Mary Magdalene: God’s mercy and our desires

Bless the Lord, my soul;Giovanni_Bellini_Mary_Magdalene
all my being, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, my soul; 
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion,

For as the heavens tower of the earth,
so his mercy towers over those who fear him.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him
For he knows how we are formed,
remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;

But the Lord’s mercy is from age to age…”

The excerpts above are from Psalm 103, found in today’s Office of Readings and ideal to today’s saint, Mary Magdalene.  Mary has quickly become a favorite of mine.  Her relationship with Christ was so human, so visceral; I have an easy time relating to it.  In the psalm, the author begins on a very positive note, “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being bless his holy name!”  The reason for his joy is how the Lord has treated him.

First and foremost on the author’s mind is mercy… and isn’t that so true for us?  Note: I don’t say that first and foremost on God’s mind is mercy, but the psalmist is certainly concerned with it… and indeed he has perceived God’s mercy present in his life.  Likewise Mary Magdalene.  She is introduced to Jesus when the crowds bring her before him.  They throw her in to the dirt of humiliation exposing her sin to Christ against her will.  And Jesus says, “…neither do I condemn you.  Go sin no more.”  Mercy.

Mary’s experience continues to follow the psalm with healing and redemption.  Jesus sends away her accusers as he raises her up, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  In this moment of compassion and mercy he redeems (literally, “buys her back,” “re – emptor” … redeemer) her from them.  Again, from Ps. 103, “Who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with mercy and compassion.”

Finally the psalmist crowns his meditation and Mary’s experience, “For [God] knows how we are formed, remembers we are dust… But the Lord’s mercy is from age to age.”  To see, know and truly understand a thing is to have empathy for it.  God, the author of our being, certainly treats us this way.  “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,* like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36)

This merciful, healing, redeeming, understanding love is the basis on which we are judged.  It also changed Mary Magdalene’s life in ways she never could’ve imagined.

While human beings are capable of such “all-giving love,” ( agape ), it is something properly divine.  We can only really give such love when it flows from God through us.  But Christ’s agape for Mary Magdalene solicits from her a properly human love which is a love filled with desire ( eros ).  In our simplicity/mortality we are fundamentally needy… we desire that which ultimately fills legitimate needs.  The most fulfilling thing in the cosmos is God himself.  This is the true, noble and original meaning of erotic (i.e. desire- / eros-based) love, which has been sadly twisted in contemporary parlance.

We see this all on display Easter morning at the tomb.  Mary the Mother of Jesus remains at home Easter Sunday morning.  She is confident in the faith she has in her Son.  Free from original sin she is, we might reflect, praying for his enemies, exercising an agape love proper to her immaculate nature.  Mary Magdalene on the other hand misses her Lord… she goes to the tomb early in the morning seeking him even before the Apostles themselves.  When she finds the body is gone, she confronts Jesus in the guise of a gardner.  Raging (as it were) that her love can no longer be fulfilled, she interrogates him, “What have you done?  Where have they moved him?”  The need the desire is so human, and because it is so purely for the Lord, it is beautiful.

Happy feast day of St. Mary Magdalene!