St. Mary Magdalene, whose feast day we celebrate today (July 22), persevered in faith in Jesus Christ. She “loved him in life, witnessed him dying on the cross, sought him as he lay in the tomb, and was the first to adore him, newly risen from the dead. He honored her with the office of being an apostle to the Apostles, so that the good news of new life might reach the ends of the earth” (Preface for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.)
Many of today’s women leaders model Mary Magdalene in her constancy, her courage and her commitment to Jesus Christ. Most especially, we witness Mary Magdalene’s influence in the women who minister in our parishes, schools, religious communities, chancery, diocesan boards and social agencies. “She was such a constant in Our Lord’s life, through thick and thin,” says Lynne Devaney, the new superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Davenport. For Lynne, who stresses the importance of ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table, Mary Magdalene serves as a model. She was the voice in the wilderness, proclaiming the Risen Lord.
“We are continuing to unpack the wisdom of women in the church throughout the centuries. There is so much to explore and more work to be done to educate the faithful about women, past and present,” said Eleanor Kiel, director of liturgy and music for St. John Vianney Parish-Bettendorf, and a member of The Catholic Messenger Editorial Board. “St. Mary Magdalene is a perfect example of a broken human, healed by Jesus, who maintained authentic discipleship until her death. We can all be inspired that, like Mary Magdalene, we are sinners — broken by the suffering and evil of the world — but called by Jesus to healing, new life, and service.”
“St. Mary Magdalene has risen as a ‘saint of today,’ especially among younger women who have experienced a resurgence of faith,” observes Colleen Darland, administrative assistant in the diocesan offices of Vocations, Faith Formation and Evangelization. She also serves on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. After Mary Magdalene’s “experience of the resurrected Christ, she immediately went and shared the news with others. Even when Peter and the other disciple ‘returned home,’ Mary stayed out of concern, and had the first experience of the Risen Christ. Women of today can look to Mary Magdalene as a model within the church: approach Christ in our weakness, be changed by the encounter with him and then share the Good News with others.”
Acknowledging the influence God has had in our lives and rejoicing in it, changes us and challenges us to help others realize the same, Colleen says. “My love for music and liturgy has led me to parish music ministry as well as assisting on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, to allow our experience of the liturgy to permeate our everyday life.”
Pope Francis has consistency demonstrated his respect for the dignity of women and his elevation of the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast is one example. How do we respond likewise, as a church, to tap into the potential of women to convey the good news of new life so that it might reach the ends of the earth? Lynne, Eleanor and Colleen offer these suggestions:
• “There continues to be a substantial amount of influential work and faith building performed by religious sisters, missionaries, mothers and church staff and volunteers (who are primarily women). We need to tell their stories to inspire other women, young and old, to serve. Although women cannot be priests or deacons, they have a great opportunity to be disciples, leaders, educators, theologians, etc. The influence and service of women has buoyed our faith throughout the centuries, which are key to healing our church and enabling our faith to survive into the future” (Eleanor).
• Learn. Delve into the study of the faith and the richness the church has given us throughout the centuries.
• Pray. Enter into a relationship with God in prayer. Don’t talk “at” God, just listen, be present with him. Mary was distracted in the garden by her concern, but once Jesus says her name, she listens.
• Do. Take the richness of the relationship God is building with you and invite others to share in it. It can be wordless, in your faithful example of service to your family, your job, your community. It can be spoken, by discerning becoming a catechist, small-group facilitator or liturgical minister. Whatever God calls you to, we have the same call as Mary Magdalene to “go to my brothers and tell them… ‘I have seen the Lord’” (paraphrase, John 20: 17-18) (Colleen).
• We ought to contemplate how we recognize the Risen Lord in our own lives. Listen for the voice of God. In listening, ask yourself, “Do I recognize everyone’s voice? Do I share a place at the table that gives another person a voice?” Finally, we must ask ourselves,
“How do I accompany others to the Risen Lord?” (Lynne).
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor