It is my privilege on behalf of the Margaret and Gerold Redig family to welcome you all here today for our 5th Mary of Magdala celebration—I couldn’t say “annual” as we missed last year! Margaret and Gerold were both always happy to have people; family and friends come here to share this special place they called “home.” Margaret especially wanted this place to be shared with others—she envisioned it as a place that people would come to for retreat. So, friends—you are welcome!
We come today to celebrate and to remember someone, Mary of Magdala, who in Sr. Joan Chittister’s words is an icon for the 21st Century because she calls women and men to listen to the call of Christ over the call of the Church—when did we ever need that more?—at a time when our beloved Church seems so plagued by the lack of prophetic leadership. Whenever we are in doubt about the right way to go; we must always check it against the message of Jesus. This is the real challenge Joan Chittister says: “Women are called to courage—men are called to humility.” Mary of Magdala calls us to face this challenge. Even Pope Francis got on board just recently in making Mary of Magdala’s feast on July 22nd one on par with the other apostles, so at least he is saying, she is someone to keep our eyes on.
We celebrate this feast day as well to uplift the position of all women in our world–the tactic of making light of who women are, what they have done and what they are called to do is one that has been used in Church and State for far too long to misuse and abuse women, to control them and it is time for it to stop!
An aside: Dick Dahl couldn’t be with us today, but shared this story when he was returning from a visit to his daughter and her family in Austria just recently. Coming through Chicago airport, his daughter had a wheel chair arranged for him to get him through Customs, baggage, etc. –as many of you know; he has had problems with his hip lately. The young person pushing his wheel chair was named Maggie. Dick asked if that was a nickname and what her full first name might be. She said, “Magdalen.” Dick said he would be with us in spirit.
Friends, the Scriptures just proclaimed tell us so much about our sister, Mary of Magdala and many of the women who followed Jesus. The gospel passage from Luke lets us know that Mary and the others were faithful followers cured of demons and other illnesses. They were women of means who supported The Twelve and Jesus. The selection from Mark’s gospel tells us of Jesus’ burial and of who was present; Mary of Magdala, Jesus’ mother and Salome—persistent in their faithfulness to the end. John’s gospel account describes in full detail whom Jesus chose to spread the news that he had indeed risen—someone, a woman and a faithful woman at that, who in her culture was not even permitted to give testimony in a court of law. Jesus was always about turning things on their heads and there is no exception here! Jesus is calling his society, the Church, then and now, to more.
Joan Chittister, present day prophet, Benedictine Sister, writer and speaker reminds us that two women, Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala are central figures in the Incarnation and the Resurrection in a society that didn’t value women. God called them to be their full selves—can we in this society with 2,000 years living in Jesus’ memory really do less? Isn’t it really time that we begin to hear the voices of women—their stories—their authentic calls by God to serve at the altars of our churches alongside their brothers?
In the past, I have shared with you the uncovered history of Mary of Magdala, the fact of her being maligned in history by a certain pope by the name of Gregory who saw fit to morph all the stories of Mary, excepting those of Jesus’ mother into a composite including the woman of ill-repute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and by the time he was done, Mary of Magdala lost her role of Apostle to the Apostles, at least it was not uplifted, that of a prophet and friend and faithful follower of Jesus the Christ and was recorded going forward, through teaching and sermon, to say nothing of art and music as no more than a reformed prostitute. And even if it were true, which it is not, it seems to me that one doesn’t do this action alone, but no mention if ever made of that—no stories about men caught in adultery!
Now if this doesn’t anger you as much as it does me, you might be thinking—“Well, they said she was a reformed prostitute and faithful follower, so was there really any harm done?” I am here to say, “Yes,” because the incrimination and the lies give the Church hierarchy permission not to take Mary of Magdala, or any women, for that matter, seriously. What can we expect really, from a prostitute?! We certainly don’t want our daughters to take that route to sainthood hoping for a reformed life along the way. Oh no, Gregory had a plan and it worked for centuries until women theologians and others began uncovering the truth. So Francis’ step in upgrading Mary of Magdala’s feast is a good first move in uplifting women’s place in the Church.
Think of what our Church could be if all the prophets were allowed to speak their truth, if every woman and man called by God were blessed to serve at our altars?—there would be no shortage! Shame on a Church that excommunicates those called by God to serve because they happened to have been born female! Shame on a Church that teaches the lie that Jesus only called men when the Scriptures just proclaimed the opposite! And shame on a Church that excommunicates and defrocks male priests who publically stand with women in support of their ordinations like Roy Bourgeois and Tony Flannery.
It is time that our Church hierarchy begins to listen to all the voices, but especially to its women for the truth they have to tell. Our Church will never truly proclaim the reign of God until it does. In fact, it is time that our world begins to listen to the voices of its women, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, women in all walks of life, from war-torn countries around our globe, asking for peace, not war.
