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Today’s Gospel for Mass contains the narrative of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus at the empty tomb. Here’s the chapter from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies that discusses this encounter and Mary’s role in that post-Resurrection period in general.

amy welborn

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)

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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 Apostle
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relationship to Jesus?

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And…..here are the appropriate pages from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience the deep joy and peace that Christ gives, and has a mission from him to the world.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

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In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Some images for you, first a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

The sign says “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”

 

SECOND DREAM of ST. JOSEPH

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, visit every day and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

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…for kids. 

"amy welborn"

 

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From the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

 

 

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Sermon 206

 

(I) With the completion of the year’s cycle, the season of Lent has come, at which time I am constrained to exhort you because you owe the Lord works in harmony with the spirit of the season, works which, nevertheless, are useful not to the Lord, but to you. True, other seasons of the year ought to glow for the Christian by reason of his prayers, fasts, and almsdeeds, but this season ought to arouse even those who are sluggish at other times. In fact, those who are quick to attend to these works at other times should now perform them with even greater diligence.

Life in this world is certainly the time of our humiliation as these days signify when the sufferings of the Lord Christ, who once suffered by dying for us, are renewed each year with the recurrence of this holy season. For what was done once and for all time so that our life might be renewed, is solemnized each year so that its memory may be kept fresh. If, therefore, we ought to be humble of heart with sentiments of most sincere piety throughout the entire period of our earthly sojourn when we live in the midst of temptations, how much more necessary is humility during these days when we not only pass the  time of our humiliation by living but signalize it by special devotion?

The humility of Christ has taught us to be humble because He yielded to the wicked by His death; the exaltation of Christ lifts us up because by rising again He blazed the way for His devoted followers. For, “if we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 11-13) One of these conditions we now celebrate with due observance in view of His approaching Passion; the other we shall celebrate after Easter when His Resurrection is, as it were, accomplished again. Then, after the days of this humiliation will be the time of our exaltation. Although this is not yet the time to experience this [happiness], it gives us pleasure to anticipate it in our considerations. Now, therefore, let us voice our lamentations more insistently in prayers; then we shall exult more exuberantly in praise.

(2) Let us by our prayers add the wings of piety to our almsdeeds and fasting so that they may fly more readily to God. Moreover, the Christian soul understands how far removed he should be from theft of another’s goods when he realizes that failure to share his surplus with the needy is like to theft. The Lord says: ‘Give, and it shall be given to you; forgive, and you shall be forgiven.’ (Luke 6:37,38) Let us graciously and fervently perform these two types of almsgiving, that is, giving and forgiving, for we, in turn, pray the Lord to give us good things and not to requite our evil deeds. ‘”Give, and it shall be given to you,”  He says. What is truer, what is more just, than that he who refuses to give should cheat himself and not receive? If a farmer is not justified in seeking a harvest when he knows he has sowed no seed, how much more unreasonably does he who has refused to hear the petition of a poor man seek a generous response from God? For, in the person of the poor, He who experiences no hunger wished Himself to be fed. Therefore, let us not spurn our God who is needy in His poor, so that we in our need may be filled in Him who is rich. We have the needy, and we ourselves have need; let us give, therefore, so that we may receive. In truth, what is it that we give? And in return for that pittance which is meagre, visible, temporal, and earthly, what do we desire to receive? “What the eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man.” (1 Cor 2:9)  Without the assurance of God it would have been effrontery to wish to gain such treasures in return for such paltry trifles, and it is effrontery to refuse to give to our needy neighbor these things which we would never have possessed except from the bounty of Him who urges us to give. With what confidence do we hope to see Him giving to our neighbor and to us, if we despise His commands in the least details?

Forgive, and you shall be forgiven,’ that is, pardon and you shall be pardoned. Let servant be reconciled to fellow servant lest he be justly punished by the Lord. In this kind of almsgiving no one is poor. Even he who has no means of livelihood in this world may do this to insure his living for eternity. Gratuitously this alms is given; by being given away it is increased; and it is not consumed except when it is not shared. Therefore, let those enmities which have lasted even to this day be broken up and ended. Let them be ended lest they end you; let them be no longer held lest they hold you; let them be destroyed by the Redeemer lest they destroy you, the retainer.

