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Archive for the ‘Our Sunday Visitor’ Category

Advent is coming – the first Sunday is less than a month away, December 1. That gives you plenty of time to order print copies of any of these, and many are available in digital formats as well.

(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, and most current, is a brand-new devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Lots of supplementary materials are available – please take a look!

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love

amy-welborn

More samples – pdf 

Also new this year, and not an Advent devotional, specifically – since it’s a daily devotional, it of course…contains Advent devotionals!

2020 – Grace Filled Days – begins on December 1, 2019 and continues through December 31, 2020. Two Advents!

Purchase through Loyola here.

(Bulk pricing available, if you’d like to purchase several for, say – a parish or school staff.)

Online here. 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

Single used copies also available through Amazon. No Kindle version. 

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Nicholas of Myra

Samples of the St. Nicholas booklet here.

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

 

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

 

 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

(Also – if you would like to purchase books as Christmas gifts from me – here’s the link. I don’t have everything, but what I have…I have. The bookstore link is accurate and kept up to date. I will be out of town for much of November, so keep that in mind when you order)

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Earlier this month, the National Catholic Reporter ran a series of article on EWTN, written by Heidi Schlumpf. It made a blip, generated some commentary and then was gone, like almost everything else that’s written and published these days. Truth be told, despite being three lengthy articles long, there was nothing new in it, mostly because Schlumpf didn’t actually come down here to poke around and do research, but simply pulled from the public record, watched TV, collated things everyone already knows, and packaged it a la Catholic Left – which is decorated with pearls for the reader to clutch in horror as she reads, which of course happen to be the same pearls a writer from the Catholic Right would flourish with pride.

It was, in a way, typical 21st century “reporting” – which less to do with ideology, and more to do with the ease of accessing a certain level of information through the internet, a level which gives the impression of depth, but really isn’t. In other words – anyone with a computer and a keyboard could have written these stories from anywhere. 

A far more interesting story could be told from actually venturing down here to Scary Alabama, staying awhile, poking around, talking to employees and (probably more importantly) ex-employees and some of the hundred of Catholics living down here with connections of one sort or another to “the Network” as it’s referred to- or even reaching out across the country to people who’ve been involved with programming.

I’m not saying I “know anything” worth scooping on, because I don’t. I know a few people associated with EWTN, the chairman’s daughter was in my son’s high school graduating class, but honestly, I wouldn’t know the man if he crashed into me on the street. I just know that the history of EWTN is complex and more than a little fraught – because it’s a human organization, and that’s what human organizations are like. Fraught.

No, what I want to speak briefly to – besides the shallow reporting ironically enabled by the internet –  is the issue of what we miss when we’re blinkered by ideology. Just two points.

Far more interesting than the whole SCARY RIGHT WING angle of Mother Angelica’s development is how it reflects the bigger picture of American Catholicism, particularly that post-Vatican II trajectory. One small point that Schlumpf misses or ignores in her piece was that Mother Angelica was, at the beginning of her public ministry (so to speak), charismatic. I Image result for mother angelica mini booksdon’t know if she was personally involved in charismatic movements, but the first place I encountered her little pamphlets was via a guy I knew in college (this would be early 80’s) who was heavily into the charismatic movement – they were all passing around her pamphlets and other writings. They loved her. They were her first fan base. Many of the early adherents of her work were – and some still are – charismatic (there’s a regional charismatic conference here in town this weekend, and one of the main speakers is EWTN personality Johnette Benkovic Williams).  Even ten years ago, when we first moved here, one of the people we knew who worked at EWTN (but no longer does), was charismatic – but, this is what I’m talking about – was also involved in a newly formed Communion and Liberation group here – and had their new baby baptized in the Traditional (Extraordinary Form) Rite.

Complex, isn’t it?

Of course, to some, all of that (except the C &L part) is of a piece – all Right Wing or what have you. But of course, it’s not. It’s a big story, it’s the story, of an important part of American Catholicism that takes in the post-Vatican II world of the charismatic movement, the apologetics movement, the struggle for Catholic higher education, liturgy wars, unending scandal, power shifts between laity and the ordained, Y2K fears (yes), politics and money.

A lot of that story is reflected in EWTN’s story – not all of it – but much of it. And it’s complex and interesting. But you might have to do more than peer at a screen, read Guidestar reports and Arroyo’s book to figure it out.

The second point I wanted to bring up is related, yes, to someone I do know, but the reason I bring it up is not because I want to defend him – he requires no defending – but because it might help you develop your media-criticism skills.

For as we all know, contemporary media is mostly ideologically rooted and identified, and depends for its power on getting you – the consumer – to root for the good guys and against the bad guys and then keep coming back to the source for more fodder to energize your loyalty and contempt. To this end, hardly anyone has serious discussions rooted in reality any more and almost everyone seems to have given up trying, depending instead on simply on whatever supports your preferred narrative: labels, stereotypes, strawmen,dog-whistles and guilt-by association.

Schlumpf does this in her article with our bishop, Bishop Robert Baker. Here’s what she says about him:

Of course, the bishop with the closest relationship to EWTN is the one who oversees the diocese where the network’s headquarters are located. Bishop Robert Baker, who has headed the Birmingham diocese since 2007, serves on the network’s board of governors.

In 2009, Baker called Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at graduation “a travesty to the legacy of Catholic education,” and has called for politicians who support abortion to be denied Communion.

He has been a supporter of the Latin Mass; shortly after being assigned to Birmingham in 2007, he lifted the ban by previous Bishop David Foley on ad orientem Masses (in which the priest’s back is to the congregation). He requires chastity education for all Confirmation candidates and recommends Family Honor Inc., a chastity program using the controversial Theology of the Body view of human sexuality.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report in August 2018, Baker attributed clergy sexual abuse to lust and a lack of chastity, especially the accusations of “predominately homosexual behavior and abuse.”

The diocese is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but another important date may be even more meaningful for the diocese — and EWTN. On June 4, Baker turned 75, the age at which bishops submit their resignations to the Holy See. There has not yet been news of its acceptance, but he told local news a replacement bishop would be expected in six months to a year.

Got it?

You know what to think now, right? Spoke against Obama-denied Communion-ad orientem-chastity-blamed gays. 

Because that’s what’s important – we signal you with certain specifics torn from context – and now you’ve made the connections and you know what box this person belongs in.

I’m going to broaden that picture in a moment, but I want to emphasize again – I’m not doing this because I am feeling defensive – I think it’s just a very useful example of how a picture can be painted and planted in your consciousness by presenting information selectively  – and to be aware that almost everything you read is characterized by the same process – and to trust nothing. That is to say, be cautious about deciding, “This Person is Like X because this article told me these bits of information.” Even – I have to say, in the social-media defined world – when This Person is telling you these bits of information about themselves. 

And this happens to be a useful way to make this point, because, well, I live here, and I know Bishop Baker. He’s the reason we’re down here – he brought my late husband down here to work – and he baptized my youngest. I don’t keep in close contact, but, as I said, I do live here and am fairly aware of what’s going on.

So that NCR-approved list above tells you what to think and what box Bishop Baker belongs in. Well how about this:

  • The harshest anti-immigrant bill ever passed by a state legislature was signed into law by the governor of Alabama on June 9. Soon after, the U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups, and four Alabama bishops filed lawsuits to prevent its enforcement. The bishops argued that sections of HB 56 that criminalize transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant and prohibit any actions that “encourage or induce” undocumented immigrants to live in the state interfere with Alabama citizens’ First Amendment right to freely express their Christian faith, especially the performance of the sacraments and church ministries that serve the poor. The bishops were forceful in their condemnation of HB 56, calling it “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.” …. The historic lawsuit filed by Archbishop Rodi, Bishop Robert Baker of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley, Jr., and Methodist Bishop William Willimon is the first time that a group of bishops have filed suit to stop an anti-immigrant law at the state level.

 

  • “Exactly. The life issues are a continuum and they go across the board. I think these issues are right now, to the pivotal bullet, and most important ones, [inaudible 00:24:04] this little hot-button issue, and that’s capital punishment. I have myself served as a priest, as a chaplain to Catholics on death row when I was a priest in Florida. Pope John Paul II had said while in the past the Catholic church did not take a strong position of opposition to capital punishment because it invoked it itself in the past, now he said we should move away from that, and he puts it in a continuum of the life issues, respect for human life. So I just throw that out for conversation. I know it’s a hot-button issue here in Alabama, and politically it’s one that’s not gone too far, but we as Catholics still talk about that to … And I have witnessed myself two executions, I had been with the inmates, and I’ve seen them face it…”

 

  • Through Bishop Baker’s efforts, the diocese has developed good, healthy ties with the moderate Baptist divinity school in town – Beeson, part of Samford University. They have co-sponsored some conferences, including, in 2016 , one on racism, called Black and White in America – How Deep the Divide? 

 

 

Holy Family’s president is a diocesan priest – former Anglican, married. Wait – but – how can I label that box? So confused!

 

  • Bishop Baker oversees a diocese that’s geographically large, spread-out and diverse, including many rural communities where Hispanic populations have exploded over the past few years, as well as cities with historic roots in older immigration groups and patterns (Italians, Greeks and Lebanese), and African-American Catholics. The ministries of the diocese reflect all of that. We have very “conservative” groups, we have the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in several places, we have charismatics, we have middle-of-the-road religious orders, we have sisters in full, traditional habit, we have sisters in no habits.

 

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End of Eucharistic Procession at this summer’s Eucharistic Congress. 

In 1983, Mother Elvira, a Sister of Charity, opened the first Comunità Cenacolo home in Italy. A decade later, Our Lady of Hope residence for men was established in St. Augustine, and there are now four U.S. homes — three in St. Augustine, Florida, and one in Hanceville, Alabama.

“Mother Elvira’s emphasis was on the Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Mother as a source of healing,” said Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama, the Church leader who has led the effort to bring Comunità Cenacolo to the United States, after witnessing the desperate struggles of drug addicts as a priest in St. Augustine.

“I have always felt the Catholic Church was weak in responding to the problem of drug addiction and could do more to use its [spiritual] strengths” to help people, Bishop Baker told the Register….“There is a value to counseling and psychotherapy,” he agreed, but the sacraments and prayer are also important for people dealing with addiction. After he was named the bishop of Birmingham, Bishop Baker helped found a Comunità Cenacolo home for men in Blountsville, close to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament established by Poor Clare Mother Mary Angelica, EWTN’s foundress, in Hanceville.

Reflecting Bishop Baker’s concern, the diocese is hosting this in a few weeks:

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I just want to especially point out that the NAC [the National Advisory Council to the USCCB] did strongly emphasize “cultivating an ever-deepening spirituality of chastity and virtue,” and I hope we can find ways to really articulate that further. Just a general observation: I notice the name Jesus Christ hasn’t been mentioned in the course of this. . . . It might not hurt to throw that in there somewhere. . . . Hopefully, somewhere, his name could be mentioned.

You’d think.

