Mary Magdalene

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​I have always been intrigued by Mary Magdalene, maybe because with all the followers of Jesus she kind of stood out. She wasn’t his mother or other family member; she wasn’t the daughter or spouse of one of his followers, but she seemed to drift in and out of the Gospels much the way the other Apostles did. She was from the same area as most of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee, probably from the fishing town of Magdala, which appears to give her its name.

While Jesus didn’t particularly send her on mission work away from him as he did with the other Apostles, she was there to witness His ministry and evangelize about it, traveling after the Resurrection to the far reaches of Gaul, preaching His Word there, and then spending her final years in prayer and contemplation in a cave in France, near Arles, called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Prior to her thirty years of solitude, she preached and taught after arriving in a rudderless boat, showing us modern Catholics the inclusion of women preachers from the beginning. (One needs only look to St. Brigid and St. Hildegard of Bingen for two examples that Mary was not the only woman in this role). Her journey is not well documented, and as with much of her life is sometimes conflated with both Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman (from Luke’s Gospel). However, she is mentioned by name twelve times throughout all four Gospels suggesting that had she been anyone else, it would have been mentioned. It took until 1969 when the conflation was officially removed by Pope Paul VI and she was acknowledged on her own.

For a long time, and sometimes even today, she was thought to be a prostitute or the wife of Jesus, both of which are deemed historically inaccurate. On the other hand, she was beset by seven demons, all of which Jesus drove away. She may have chosen to follow him after he performed this miracle and returned her to herself. Either way, she appears to have been a part of his earthly ministry for most of his time and then after. Unfortunately, she left behind no writings of her own.

I also find the stories of her prominence in Jesus’ discipleship believable because of John and Paul’s depiction of her in such an important and dominant part of the resurrection narrative. I have observed both of them to be sexist and dismissive of women, and so I think their inclusion of Mary gives more weight to her role as well as a stronger plausibility in my mind. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he characterizes her as the first apostle.

In appearing in all four Gospels as she did, she is shown from different perspectives and parts of the whole story of what she witnessed. Being the earliest of the four, I’m more inclined to agree with Mark’s image of the empty tomb rather than some of the other representations.

She traveled alongside Jesus as he led his ministry both as witness and disciple. She isn’t seen in a woman’s role (as Martha and Mary were in their household). She also is not an elder wise woman or a mother like Elizabeth. She asks for little if anything unlike the mother of Apostles, James and John. In fact, Luke’s Gospel talks about her support of Jesus’ ministry financially.

She remained in Jerusalem and near to Jesus for the crucifixion, his burial, and resurrection. She is the one who discovered that his tomb was empty and was the first witness of that event, and upon further scrutiny discovered Jesus himself, although she did not recognize him at first. He directed her to return to the other apostles and announce his return. She was the first one to testify to his Resurrection, and in telling the Good News to the Apostles, she is rightly called the Apostle to the Apostles.

Her feast day is today, and a few of her patronages are close to my own heart. In addition to places she is patron of, she also watches over and intercedes for apothecaries, contemplative life, converts, and women.

Today’s Readings:

Collect 

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 20:1-2, 11-18 

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”Jesus said to her, “Mary!”She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”and then reported what he told her.

Further reading:

Who was Mary Magdalene?
Unknown Role of Christian Women in the Early Church
Thoughts on Women in Ministry
Did the Vatican Hide Art that Depicted Female Priests?

Blessed Feast Day of St. Joan of Arc

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I was born to do this.

As I set out my writing schedule for the rest of this month and next month, I was surprised at how much randomly drew my mind back to my childhood, my “girl”-hood and the heroes I had as a young person. They’ve returned to me over the years in one way or another. I wrote briefly yesterday about my recent encounters with Harriet Tubman. Next month is the birthday of Anne Frank who I loved and revered as a child, and who I will write about then. The CW network has a new series coming out in the fall of Nancy Drew! I loved the books, still do, and the series with the Hardy Boys from the 70s/80s. Laura Ingalls also comes to mind and of course her television counterpart, Melissa Gilbert.

Today, however, is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. As a child learning about and reading about her, I don’t think I knew she was a saint. We weren’t Catholic, so my only exposure to Joan would have been through school books and history books as well as book reports and those types of school assignments that I was expected to do.

I have always believed in voices from beyond or experiences that don’t always fit neatly into our boxes to be tied with a ribbon. What’s funny and ironic in that belief is my usual cynicism that grabs onto any and every thought, but meeting ghosts, hearing voices, seeing visions, I almost accept universally, although myself more while less so from others along with a healthy grain of salt.