(3) Let not your fasting be of the kind condemned by the Prophet when he said: “Not this fast have I chosen, saith the Lord.” (Is. 58:5) For He denounces the fasts of quarrellers; He seeks those of the devout. He denounces those who oppress and seeks those who release. He denounces those who stir up hostilities and seeks those who set free. For, during these days, you restrain your desires from lawful pursuits that you may not do what is unlawful. At no time will he be addicted to wine or adultery who is now continent in marriage. Thus by humility and charity, by fasting and almsgiving, by temperance and forgiveness, by sharing blessings and by not retaliating for evils, by declining from wickedness and by doing good, our prayer seeks and attains peace. For prayer, supported as it were, on the wings of virtues, speeds upwards and is easily borne into heaven whither Christ, our peace has preceded.

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This morning, we attended the local celebration of the Ordinariate Mass, just begun on a regular , weekly basis.

The location is the tiny, historic Holy Rosary Church. We spent many Monday afternoons there during J’s freshman and sophomore years, volunteering at the parish-sponsored “reading room.” More here about that. 

"amy welborn"

(We had to stop because Mondays was the only day J could do it – early school dismissal – and another school activity popped that took over the Monday afternoon slot.)

Here’s a history of the parish:

The president of Gate City Land Company, Maclin Ross, bought the original property of Holy Rosary for one dollar in 1889 for “Church purposes”. He then deeded the land to Bishop Jeremiah O’Sullivan. This simple church with its hand carved altar was built 125 years ago to accommodate the 80 or so parishioners of that time. The first parishioners were Belgian and Irish, and as the Mark’s Village community continued to evolve Holy Rosary became one of the first truly integrated parishes in the area.

The pastor is now Fr. Jon Chalmers, a priest of the Ordinariate who also serves as the president of Holy Family Cristo Rey High School. 

We had been to Mass there once before – on the infamous Immaculate Conception Snow Day of 2017 when we couldn’t get out of the house until the evening – and Holy Rosary had, I believe, the last Mass of the day, anywhere. But that was Roman Rite/Ordinary Form.

When I saw that Holy Rosary was going to start offering the Ordinariate Form liturgy on a regular basis, I made a mental note to try to work it in – between people’s work schedules and the serving schedule at Casa Maria.

As it happens, the 10:30 time is really perfect – late enough for the sleepers to get their rest, and not so late that the day feels spent by the time you’re finished. And we don’t live far from the parish – on a Sunday, it takes us 10 minutes to get there.

And so we went – there weren’t a lot of us, but there were enough! An organist accompanied on hymns and it was a lovely liturgy – elevated language, raising the heart and mind to worship, but not stiff or wooden.

What is interesting to me – and would be striking to anyone, I think, on first exposure to this liturgy – is a greater penitential emphasis and tone than one finds in the contemporary Ordinary Form. It’s not at the level of Eastern Catholic liturgies, where you’re saying Lord Have Mercy more or less constantly throughout, but it’s definitely noticeable. Which means – if you’re noticing it, you’re noticing your need to repent and open yourself to God’s mercy – always a good thing.

And, of course, we have our ad orientem celebration, inexplicably terrifies and enrages some, but you know –  which actually makes so much sense. As the celebrant prays to God, he faces in the same direction as the rest of us, and then in dialogue, he turns to the congregation.

Not a big deal. 

 

Note: you might have expected the vestments to be purple, since it’s Sexagesima Sunday. But the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was on 2/22 – and that’s the Ordinariate’s patronal feast – so it’s celebrated on the closest Sunday. So, white.

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Today is the feast of the great martyr bishop who was also a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

Here is the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on him, which includes, of course, information on the sources for his life. 

Here’s a translation of the “Acts of Polycarp” – the account of his martyrdom sent from the Church in Smyrna.

He is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  

……..

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