*****

Our information lives are completely characterized by this sort of incomplete information offered to signal, label, draw lines and define friends and enemies. Anyone who has a life offline knows how false this is. How absolutely false. How about this?  Don’t live in that world. Try the messy real world of blurred lines and surprising, real people instead.

 

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The Greater one…

Patron of Spain and pilgrims.

Let Benedict XVI give you the basics:

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames “James the Greater” and “James the Lesser”.

These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus’ earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.

The name “James” is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life.

Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord’s glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ’s glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12: 1-2).

The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus’ earthly existence.

A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim’s staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the “Good News” and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.

Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord’s call even when he asks us to leave the “boat” of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

Hmmm…that might be a good start for a discussion, yes? It’s got some good content, then veers over into some personal reflection. What a good idea!

Back when he was giving these addresses, various publishers collected them into book form and sold them. You can still find those, but of course, since all these talks are online, you don’t have to pay a dime for them. You also don’t have to pay for a study guide on these talks on the Apostles – the one I wrote for OSV is available here in a pdf form.

The unapologetic reflex of Catholic parishes to charge fees for religious education is unfortunate and a hindrance to evangelization. One answer is to encourage a culture of parish stewardship that says, “We don’t want to charge anyone a fee for catechesis or formation. Let’s all give enough so that we don’t have to.”  Another is to find quality free source materials…and here you go.

 

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Continuing with my “reprint” of portions of Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies. (Part 1, Part 2)  This is a long chapter that lays out the claims of and arguments against the gnostic writings that some have asserted present Mary Magdalene as the special companion of Jesus and the leader of the real Christian movement, suppressed by the patriarchal Peter and his ilk.

In a way this is old news, for much of this moment seems to have passed beyond ten or so years ago when, thanks to The Da Vinci Code and other books, “Magdala Christianity” was all the rage in some quarters. It’s still around though. If you do a quick search, you’ll see some related events next week, and I’m sure there are more:

We welcome you to join us July 20, 21, and 22nd for our Online Mary Magdalene Sisterhood Retreat! …One of the Keeper’s of The Rose Code Lineage, Mary Magdalene’s Presence is re-emerging strongly on the planet during this time of pivotal shift through our consciousness and guiding us in remembering our Feminine Womb Power, Erotic Innocence, Sacred Relationship, Service, Rapture, and Devotion.

Women of Wisdom in conjunction with Movement For Peace will be part of the 3rd Annual Global Event called Awakening the Magdalene in a Powerful Global Prayer For Peace. This event is being coordinated with events being held in Spain, France and Scotland, where people will be engaged in the prayer for peace. Event is free and will include walking the labyrinth to experience the peace and spirit of Mary Magdalene, exposure to Yoga Nidra, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Art as Meditation, and more. 

And these gnostic writings are still widely misread, so it’s worth reviewing what they are – and aren’t.

Over the past twenty years, interest in Mary Magdalene has exploded. Books, websites, seminars, and celebrations of her feast day on July 22 have multiplied, as many in the West, particularly women, look to her for inspiration.

Ironically, though, much of this interest in this great Christian saint is being fueled by texts other than the Christian Scriptures. The popular websites devoted to Mary Magdalene refer to her as “The Woman Who Knew All” (www.magdalene.org). One of the more popular treatments of Mary Magdalene, The Woman with theAlabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail, by Margaret Starbird, emphasizes Mary as “Bride 9781879181038_p0_v2_s118x184and Beloved” of Jesus. And, of course, there’s The Da Vinci Code, the mega-selling novel that has brought these depictions of Mary Magdalene to a mass audience. Brown’s novel brings it all together in one convenient package: Mary Magdalene was the spouse of Jesus, bore his child, and was the person he really wanted to lead his movement. This movement, of course, was about nothing the New Testament suggests it is, but was rather a wisdom movement dedicated to help humanity reunite the masculine and feminine principles of reality.

So in this context, Mary Magdalene was the “real” Holy Grail, since she was the vessel that carried Jesus’ child and his teaching. But she’s more: she’s a “goddess” — a mythical figure through whom the divine can be encountered.

It’s all very confusing. It’s also ironic, given the constant modern criticism that the claims of traditional Christianity are suspect because they can’t be “proven,” or because the texts upon which its claims are based are too ancient to be trusted. The modern devotion that so many seem to have to this figure of Mary is actually based, in part, on far less trustworthy sources and has no relation to the Mary we meet in Scripture.

So where does it start? Of course, much of this revisioning is rooted completely in the present, in a mishmash of conspiracy theories, false history, and wishful thinking that we will address in the last chapter. But the truth is that Mary Magdalene wouldn’t be the subject of interest from many of her contemporary fans outside traditional Christianity if it weren’t for some other ancient texts: the writings produced by Gnostic Christian heresies.

Secret Knowledge

Here’s the short version. From about the second through the fifth centuries, a movement that we now call “Gnosticism” was popular in many areas around the Mediterranean basin. “Gnosticism” is a word derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means“knowledge.” Although there were various Gnostic teachers and movements over the centuries, most of them shared a few common characteristics, succinctly described by Father Richard Hogan in his book Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present (Our Sunday Visitor, 2001):

“Gnostics claimed a special knowledge,a gnosis. Included in this special gnosis was an understanding that there was God Who created the spiritual world and a lesser anti-god who was responsible for the material (evil) world. Gnosticism represents a belief in dualism.There is a good and an evil. Evil is material and physical. Good is spiritual and divine.

