Today I was inspired on this feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22), to sit down and write some thoughts that will be published in a few bulletins later. It has been months since we concluded the Easter Season, yet the glories of the season should shine throughout the whole year and within the examples of every saint canonized in our Catholic Church—like the light from the sun at dawn cascading over thousands of ripples on the sea. In fact, saints such as Mary Magdalene help us understand that the promise of new life in the Risen Christ is the central mystery and power of the Gospel that must continue to play out in our lives throughout the whole year. St. Mary Magdalene had been personally transformed from a cavity of darkness from whom Jesus cast out seven devils to a new creation—even being privileged to be the first to see the risen Lord on Easter morning (John 20:1-2, 11-18).
Now think about it from the twelve apostles’ perspective. They were the ones whom were hand-picked by Jesus. They could have dismissed this woman with a tattered past as an embarrassment or smudge on the early fledgling Christian community. They could have told her, “Stay away…keep quiet… don’t claim association with us because we fear your notorious reputation will set others against us and Christ’s mission.” Although there is no evidence of this in the Gospels, it is a temptation likely to have been pressing up against their minds. We all are very often quick to judge or dismiss others in this way. The famous Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, explains this human temptation to eradicate and dismiss evil in others. Yet as he suggests, it is not that simple:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
Akin to the temptation to judge others and label them in our minds is that which comes out through our lips in the sin of gossip. Like sinful acts, gossip pulls down a blanket of darkness fostering ill will, suspicion, and fear. Whether as recipients, culprits, or even victims, we all unfortunately experience the damage this causes in the body of Christ. It appears in two forms: detraction and calumny. Detraction is speaking about others with regard to matters that do not concern us. In this form of gossip, we may not have any intention to hurt another’s reputation, yet the fact that we are sharing what seems to be the truth regarding the supposed immorality or misfortune of another is wrong in itself. (See Matthew 18:15ff and the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2477 regarding how to handle this). We must ask ourselves, Do I know every aspect of the situation? Could it be possible that things were handled in a careful way and even involved others that I simply do not know about? Is it any of my business or the person’s whom I’m tempted to tell? Would I want others sharing such information about me—true or untrue? Does this information (false or true) hurt the faith and trust of our younger generation?... The other form of gossip, calumny, is far worse. This is deliberately spreading rumors about others with the intention to injure another’s reputation. This might occur due to scorn, envy, or to cover up the truth, and is particularly ugly.
No person is perfect and no situation is either; really only God knows the full story. The best we can do is pray, act with prudence, and hope for the best, so that truth, charity, and justice and mercy win out in the end. It’s one thing to condone or promote what we know to be an evil situation (such as permitting abuse or remaining silent during thievery over time), but it’s quite another to condemn others or even gossip about what is perceived to have occurred in the past. Again, did the apostles condemn St. Mary Magdalene? No. The Pharisees, on the other hand, follow this path by criticizing Christ for, “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (see Luke 5:29-39). Jesus challenges us to cast nets instead of casting stones (Jn 8:7). Gossip often aids the darkness in confirming sinfulness over redemption. In his wonderful book titled Conversion, Fr. Donald Haggerty explains this obstacle to the Good News: “The adversary, the evil one, wants to accuse us of a perpetual unworthiness before God, of unsuitability for any friendship with God,” resulting with a lack of confidence in drawing close to the Lord, a feeling of disqualification, a perception that the door is closed (Haggerty 58).
Yet the brilliant beauty of the Gospel is meant to shine on such as these! It is for these poor souls that Jesus, as foreshadowed in Moses, came to set us free from slavery and imprisonment. Fr. Haggerty continues, “Desires for an absolute purity and generosity awaken sometimes at the edge of what could have been a ruined life… The soul scarred by former sin is sometimes, after grace, the soul that will give without reserve. It is not at all an exaggeration to affirm that great sinners often do become hidden saints” (42-43).
Again, this is why St. Mary Magdalene is so special and fits so beautifully within our story of salvation. Because of her perseverance in seeking out Christ and God’s desire to bring her new life, we find a model for our own lives and the possibility for every one of us sinners on earth. It is a cause for real joy! As Jesus exclaims, “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Lk 15:7). The new life for St. Mary Magdalene, St. Augustine, and countless others is the bread and butter of God’s work in our Church. As St. Paul claims,
“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
May the goodness of the risen Christ continue to always shine forth in not only our actions but all our hope and encouragement we offer for others whom God is calling to the gates of heaven with all of the angels and saints. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us to always spread the light of the Gospel!