By Sister Honora Nicholson
Today we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, the woman whose place in the circle of Jesus’ friends was attested to by all four gospels and whose claim to apostleship is equal in every way to both Peter and Paul. Yet, unlike Peter, Mary never denied Jesus and, unlike Paul, she never persecuted him. She was given the title Apostle to the Apostles by the early church, the first to receive a direct mission from the Risen Lord to go and preach the Gospel.
There is much to say about Mary Magdalene, and as we continue to reel from mass shooting after mass shooting, her message for me this year has something to do with the beauty of her faithful friendship and her love for Jesus. It’s the beauty of her presence at the foot of the cross that, as Elizabeth Johnson writes in She Who Is, “…is a sacrament of God’s own fidelity to the dying Jesus, a faithful witness to the hope that he is not totally abandoned.” Mary’s is the beauty of a love that “empowers the sufferer to bear the pain….knowing that we are not abandoned makes all the difference.” It’s the beauty and tenderness of a grief and loss that drew her to the tomb in the dark of a pre-dawn morning, seeking balm for her broken heart.
Beauty, authentic beauty, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the other. It’s what inspires the best in us. This for me is the beauty of the yearning that drew Mary Magdalene to the tomb where she encountered the one who had claimed her heart and found that he had conquered death.
A movie I recently saw called this type of beauty, collateral beauty. One of the characters in the movie, played by Helen Mirren, is accompanying a young mother who is sitting outside her dying daughter’s hospital room. The daughter is six years old and has a rare form of cancer. After offering her deepest condolences, Helen Mirren says to the grief-stricken mother, “In the midst of your pain and sorrow, try to remember to watch for the collateral beauty.” By this she means the beauty that is the companion of sadness and loss. She was referring to the beauty of this mother’s unwavering love, that she didn’t shrink from her grief but remained steadfastly by her child’s side as she breathed her last breath.
Shortly after the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I heard an emergency room doctor from the town being interviewed on The Daily, a New York Times podcast. After the doctor shared the horror and devastation of treating some of the children who were brought into the emergency department that day, the reporter asked him, “What will you remember from this event?” After a brief pause, the doctor answered, “As long as I live, I will never forget the beauty of the faces of the other doctors and nurses who poured themselves out in love to save those children.”
This is the beauty of Mary Magdalene’s love, a relentless love that will not give up on life, a love that seeks the beloved even in a place of death and hears him tenderly speak her name. It is this beauty that gives us hope; it is this beauty that will save us.
“Tell us, Mary, what did you go out to see?”
“The glory of the resurrection…
Christ my hope is risen.
He goes before us unto Galilee.”