“According to the Gnostics, a disaster at the beginning of the world had imprisoned a divine ‘spark’ in human beings, i.e., in the evil world of material Creation.This divine element had lost the memory of heaven, its true home. Salvation consisted in knowing that this ‘spark’ existed and liberating it from the human body.” (Hogan, p. 43)

The creation myths of Gnosticism that describe this imprisonment are quite complex and intricate. Just as intricate were the Gnostic visions of what salvation was about. The emphasis, naturally, was on knowledge, rather than faith, life, or love. The way to salvation involved knowing the truth about human origins and then knowing the way to progress, both in this life and the next, through the various layers of reality that were imprisoning that sacred spark.

Early Gnosticism, which predates Christianity, drew from many sources, including Platonic philosophy and Egyptian mythology. Christian Gnosticism used the Gospels 516ywedgjtl-_sx321_bo1204203200_and other Christian traditions, eliminating elements that were not consistent with Gnostic thinking. So, for example, Gnostic Christian teachers taught that Jesus was not really human — since the material world is evil. Valentinus, who lived around the year 150 in Rome, taught an extraordinarily complex story of Jesus being the product of the yearnings of Sophia — the personification of wisdom. Historian David Christie-Murray describes it in the following way:

“Christ,who brings the revelation of gnosis (self-consciousness), clothed himself with Jesus at baptism and saves all spiritual mankind through his resurrection,but had only a spiritual body. Men can now become aware of their spiritual selves through him and return to their heavenly origin. When every spiritual being has received gnosis and becomes aware of the divinity within himself, the world-process will end. Christ and Sophia, after waiting at the entrance of the Pleroma [the center of spir-itual, divine life] for spiritual Man, will enter the bridal chamber to achieve their union,followed by the Gnostics and their higher selves, their guardian angels.” (A History of Heresy[Oxford UniversityPress, 1989], p. 29)

This is just one example, but Gnostic Christianity is really simply a variation on this theme: Creation is evil. Jesus was not fully human. He did not suffer or die. Redemption cannot, of course, be achieved through such a means, for it involves the material body, which is sinful anyway. Salvation is not available to all, but only those with special knowledge. This way of thinking infiltrated many other systems of the time, including Christianity.

Those who tried to merge Gnostic thinking with Christianity produced writings, some of which survive, mostly in the context of quotations in the works of Christian writers arguing against them. In the late nineteenth century, some Gnostic Christian texts, not seen before, were discovered, and even more in the mid-twentieth century. The discovery of these texts caused a stir among some who believed that, more than giving an insight into a Christian heresy, these texts opened a world to what they believed could be the real story of Christianity that was concealed by orthodox Christian leaders.

Consequently, over the past century or so, these Gnostic texts have been rediscovered and reinterpreted. Some have taken their existence as proof that there was a whole other, and long-hidden, response to Jesus’ ministry, one with roots as ancient as those we see in the Gospels, and just as legitimate. The modern re-visioning of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ bride, as the special recipient of his wisdom, and as the foundress of an alternative mode of Christianity owes much to the fascination with these Gnostic writings.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — what we actually know of the history of early Christianity just can’t back up these exalted claims for Mary Magdalene or even of any substantive link between Jesus’ ministry and Gnostic Christianity and Gnostic writings.

The simplest way to put it is this: Gnostic Christian texts tell us a lot about Gnostic Christian heresies in the second through the fifth centuries. They tell us nothing about the historical figures of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, or the origins of Christianity in the first century.

So what follows is that these Gnostic texts tell us nothing substantive about the real Mary Magdalene, either, and that all those who use them in that way are engaging in, at best, misguided efforts, and, at worst, deceitful misuses of historical materials.

But it continues, nonetheless, and for a reason: this technique of suggesting that the Gnostic Christian texts reveal secret truths about early Christianity and who Jesus “really” was and what he “really” taught serves to undercut not only the New Testament but also the Church that produced it and is formed by it.

As I’ve done talk radio shows discussing this matter, I’ve heard it again and again: “All of these works were written so long after the events they describe — they’re all equally dependable and undependable. What version of Jesus you choose doesn’t matter, for there’s no way to know the truth, anyway.”

That’s just not true. Early Christianity was an enormously complex movement, about which we cannot claim to know everything.

But we do know — and any serious scholar will affirm — that Jesus did not teach Gnostic platitudes and did not marry Mary Magdalene, who then embarked on a life of teaching Gnostic platitudes of her own and emanating divine energy.

It just didn’t happen.

But because these Gnostic texts are so important in so many contemporary treatments of Mary Magdalene, we definitely need to look at them and understand what they’re really about.

Know Nothing

It’s somewhat challenging to describe Gnosticism because it wasn’t an organized movement, a religion, or even a homogeneous philosophical school. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the self-help movement of our day. For some reason, in the last part of the twentieth century, this notion of the importance of self-esteem took hold in our culture and infiltrated almost every aspect of life, including religion.Two hundred years ago, Christian thinkers and preachers of any denomination would have been appalled at the suggestion that a goal of Christian faith is to help the believer feel better about herself or help her overcome insecurities and self-doubts. On the contrary, despite their differences, Christians and Protestants alike would have described the goal of the Christian life as believing rightly and shaping your life in a way that meet’s God’s standards and spares one an eternity in hell.

Gnosticism was, of course, more complex and cosmic than this. But it’s a decent example to start with, for, like the self-esteem movement, Gnosticism wasn’t confined to groups that identified themselves explicitly as “Gnostic” and separate from other religions. It infiltrated and impacted almost everything it rubbed against, including Judaism and Christianity.

You can see the problems. Gnosticism wasn’t a minor movement. In most major cities of the Roman Empire during these centuries, Gnosticism and even Gnostic Christianity thrived. Most of our knowledge of Gnostic Christianity comes from its Christian opponents, great theologians like St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Clement of Alexandria, who all wrote against Valentinus, for exam-ple, and quoted copiously from his writings in doing so.

