At the Mary Magdalen celebration held in Albany on July 23rd, a magnificent homily was presented by MaryAnn Louison of Amsterdam. It is reprinted below.
Also the “Table of Honor”, below, was full of items brought in by members and friends. The Items held special spiritual significance to the individuals and they shared their stories by writing information on cards placed next to the items.
Homily for the Feast of Mary Magdalene
by MaryAnn Dignazio Louison
What’s in a name?
William Shakespeare penned in “Romeo and Juliet”: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
What is in a name, then? An identity? An image? A memory? A story?
Mary Magdalene…Mary of Magdala…The Magdalene…Miriam (the likely form of Mary in biblical times) or just plain Mary as Jesus addressed her in the garden…
The Mary that we celebrate today would answer to all of these…
We celebrate Mary Magdalene, a woman so long caught up in mistaken identities (prostitute, penitent, public sinner); until finally gaining the reputation of her true self – first and foremost, a woman of her times (and yet not of her times, for she goes beyond it and reaches out to us as a woman for our time, as well).
Mary Magdalene, a woman who received Jesus’ invitation to come, to follow, and to proclaim and that she did!
We may not know much about Mary Magdalene from the stories, but we know enough about her to recognize her leadership among the women and the apostles that were part of her community circles. Mary Magdalene, the one woman, who has a name that takes a significant role in every gospel. Mary Magdalene, the one woman who is mentioned more than any other woman – save Mary, the Mother of Jesus – in the Gospels. In her time, that is no small feat.
Mary Magdalene whose words bearing the news “I have seen the Lord,” resound through centuries. They enliven us still today as we proclaim with our lives that we too have seen the Lord.
But now, just “what if”? What if there had been no Mary Magdalene…what if Mary Magdalene had been so overcome by apathy, fear, or indifference and not accept the call to discipleship…or what if, in that early morning darkness she allowed herself to give in to the darkness within herself – either of her own making – or the influence of others – and decided not to enter the tomb…not at all!
That would have changed the whole story. Would there even be a resurrection story? What would we celebrate…The name of Mary Magdalene would be unknown to us…Her witness and her proclamation: “I have seen the Lord” would not have received or heard, not just among her own circles but in the ever widening ripples that have been sent out through the ages and lives among us today.
Instead, Mary Magdalene brought total presence to her circumstances and the need at hand. She faces the darkness, stays on until the light appears, informs her community of disciples what she has experienced, returns with them, and this time, does not leave but stays behind as they return to their “usual” lives. Her life can never be usual again.
She confronts the perceived gardener (the Jesus she did not recognize), tactfully and straightforwardly: “Sir, tell me where you laid him and I will take him”. You’ll take him, Mary? You, a woman, already deemed uncleaned by your very womanliness – your value seen only in being someone else’s property? You would take him? Mary, what were you thinking?
Maybe, this is our insight into what Mary Magdalene had been thinking. With that response to action, Mary does what she has done all along. She shatters the stereotypes, attitudes, and expectations placed on women of her day. Her “role” is not a role, but rather a presence as a disciple and a leader in the early forming church.
We ask today in the midst of judgments and declarations that make one wonder, “What is the role of women in the church?” I say, look at Mary Magdalene. The question instead becomes: “What role could there possible be where women could not have a presence in the church?” What place could there possibly be that women could not go? Mary Magdalene did what needed to be done in the circumstances of her day, in spite of the cultural and societal and yes, even religious attitudes in which she lived. It was Mary’s acceptance of discipleship in which she placed her full presence that leads us to know that is no place or function that need disregard the contribution and participation of women.
Yes, we are centuries apart from Mary of Magdala. Yet, the images, memories and stories which encompass that name moves us forward from the dark spaces into the light, crossing barriers and widening circles.
Look around us gathered tonight. Think of the names that represent us…our own and the names of those we carry in our being. We carry the spirits of so many who have been a part of our creation and our continual recreation of who we are…especially as church.
Mary’s presence and the presence of the other women we remember and hold in our hearts today has brought us to where we stand and who we stand with…we have new meaning, too, with the idea of “standing with” as we remember the “sisters” and all sisters of our church. We are in solidarity with the women past, present and to come who continually chip away at the walls, crack the glass ceilings, and pry open those shuttered windows and doors. And yes, we recognize the men who collaborate with us as equals especially within our church structures and we are grateful.
What is women’s role? I say again, what could there possibly be that isn’t our role…where could there possible be a place that we could not go…or have not already been…?
You have seen us on the bus and off, or waiting in welcome for the bus to arrive or blessing its departures. You have been with us in the cathedrals and out side the cathedrals, on the river and on the shore…
You see us and pass us by in the churches we built of brick and mortar, and in the churches/the sacred places that God created/the lives of the people on the highways and byways of the People of God; some of whom may never enter the “church” by the doorway of a building, yet just might enter through the door of a listening heart and compassionate spirit.
So, then, in the name of Mary Magdalene, let us rejoice in this feast by taking her message “I have seen the Lord” and proclaiming it to a church of wide open doors and windows…minds and hearts for we have all seen the Lord.
And let the church say Amen!!!