St. Gregory the Great got it wrong identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary, the sister of Lazarus and the sinful woman (Luke 7,38ff) who washed Jesus’ feet. She’s one of the women followers of Jesus who came up to Jerusalem with him, mentioned in Luke’s gospel. She was a star witness at his resurrection.
Yet, Gregory’s description of her spirituality is right on.
Here’s an excerpt from his beautiful sermon in today’s Liturgy of the Hours:
“We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
“At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.
“Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.”
Some recently, using flimsy evidence from 3rd and 4th century gnostic writings, want to “de-mythologize” Jesus and romanticize his relationship with Mary. Some claim he was even married to her. Their claims have been sensationalized in the media and unfortunately get a wide hearing.
Better to listen to the earlier witness of the four gospels and the evidence of the New Testament. They recognize Mary as a disciple who was one of many women followers of Jesus and loved him. Their witness is older and more reliable. There’s also new archeological evidence about Magdala, Mary’s hometown, that helps us understand Mary Magdalene. Take a look.