Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Lectionary: 603

The Bride says: 
On my bed at night I sought him 
whom my heart loves– 
I sought him but I did not find him. 
I will rise then and go about the city; 
in the streets and crossings I will seek 
Him whom my heart loves.

When many people think of the word Catholic or Catholic Church the first thing they think of is a Roman Catholic teaching about sexuality. It might be the issue of birth control or abortion. It might concern "homosexual marriage" or the required celibacy of priests. Or perhaps it's the refusal to ordain women. Many people rightly suspect the Church has a low opinion of transgender medical procedures. And extra-marital sex is still out of the question. Artificial insemination? No, thank you. We also frown upon incest; marriage is permitted only between persons who do not have a first degree (mother/son or father/daughter), second degree (brother/sister) or third degree (uncle/niece, aunt/nephew.) Fourth degree (first cousins) relations are reluctantly permitted. 

If a fertile couple intends not to have children -- that is, not to accept them as a gracious gift from our generous God -- they do not have the wherewithal to be married. Likewise if they intend to be unfaithful, or marry with the proviso that they might divorce, they may appear to be married but are not. 

No matter the issue, if it's sex, we've got a teaching, policy or position; and it's probably not conformed to the currently popular opinion. 

Unfortunately, that negative publicity overshadows our enthusiastically favorable attitude toward sexuality. Especially, we love the Sacrament of Marriage. Even a grade school child should notice that neither religious life nor celibacy is a sacrament, while marriage is. 

Historically, that has been controversial. There is a shadow tradition of Manichean heresies among Christians, beginning even before the birth of Jesus. They have always despised Marriage. Their dualism sees only good and evil: the divine is good, human is evil; spirit is good, flesh is evil; male is good, female is evil; friends are good, enemies are evil; and so forth. Manichaens  have opposed the institution of marriage because  they suspect everything about flesh, desire and pleasure. But it's a lot easier to suppress marriage than sexuality; the very people who despise the sacrament as carnal often slip into carnality. 

Clearly, by anyone's account, Saint Mary Magdalene was attracted to Jesus. Thousands of people flocked to hear his words and to be healed by his touch; she readily joined the throng. Did she have a sexual relationship with him? Only in the fantasies of today's sexually-obsessed public. There's no indication of that in scripture. 

Much can be made from an argument of silence -- that is, "Just because the Bible doesn't say it doesn't mean it didn't happen." -- but nothing persuasive. An argument from silence could just as well suppose Jesus traveled to China. 

We celebrate Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus. She wept at his grave and he appeared to her on Easter Sunday. Their embrace ended when he sent her to tell the others. We know little more than that about her. She loved him intensely and he loved her as well. Like every relationship of two persons, like your relationship to Jesus and like mine: theirs was absolutely unique. 

But of course there were sexual feelings as there are around any desirable male or female. Did Jesus exploit the desires of the women or men who came to him? That would fit no one's image of Jesus. 

We honor Saint Mary Magdalene among the disciples of Jesus for her chaste devotion to him. During this licentious age, insanely preoccupied with sex and gratification, we pray that her Spirit might guide us in all our gatherings, conversations and interactions. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.