By Sharon Wilson
Mary of Magdala is my patron saint and today is her feast day. She is the saint name I took for my confirmation. Through the years and through my reconversion to the faith, I have come to love Mary Magdalene and embrace her as my patron saint. She is often associated with the woman caught in adultery, (John 8:1-11) but there is no biblical reference that the woman was Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned as the woman whom Jesus cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9) and of course she was one of the women who stayed at the cross of Jesus even when others fled. Maybe the most important role she played as the apostle to the apostles is to be the first to witness Jesus after the resurrection!
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. John 20:1
When Mary of Magdala stood outside of the empty tomb, she thought that her Savior’s body was stolen. Scripture tells us it was dark when she arrived at the tomb. This detail, that it was still dark, has haunted me over the last year.
My usual routine in the morning is to wake up early and grab my bible and a cup of coffee. This is the only time of the day, when everyone is sleeping still, that I can find time to pray. As soon as the house is awake, I can only hear the TV and the conversation in the house and even taking refuge in a bedroom – I find little enough peace to remain in prayer.
Over the last 6 months or so my routine has been upset. Job changes, adult children living at home and rotten weather that has kept me in doors has meant I need to find an alternate time to pray or I need to wake earlier to find the quiet I need.
When I find that prayer time, that time with Jesus, I find that I am a softer person. By softer I mean I find it is easier to love and to just be. I am calmer and dare I say it, I am probably easier to be loved! Without that prayer time, I notice a hardness about me. My friends and family probably notice it, too. It’s usually around that time I feel a nudge to get back to confession and reestablish my morning prayer routine. I need to enter into prayer while it is still dark, even if that means a 5:00 a.m. alarm.
Last summer I was blessed to meet my daughter as she was backpacking through Europe. We met in France and toured Paris and the south of France. Since the purpose of the trip was to be with my daughter, it was far from being a pilgrimage, but our travels did include some sacred sites.
While in Aix-en-Provence we visited the Saint Sauveur Cathedral which contains first-century church archeology and pillars of a Magdalene shrine. Streets of Aix once formed a Magdalene abbey. Archeological digs are still uncovering convents and churches dedicated to her. Tradition tells us that it is in France that Mary Magdalene fled to continue to evangelize. It is here that she taught about the transformative power of love and converted the Provence and the royal family to Christianity.
It is said that Mary Magdalene retired to the wooded cliffs near Saint Victoire Mountain where she lived out the rest of her life. I didn’t get the chance to visit there, but it is a popular pilgrimage site to this day.
I knew very little of her legacy in that area of the world until I had the chance to visit there. It seems Mary Magdalene is everywhere in the south of France. This may sound strange, but I could feel a softness in the air while visiting there. The same sort of softness I feel in myself when I spend time with Jesus in scripture or adoration. Maybe the softness comes from the lavender fields, but even the fragrance of the hills seems to point us to a greater love.
Modern film, fiction and feminists would have Mary portrayed as a romantic love interest of Christ. Not only is this portrayal inaccurate, it loses the point of the greater love that Mary of Magdala had for Jesus. Mary’s love is of the “agape” kind. The highest form of love, charity, and the love of God for man and of man for God. It embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.
Part of my haunting over the last year has been a longing to return to the place of Mary Magdalene. I feel like there is something my patron saint wants to teach me. Most likely it is something about love.
This seems to be the time for Mary Magdalene to become a new a role model for women in our Church. In 2016, Pope Francis elevated her feast day to a major feast day marking women as the first evangelizers. The decree that was issued by the Vatican, says that this woman, “recognized as one who loved Christ and who was very dear to him,” can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”
Mary Magdalene has also been at the center of the ministry of WINE: Women in the New Evangelization, which is also “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church!”
I hope to bring a pilgrimage to this part of France someday. To learn, to explore and to know more about this apostle to the apostle, but mostly to discover more about myself as I learn to love. But for now, I need to learn from her example to enter the tomb in search of Christ – even when it is still dark. I need to learn of the love that persists regardless of circumstance.
If you are interested in exploring the idea of a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene in France, please contact me at Sharon@CatholicVineyard.com.
Check out this video of me from last year’s WINE summer book club taken while I was in Aix-en-Provence
About the author:
Sharon Wilson – Wife, Mother, Writer, Catholic Speaker, and a WINE Specialist. Sharon has a degree in education and has worked as a freelance writer, Respect Life Coordinator, a teacher, in advertising, radio, buyer and in youth advocacy – She even rode an elephant in the circus once! Sharon speaks, writes and shares about God’s healing and about the great gift of being Catholic at SharonAgnesWilson.com
Photo courtesy of Sharon Wilson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.