But independent copies of some Gnostic Christian texts do exist, and it’s these texts that form the basis of the modern, non-Christian devotion to Mary Magdalene.

Ancient Words

In the nineteenth century, several discoveries broadened scholarly comprehension, and eventually popular understanding, of Gnosticism. An ancient work of the Christian Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, lost for centuries, was discovered in 1842 in a Greek monastery. This work, of course, quoted many heretics, including Gnostics. More important to many was the rediscovery (in the British Museum) and then translation of Pistis Sophia (into English in 1896), a probably third-century work in which Mary Magdalene — and Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the way — figure prominently in dialogue with Christ. Snippets of other Gnostic texts existed, but the real revolution in this area came in 1945 with the discovery in Egypt of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic texts, bound in leather, and dating from the late fourth and early fifth centuries, that included many Gnostic works (as well as a partial copy of Plato’s Republic). Hidden in jars and stored in caves, it is thought that the library belonged to a Gnostic Christian monastery.

The Nag Hammadi collection contains fifty texts in thirteen codices (a form of book), three of which — the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Dialogue of the Savior — are of interest to those intrigued with Mary Magdalene. Other Gnostic texts believed to mention Mary Magdalene, and found outside the Nag Hammadi library, are the Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia. These texts emerged from different periods and reflect different strands of Gnosticism. All are discussions between Jesus and various other figures, mostly about the nature of the soul, the after-life, and the end of time. Let’s take a brief look at how each of them treats the figure called “Mary.”

Pistis Sophia (third century)

This work consists of extensive dialogues between Jesus, who has been on earth teaching for eleven years since the Crucifixion, and others, including women. Mary, his mother, takes an enormous role, and several times a “Mary,” not explicitly identified as either his mother or anyone else, including Mary of Magdala, is mentioned and praised for her understanding, and is even the subject of envy by other disciples.

The Gospel of Philip (third century)

This work is made up of dialogues and sayings of Jesus in conversation with his disciples. It mentions the Magdalene, “who was called his companion,” along with “Mary his mother and her sister,” as three who “always walked with the Lord.” The passage, quite provocative to some, ends with the sentence, “His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

This work also contains the passage describing Jesus as kissing Mary Magdalene often and the rest of the disciples disapproving,asking, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” Jesus’ answer is obscure, but implies that she is more enlightened than they are. Those who see this kiss bestowed by Jesus as an expression of a unique companionate relationship are missing the point in a big way. In Gnosticism, the kiss is symbolic. As one scholar points out: “The Logos lives in those whom he has kissed, hence the disciples’ jealousy, for they are not yet worthy of the kiss” (Jorunn Jacob-sen Buckley, quoted in The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, by Katherine Ludwig Jansen [Princeton University Press, 2000], p. 27).

The Gospel of Thomas (third century)

This, the most well-known of all the Gnostic writings, is a collection of sayings, many of which are also found in the canonical Gospels, but with a heavy dose of the androgynous themes that contemporary readers find so appealing. A “Mary” is mentioned once (the other female character is a “Salome”), as Peter asks Jesus to make her leave. Jesus, in a passage that is not often quoted by modern fans of this gospel, says, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Gospel of Mary (third century)

This is another dialogue, this time beginning with Jesus but ending with a “Mary,” who is identified as the one Jesus loved “more than the rest of the women” and as the primary teacher, in a rather subtle competition, it seems, with Peter.

A ‘Few’ Problems

These, then, are the basic texts that modern devotees of Mary Magdalene use to support their case that she was an important leader of early Christianity, and probably in an intimate relation-ship with Jesus — but even if not, that her wisdom was esteemed by him above the other male disciples, and that there was friction between Mary Magdalene and the male disciples. This friction, in the eyes of some, reflects a real, historical division in early Christianity between those who followed Mary as a teacher and those who followed Peter.

There are numerous problems with using these documents to support this view of Mary Magdalene. Let’s look at a few of them.

To begin with, this position assumes that the Gnostic texts reflect first-century events. The simple truth is, they do not. No scholars date any of the texts earlier than the second or third centuries. The view they present of Jesus, his teachings, and his ministry are radically different from what we read in the Gospels, which were all composed before the end of the first century. Scholars of all types consistently consider the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament to be the starting point for studying the history of early Christianity. They may disagree on what the texts mean, but none would suggest, for example, that the Gospel of Mary is of equal value with the canonical Gospels in determining what the early Jesus movement was all about.

518hvfnbhsl-_ac_ul320_sr210320_No, the Gnostic texts “tell” us exactly what they should: namely, the ways that Gnostic Christian heretics took the basics of the Christian story and molded them to fit Gnostic thinking. Since some elements of Gnosticism were interested in questions of gender and androgyny, that concern is reflected in some texts, and in the roles played by female figures. They might reflect a greater role for women in some Gnostic sects, or they might even reflect a desire to demean the role of Peter, recognized as the chosen leader of orthodox Christianity.

But if you take the time to read these works yourself, you’ll see that they are radically different from the canonical Gospels in tone and content. (The Gnostic texts are not long, and all are available on the Internet. The Gospel of Mary, at least the fragment that we have today, is reproduced in full in Appendix B of this book.) The canonical Gospels, with all of their very human, flawed figures, are reflective of an attempt to present events accurately, through the prism of faith, certainly, but accurately nonetheless. The Gnostic writings are preachy, tendentious, obtuse, and . . . well . . . Gnostic in their concerns.

