other family members as they completed their life's journey. I have walked with many of my own religious sisters as they faced declining health and frightening diagnoses. I have sat with them in medical facilities or at home as they struggled to accept the reality of what was happening.
I was surprised to realize that, yes, I could stand at the foot of the cross. I was shown that despite the painfulness of these situations, I was blessed with the graces to remain present to others. I was aware that there were also times I could not be physically present with someone, but was present in prayer.
Do you think you are capable of standing with Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross? Perhaps you have given physical care to someone who was ill, cooked meals, or provided transportation to medical facilities. Maybe you supported a caregiver by shopping, housecleaning or yardwork. Maybe you just shared the gift of your presence, prayed, or sent a card. You may find your answer is also yes.
"It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you" (John 15:16). I remember the first time that line struck me deeply. I was in my canonical year of novitiate and struggling with my call to religious life. What did I think I was doing at 42 years old, trying to live religious life? I didn't think I was good enough. God deserved better than me. When my spiritual director told me that God lived within me I told her he could find a better address!
I was very conflicted that particular morning; when the pastor read that line at Mass, I remember wondering why God chose me? Suddenly felt like I had been thrown a rope to prevent me from drowning.
Mary Magdalene was healed of seven demons. Did she wonder why Jesus chose her? Fishermen became apostles. Did they question why Jesus chose them? Peter denied Jesus; Paul imprisoned Christians. Did they wonder why Jesus chose them?
God has loved us into being, made in God's image. God will always chose and call us into deeper, loving relationship — all we have to do is say "yes."
Venerable Nano Nagle, founder of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lived in Ireland at a time when England was trying to prevent the growth of Catholicism. It was illegal to practice or teach the Catholic faith, or to send children to anything but a Protestant school.
As the penal laws became less strictly enforced in the late 1700s, Nano set up many schools. She used her own money and, when necessary, begged for donations. Some officials ignored her, while others felt she was a crazy woman and nothing would come of her work. She also visited the poor, sick and imprisoned.
For 30 years, she worked outside of the law. The example of her parents and teachers to live out their faith in the face of the repressive penal laws, and her ever-deepening relationship with God, gave her the courage to say "yes" to where the Spirit led her.
Similarly, as Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus grew and deepened, she was able to serve him more fully, to be present to him at his most painful and vulnerable hours. We are also blessed with the graces to serve him more fully by serving others in many different ways, none of which are too small or unimportant.
Living the Gospel message of Christ brings out the best in all of us even in the most difficult situations. We give of ourselves out of the love given us by God — a love that is meant to be shared with others. Through our prayer, our quiet time, and the sacraments, our relationship with God deepens.
Mary Magdalene did not physically die for Christ, but she died to herself to become his faithful and devoted follower. A death to her own desires made her able to overcome any fears or uncertainty in becoming his follower, to love the Messiah deeply and walk with him to his death.
We have all done the same. We have put aside our own self-interests to serve as initiation rite and religious education instructors, as lectors, Eucharistic ministers. We volunteer at soup kitchens, food pantries, and we deliver holiday food baskets or donate money. We volunteer to work at Habitat for Humanity or hospice. We clean the church and engage in parish service activities. We are young people who give up vacation time to serve others. Sometimes we are tired and go reluctantly, yet we return home grateful for the opportunity.
Out of the love God has for us:
We serve one another.
We are present to one another.
We die to self for one another.
We witness to the Gospel message for one another.
We build up the church for one another.
We leave a legacy of faith, hope and love for those who come after us.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.
[Maureen Hickey is a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of New Windsor. She is the nurse administrator of Presentation Health Care Center in Leominster, Massachusetts, and belongs to St. Joseph Parish in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where she volunteers as a parish nurse and is a member of the choir.]