Several years back, a young Pakistani schoolgirl, whom we have come to affectionately call Malala, a victim of ignorance in her own country, nearly losing her life, spoke her truth at the United Nations—a simple, but most eloquent message, “We are really tired of all these wars—women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.” I believe most of us would agree that war is not the answer, but it demands that we all do the hard work of peace which is underscored by listening, understanding and negotiation.
Leonard Pitts, Jr., a syndicated columnist, spoke a few years ago of how the world could easily dismiss Malala as a mere child, saying that she’s too young to understand the complicated issues that causes countries to go to war. But what if we took her seriously Pitts challenged, heard her words imploring us to work and really strive for peace because it is the right thing to do? No matter the rhetoric we heard out of Cleveland this past week.
What we do here today friends is about truth-telling and our Church needs to be about the truth, first of all, because our brother Jesus was, and if we say that we are his followers, we must be too! The new archbishop of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Bernard Hebda made a significant step in that regard this past week in telling the truth and taking responsibility for wrong-doing in the abuse of children and that cover-up in the previous tenure of Archbishop John Nienstedt. We can only hope that this is a beginning that won’t end with him.
When we don’t know the truth, we can’t live fully. When the truth is not told, we are less of a people. When the truth is not told, we fail to see a piece of God in our midst. And worse, as we all know from the sexual abuse scandal, when the truth is not told, people are hurt.
If we allow Mary of Magdala to be cast as a prostitute, then we don’t have to take her seriously. We can devise a false piety around her memory that directs our attention to the loving God who saved her from herself; or, we can look to her for a true role model of courage in how to follow our brother Jesus because in truth, this Mary was indeed, a prophet, a priest and an evangelizer—chosen by Jesus to herald the news of the Resurrection as stated by Joan Chittister to the frightened male apostles hold up in the Upper Room. Mary was known to have conducted a house church leading Jesus’ followers in the breaking of the bread. This Mary spoke truth to power and she was known to have had disagreements with Peter! Imagine that?!
Allowing Mary of Magdala her role of prophet and priest encourages all women and lifts them up to find their own God-given power to be prophets, priests and evangelizers. If we allow Mary to be simply a reformed prostitute, this lie, as it was intended, puts this dynamic prophet, priest and evangelizer in a place deemed right by the hierarchical Church, along with all other women, not to be taken seriously. Even our good Pope Francis has a long ways to go in seeing his sisters in the faith as God sees them, not as second-class citizens, but prophets, priests and evangelizers. We were all saddened recently to see the continued badgering from Rome of the Women Religious and the attempts to dictate to them their calls to ministry.
As Joan Chittister says, women have been integral in the mission of Jesus from the Incarnation to the Resurrection in the persons of Mary of Nazareth, whose prophetic canticle we will sing today in closing and Mary of Magdala. Why was it necessary to diminish the roles of these prophetic, priestly women? One word friends—power. And we know that those who have the power have the control to spin the story in the way that they wish. Yet, throughout history, who has it been that have primarily taught the children, got them and their men to Church, but the women? Who are the ones who have been so faithful and trained so well to do all that “Father” has asked over the years?—the women.
In my opening remarks friends, Joan Chittister’s sentiment that women need courage and men need humility is absolutely true if our Church is to survive and to thrive—the youth, those who are thinking, have already, for the most part, turned their backs on this archaic model of Church that doesn’t allow all the voices to be heard. Women must stop being men’s doormats, affirming everything that they utter—women are as capable of being vessels for the Holy Spirit as are men and it is time that we begin!
And it’s time to do this for our men, so that they can be all that they were called to be. And the men have a wonderful example in Fr. Roy Bourgeois who so humbly has stated, “How can we men claim to have calls from God and act on them when we deny the same to women?” How indeed?!
Friends, this is an issue about power from the male standpoint, and about ministry from the female standpoint. “Power over others,” instead of “love over others” allows for a Church and world that abuses its women through violence of all kinds—human trafficking to name just one. If you haven’t yet read President Jimmy Carter’s book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, do pick it up—we have a copy in our library. It’s unconscionable the evil done to women around the world because of their lack of voice and subsequent power. This is an issue that we all need to be aware of and take responsibility for, for the women in our lives, and for all the men too, so that we can all be the people we were called to be.
Perhaps we would be wise to invite more of the voices of women to our national discussions, to our Church tables, at the highest levels, to have for once, the full complement of the face of God. Perhaps it is time to set all the captives free, allow all those called to serve to in fact do it, to give full voice to all the prophets—perhaps it is time! Yes, perhaps it is time, in the memory of Mary of Magdala, Mary of Nazareth, both, priests and prophets, and faithful witnesses to the memory of Jesus of Nazareth–perhaps, it is time!!! Amen? Amen!