So the contemporary thinkers who suggest that a strand of “Magdalene Christianity” was born from Mary’s early leadership that was eventually suppressed by those loyal to Peter are basing their conclusions on the most tenuous of threads: that these Gnostic writings, written some two hundred years after the fact by Gnostics, reflect an ancient, hidden relationship between Mary and Jesus.

Let’s take this one step further. Who’s to say that the “Mary” mentioned in all of these writings is, each and every time, Mary Magdalene?

After all, there are only a couple of incidents — in the Gospelof Philip and Pistis Sophia — in which the Magdalene is specifically mentioned. The much-vaunted Gospel of Mary speaks only of a “Mary,” does not specify the Magdalene, and gives no identifying clues to tie her into the historical figure of Mary Magdalene, despite modern editions tacking “Magdalene” on to the title. Even the Gospel of Philip, which has been held up by many as evidence of a “companion” relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, is not as clear as it seems on who that Mary is. A close reading of the text indicates, a growing number of modern scholars suggest, that the female figure is a composite, mythical “Mary,” representing the feminine aspect of reality.

One of the features of some contemporary celebrations of Mary Magdalene is that the Gnostic writings indicate a tension between her and Peter and the other disciples, thereby implying a separate strand of “Magdalene Christianity.” Entire books have been written on this. That view, of course, is dependent on reading these Gnostic texts as if the Mary in conflict with the disciples is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. That’s by no means certain.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is described as being in conflict with the disciples. On a couple of other occasions, another Mary is described in the same way, and many assume this Mary is Mary Magdalene, although she is not explicitly identified in this way. However, some scholars — looking at the way this Mary is described, as “blessed among women” and “called blessed by all generations” — believe that a case could be made for identifying this Mary as Jesus’ mother. At the very least, it is not certain at all that she is Mary Magdalene, who does, in turn, play a prominent role in the dialogues in Book Two of the work.

Scholar Stephen J. Shoemaker summarizes this perspective:

In summary then, the Gnostic Mary’s identity is by no means a simple matter, nor is her identification with Mary of Magdala as certain as it is frequently asserted in modern scholarship. The particular spelling of the name Mary is in no way a reliable criterion distinguishing the two women, even though this is the most frequently advanced argument in favor of the Gnostic Mary’s identity with Mary of Magdala. If anything, the spellings Mariam and Mariamme appear to favor an identification with Mary of Nazareth, as I have demonstrated elsewhere. Likewise, the writings of the New Testament fail to resolve this problem, since they show both Marys to have equally been important figures in early Christian memory. Even the Magdalene’s role as apostola apostolorum in the fourth gospel does not tip the balance in her favor, since in early Christian Syria, where it seems most likely that the Gnostic Mary traditions first developed, it was believed that Christ first appeared to his mother, Mary of Nazareth, commissioning her with a revelation to deliver to his followers.

Moreover, despite frequent assertions to the contrary, there is significant evidence that early Christians occasionally imagined Mary of Nazareth in situations similar to those in which the Gnostic Mary is found: she converses with her risen son, expounds on the cosmic mysteries, and reveals her son’s secret teachings to the apostles, with whom she is occasionally seen to be in strife. Such is especially evident in the Pistis Sophia, a text whose interpretation has been tightly controlled by the last century’s interpretive dogmas. Both this text and the Gospel according to Philip make clear that the Gnostic Mary traditions do not have only a single Mary in view. Although many will no doubt continue to take refuge in the Gospel according to Philip’s description of Mary Magdalene as the Savior’s favorite, we should not forget that the New Testament identifies Mary of Nazareth as the ‘favored one,’ who has ‘found favor with God.’ (“Rethinking the ‘Gnostic Mary’: Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala in Early Christian Tradition,” Journal of Early Christian Stud-ies, 9:4, pp. 588-589)

Why take so much time to unpack this? Because it’s terrifically important in getting Mary Magdalene right. Many contemporary activists have adopted Mary Magdalene as a representative of an alternative vision of Christianity, based partly on wishful thinking, partly on her role in the canonical Gospels, but confirmed, in their minds, by the evidence of these Gnostic writings. In them, they see traces of an ancient tension, an ancient movement within the followers of Jesus that held up Mary Magdalene as a wisdom teacher, as the one Jesus designated as his successor.

Their vision sounds plausible to those unfamiliar with the original texts, or even to those who only read them in translation, interpreting them according to the assumptions of the promoters of “Magdalene Christianity.” But ancient texts are usually not as simple to interpret as we think or would like to think.

A careful, objective reading shows, quite simply, first, that the figure of Mary of Nazareth played an unquestionably important role in some Gnostic texts. Why hasn’t she been chosen and celebrated by modern interpreters as the special chosen one of Jesus? Second, while Mary Magdalene does appear in these texts, most of the evidence for “Magdalene Christianity” is derived from the presence of a “Mary” who is, in fact, not clearly identified as Mary Magdalene, and is probably either a mythical composite female figure or Mary of Nazareth. Most importantly, though, all of the figures in these Gnostic writings really function on a level of symbol more than historical reality. Scripture scholar John P. Meir sums up the case quite well:

“I do not think that the . . . Nag Hammadi codices (in particular the Gospel of Thomas) offer us reliable new information or authentic sayings that are independent of the NT [New Testa-ment].What we see in these later documents is rather the reac-tion to or reworking of NT writings by . . . gnostic Christians developing a mystic speculative system.” (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus,Vol. 1 [Doubleday, 1991], p. 140)

As we will see throughout the rest of this book, Mary Magdalene is a great saint, and a woman worthy of our interest and honor. But there is simply no evidence that she was who her modern interpreters would like her to be. The Gnostic texts that they use to make the case tell us nothing about early Christianity in the first century, and the “hints” that some read in them, suggesting an ancient tradition being preserved about a leadership role for Mary Magdalene in competition with Peter, are by no means certainly about Mary Magdalene, and in some cases might even refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Further, if you read the documents yourself, you will see how ambiguous they really are, how easily they lend themselves to selective reading, and even how, in parts, the Gnostic writings contradict what their modern proponents would have them say.

