“Son,” ordered a father, “Don’t swim in that canal.”
“OK, Dad,” he answered. But he came home carrying a wet bathing suit that evening.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, Sir,” answered the boy.
“Why did you?” he asked.
“Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?” he questioned.
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,” he replied.
During this season of Lent, we are going to be taking a closer look at some of the witnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, and today’s witness is perhaps the most colorful in the eyes of many: Mary Magdalene.
She is mentioned many times throughout scripture and often confused with some of the other women, specifically the woman caught in adultery that was to be stoned to death and the woman who bathed Jesus feet with her tears. Scholars will argue until the second coming, but scripture is clear: as Jesus travelled, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out” (Luke 8:1-2) was one of them. Although not explained in scripture, those seven demons have often been thought to have led Mary into a life of promiscuous sin. Yet, Jesus did not push her away. He healed her and she became known as the Apostle to the Apostles, because she was the one who proclaimed to the eleven that Jesus was risen from the dead.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” The opposite of this is also true… or should be! Whoever is forgiven much, whoever is healed of much, loves much. In the case of Mary Magdalene, this is true. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by St. Catherine Emmerich states that on the night before Jesus was crucified, he remembered and prayed for many, including Mary. Catherine, recalling her visions, writes, “Our Divine Lord thought also of Magdalen, was touched by her distress, and therefore recommended his Apostles to console her; for he knew that her love for his adorable Person was greater than that felt for him by any one save his Blessed Mother, and he foresaw that she would suffer much for his sake, and never offend him more.” Seeing the crucified Jesus, Catherine says, “The grief of Magdalen was so intense as to make her almost like an insane person.”
She was forgiven much and she loved much.
I keep telling you all to strive to become saints. Big ones! Perhaps that’s because I don’t know that I’ll ever make it myself. Sure, I’m like the apostles in many ways. I’m like James and John when they wanted to call down fire on the heathen and when, in great pride, they asked to sit on the left and right of Jesus in his Kingdom. I’m like Thomas when he says, “I won’t believe until I see it for myself.” I’m like Peter when he denied Jesus three times in order to save his own skin. I’m like Judas when he betrays him. And so, I’m also like Mary Magdalene, needing to be forgiven and healed of much.
I walk through the same desert that Jesus walked, but when the Devil comes up and offers me something shiny, something playful, something unholy… well, I’m a bit like that kid who took his swimming suit with him in case a good enough temptation comes along. I’m often prepared and waiting to reach out my hand and take what is offered. “If you dance with the Devil, the Devil doesn’t change. The Devil changes you.” I can dance too much, and so each time I reach out my hand and take, I find myself in greater need of forgiveness. Yes, there are days I send the Devil packing with a hearty, “Away with you, Satan!” But many other days end in failure.
And there is one aspect to this temptation work that I find particularly irritating, and we can find an example of it in one small detail contained in Luke’s Gospel that is not in Matthew’s. After the three temptations, Luke’s Gospel adds, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time,” which comes at the end. What I find irritating is that for me, the opportune time can be the very next day, with the exact same bauble that I sent him packing for previously, but this time, I’m like a junkie needing a fix, and grab it before a word is even spoken.
Yes, I’m like the apostles in many respects, and I’m very much like Mary Magdalene, filled with my demons. Am I alone in this predicament? No. As Paul said, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.”
So, like Mary Magdalene and so many others, and like you, we seek after the one who did not fail, who did not sin, who overcame the Devil with the Words of God. Through Him we are saved and redeemed.
What was Mary Magdalene’s response to her salvation? She loved him more than any other, save for the Blessed Virgin.
Question: How much do you love God? Prove it.
Let us pray: Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.