In short, when dealing with Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and the Gnostics, don’t trust the interpreters. Go right to the source.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What was Gnosticism? Do you see traces of Gnostic thinking in the world today?
  2. How do some try to use Gnostic writings in regard to Mary Magdalene? What are the flaws to their approach?
  3. What do the Gnostic writings tell us about the Mary Magdalene of history?

Below: The pages on Mary Magdalene from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. As a new school year approaches, please consider purchasing copies of this and other Loyola Kids titles for your local Catholic parish and school!

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As I mentioned yesterday, this week, in anticipation of the July 22 feast,  I’ll be posting excerpts from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies, published by OSV a few years ago under another title, but now available, published by moi, via Amazon Kindle for .99.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2:

‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’

Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross

In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.

Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.

After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.

Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.

At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.

What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.

Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.

Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.

The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.

What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?

After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).

And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.

They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.

Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.

However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?

“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)

496px-noli_me_tangere_-_poussin_-_museo_del_prado

Noli Me Tangere

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)

One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”

So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.

Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.

But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

Mary of the Bible

Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you? How do you experience this in your own life?
  2. Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostles?”
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relationship to Jesus?

Below: The pages on Mary Magdalene from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. As a new school year approaches, please consider purchasing copies of this and other Loyola Kids titles for your local Catholic parish and school!

 

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First Communion

 

 

…RCIA…Graduation…End-of-year Teacher Gift?

Got you covered!

First Communion:

For your First Communicant.  For your students, if you’re a catechist, DRE or pastor:

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More here.

 Be Saints!26811_W

 

 

And then:

The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints

Over 40 saints’ lives,written at a middle-school reading level.

I. Saints are People Who Love Children
St. Nicholas,St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla

Amy WelbornSaints Are People Who Love Their Families
St. Monica,St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Therese of Lisieux,Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Saints Are People Who Surprise OthersSt. Simeon Stylites,St. Celestine V,St. Joan of Arc,St. Catherine of Siena

Saints Are People Who Create
St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray
St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday
St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home
St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders
St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth
St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God
St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

Saints Are People Who Change Their Lives for God
St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Katharine Drexel

Saints Are People Who Are Brave
St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. George, St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Isaac Jogues, The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, St. Maximilian Kolbe

Saints Are People Who Help the Poor and Sick
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin de Porres, Blessed Joseph de Veuster

Saints Are People Who Help In Ordinary Ways
St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard of Montjoux

Saints Are People Who Come From All Over the World
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Paul Miki, Blessed Peter To Rot, Blessed Maria Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta

More

The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

More saints’ lives, organized according to the virtues they expressed through their lives.

Amy WelbornI. Faith

  1. Introduction: Jesus is Born
  2. John the Baptist: A Hero Prepares the Way
  3. Early Christian Martyrs: Heroes are Faithful Friends
  4. Medieval Mystery Plays: Heroes Make the Bible Come to Life
  5. St. Albert the Great: Heroes Study God’s Creation
  6. Sister Blandina Segale: Heroes Work in Faith

II. Hope

  1. Introduction: Jesus Teaches
  2. Pentecost: Heroes on Fire with Hope
  3. Paul: A Hero Changes and Finds Hope
  4. St. Patrick and St. Columba: Heroes Bring Hope into Darkness
  5. St. Jane de Chantal: Heroes Hope through Loss
  6. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska: A Hero Finds Hope in Mercy

Charity

  1. Introduction: Jesus Works Miracles
  2. Peter and John: Heroes are Known by their Love
  3. St. Genevieve: A City is Saved by a Hero’s Charity
  4. St. Meinrad and St. Edmund Campion: Heroes love their Enemies
  5. Venerable Pierre Toussaint: A Hero Lives a Life of Charity
  6. Rose Hawthorne Lathrop: A Hero Cares for Those Who Need it Most
  7. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: A Hero Lives Charity with the Dying

Temperance

  1. Introduction: Jesus Strikes a Balance
  2. Peter and Cornelius: Heroes Love Their Neighbors
  3. Charlemagne and Alcuin: Heroes Use their Talents for Good
  4. St. Francis: A Hero Appreciates Creation
  5. Venerable Matt Talbot: Heroes Can Let Go
  6. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero Enjoys the Gift of Life

Prudence

  1. Introduction: Jesus Gives Us Leaders to Help us Make Good Choices
  2. Paul and Barnabas at Lystra: Heroes See the Good in All Things
  3. St. Jean de Brebeuf: A Hero Respects Others
  4. Catherine Doherty and Jean Vanier: Heroes Bring New Ideas
  5. Venerable Solanus Casey: A Hero Accepts His Life
  6. Blessed John XXIII: A Hero Finds a New Way

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And then more recently:

More here. 

Confirmation? Graduation?

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New Catholic? Inquirer?

The How to Book of the Mass

The Words We Pray

Praying with the Pivotal Players

amy welborn

 Mother’s Day?

The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days is a 365-day devotional for Catholic women. It is loosely tied to the liturgical year, is a very handy size, and features special devotions for several saints. It is not structured to be tied to any particular year. So it’s sort of perennial. And no, I don’t know about the crosses on the cover. People always ask me about them, thinking they’re mine. You can take a look inside the devotional, including several entries for January and June here.

Teacher Gift?

Any of the above……

 

"amy welborn"

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Seventeen – seventeen – years ago, I was asked by Loyola Press to write a saints book for saintscoverndchildren. I signed the contract – it would be the first book I’d written, along with, about the same time, Prove It God for Our Sunday Visitor. I procrastinated and procrastinated until it was early January, the book was due on March 1, and I had barely written a word. But I don’t miss deadlines. Even as I put off working….so I wrote the book in two months. Two intense months – and it’s still in print (as is Prove It God).  And it’s pretty good!

(To get a sample – the feastday of St. Ignatius Loyola is on July 31. Loyola has my entry from the saints book up on their website as “Saint Story” for his feast. Go here for that. )

The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes followed a few years later, and then several years later, we did The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

And now, here you go – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

amy-welborn3

I’m just so proud of all of these books. My words are okay, but what really makes them are the design and the art. I’m very grateful to Loyola for the editorial vision that produces these books and their ability to find such gifted designers and artists.

Now, a word about this book. 

It wasn’t my idea – it was Loyola’s, as was, this time, the structure, which I think is very smart.

Each entry has two pages. Top left is a beautiful illustration of the sign or symbol.

Under that is a simple, basic explanation, suitable for younger elementary aged children.

The right side page of the spread provides a more detailed explanation of the sign or symbol, suitable for older kids.

From the introduction:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…..

…a mustard seed.

…a treasure hidden in a field

….leaven

                Think about the most important things in your life: feelings, ideas, emotions, realities, and hopes. Now try to explain these things in a way that communicates the depth and breadth and truth of what you’ve experienced.

                It’s hard. It might even be impossible. For we all know this: no matter how eloquent we are, what we express only touches on the surface of what’s real. What’s more, the deeper and more important the reality, the more challenging it is to adequately express.

                But we still try, because we are created to do so. We’re created in God’s image, which means we’re created to be in deep communion, to understand, to imagine, to love and create. And so to do so, we depend on metaphors and similes, signs and symbols.

                Signs and symbols are not add-ons to human communication. All Signs_Symbols_Amy_Welborncommunication, from letters to words to hugs to great paintings, is symbolic. For what are signs and symbols? They are expressions that represent something beyond themselves.

                So, yes, written and oral speech is symbolic. Gestures are symbols. Images, music, food, nature – all of what we see can be incorporated into life in symbolic ways.

                Just as Jesus himself used that most absorbing means of human communication – the story – to communicate with us, so did he use deeply symbolic language as well as signs. The Scriptures are woven with imagery that remains fundamental to our understanding of God: rock, shepherd, right hand…

Spirituality involves the deepest realities of all: the human soul and its relation to the Creator. Signs and symbols play an especially rich and important role in this part of life.

Signs and symbols have always been important in Christian life and faith. Human beings are, of course, natural artists and communicators, so we use symbols to express deep realities. Early Christianity developed in an environment in which persecution was a frequent fact of life, so symbols became a way to communicate and build bonds and pass on the truths of the faith in ways that hostile outsiders could not understand.

                Signs and symbols have played a vital role in Christian life over the centuries for another reason: for most of Christian history, most Christians could not read. In these pre-literate societies, most people learned about their faith orally, as parents, catechists and clergy passed on prayers and basic teachings. They also learned about their faith in the context of cultures in which spiritual realities were made visible throughout the year, through symbolic language and actions: they lived in the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. They participated in the Mass and other community prayers, rich with symbolic gestures, images and even structured in a highly symbolic way, from beginning to end. Their places of worship, great and small, were built on symbolic lines, and bore symbolic artwork inside and out.

                These people might not have been able to read – but they could read.

Their books were made of stone, of paint, of tapestry threads, of gestures, chant and the seasons of the year.

                They could indeed read – they could read this rich symbolic language of the faith. Their language was one that communicated the realities of salvation history and God’s mercy and love through images of animals, plants, shapes and design.  They knew through these symbols that God is justice, God is beauty and with God, there waits a feast.

                We still, of course, speak this symbolic language, but the welcome increase in reading literacy has also privileged that particular form of symbolic communication, so that we often think that verbal expression – what we can read on the printed page – is somehow more “real” – more expressive of what’s true and certainly more appropriate for the mature believer who has surely moved beyond imagery, just as, when we are young, a sign of growing maturity to us is that we can read a book with no illustrations.

                But when we think about it, we realize that this privileging of the spoken or written word is just not true to what human beings really value.

                After all, what do we say?

Actions speak louder than words.

                And it’s true. The deepest realities of life – joy, love, passion, grief, hope – can certainly be expressed with words, how often to we raise our hands in resignation, knowing that in this moment, we’ve said all we can, even though we know and mean so much more?

There are no words…

…..

…..The rich world of Christian sign and symbols is a gift for children. The simplicity of imagery meets them where they are, and the depth and richness of this same imagery prepares the soil for deeper understanding. When a child’s faith is lived in the midst of a wealth of imagery at home, at church and in broader culture, she is continually assured that she is not alone, that God is present in every aspect of this world he created, and that God meets her where she is. She’s taught from the beginning this truth that the world is much more than what we can initially apprehend. She’s taught that the spiritual life involves soul and body, reason and imagination, ideas and the tangible. She learns to live faith in a Biblical, holistic, Catholic way.

The book is available from Loyola, of course. 

It is listed on Amazon, but apparently not yet in the warehouse. 

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, let them know about the book. I’d appreciate it.

I have copies here. I have loads, and I also have a lot of the Bible Stories. You can order them through my bookstore here, or if you want to do the exchange outside of the PayPal Universe, email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail.

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