Like me, Joan of Arc was a girl. She sat under a tree and contemplated and when she heard the words from G-d, she was not immediately accepting, but she acquiesced to her duty. She changed her clothes, her ways, taking on the mantle of a soldier, cutting her hair short, donning a helm, armor and gauntlets and boots. She was determined to do G-d’s will, and she wouldn’t back down despite the lack of seriousness the men offered to her words. She boosted the French army’s morale.

They would eventually follow her to victory.

Was she fearless?

Probably not, but she had faith. Not faith in her survival, but in following G-d’s guidance and trusting in his will.

She was taken prisoner by an English faction and was put on trial for heresy by a pro-English bishop. The determination was already set; it was nothing more than a show trial. I was taken by some of the questions they asked her and the answers she gave.

In one exchange, they asked about when she saw the vision of the Archangel Michael and wanted to know if he was naked. I think that this was a real moment of misogyny (amidst all of the other examples of medieval misogyny) to try and embarrass her or suggest that this wasn’t G-d’s work, but some child’s fantasy.

Question at Trial: “Was he naked?”

“Do you think God has not wherewithal to clothe him?”

In the end, Joan of Arc was found guilty and was burned at the stake. She knew she was being punished by man; not G-d.

And it wasn’t long after, twenty-five years that the church reversed itself. Pope Callixtus III pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr. She actually wasn’t officially canonized in 1920.

She is the patron of soldiers, prisoners, and people ridiculed for their piety among others.

As with Harriet Tubman, there was a alot more here than I ever learned, and I’ve only scratched the surface.

My favorite quote of hers with context:

Question at Trial: “Do you know if you are in the grace of God?”

“If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest in all the world if I knew that I were not in the grace of God. But if I were in a state of sin, do you think the Voice would come to me? I would that every one could hear the Voice as I hear it. I think I was about thirteen when it came to me for the first time.”Joan of Arc

(Source: from https://www.biographyonline.net/quotes/joan-arc.html)

Please take the time and read The Song of Joan of Arc by Christine de Pizan. This link that I’ve shared also includes the transcripts of the trials and other documents. I think you’ll find them fascinating.

St. Elen, Pray for Us

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Today is the feast day of my own saint, Saint Elen. There is little known about her, but I still find what is available about her fasinating. It’s taken me more than a few years to complete this project, and hopefully next week, I will have actual cards made for anyone who wishes one, but for now, I’d like to share with you the prayer card I made for my patron: St. Elen.

Continue reading

Sister Thea Bowman, A Ministry of Joy

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Sister Thea Bowman addressing the USCCB:

Sr. Thea Bowman was born in 1937 on December 29th. This was in Mississippi and her parents named her Bertha. She was the granddaughter of slaves; her parents were a doctor and a teacher. She was raised Methodist, but when she was nine years old, she converted to Roman Catholicism. At 15, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Over the years, she received a B.A., a M.A., and a PhD in English and then went on to teach. She also received an honorary doctorate in theology from Boston College. She was a poet, a preacher, and a teacher, and she used all of those embodiments to bring a light to her calling that couldn’t help but be infectious to her contemporaries and those of us who have come after and continue to read of her works.

“When we understand our history and culture, then we can develop the ritual, the music and the devotional expression that satisfy us in the Church.”

She said this and it illustrates her impact on the development of a particular worship dedicated to and for Black Catholics. She was invaluable in the 1987 publication of the Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Arican-American Catholic Hymnal.

Her essay, The Gift of African-American Sacred Song can be downloaded by clicking on the title.

Her “ministry of joy” led the Diocese of Mississippi to bring her on as a consultant for intercultural awareness. In reading up on Sr. Thea, I really preferred this descriptor of intercultural rather than multi-cultural. It feels more natural to me. A person who knew her called her “the springtime in everyone’s life,” a visual that leaps out in color and light and blue sky.

Imagine what more she could have done and influenced in the past twenty-nine years had she not died at the young age of 52, on today’s date in 1990 of bone cancer.

There are at least twelve institutions named for her from Boston in the east to as far west as Illinois.

The Diocese (of Mississippi) has begun the research into Sr. Thea’s “heroic virtues” after which a cause for canonization can be opened in Rome if warranted.

Two of her written works you could look into for more from Sr. Thea are:

Families, Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. Commission on Marriage and Family Life, 1985.

Thea Bowman: In My Own Words. Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7648-1782-3. index of Bowman’s speeches, writings, and interviews, with a brief biographical sketch and epilogue (with Maurice J. Nutt)

I will leave you with her own words that spoke to me prayerfully earlier this week:

“Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world, but if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey, then I’ve done what I’m called to do.

Sundays in Lent – 4th Saturday

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Blessed be
the grass beneath my feet,
the sky above my head,
the air in my lungs,
the wind at my back,
the scent of incense,
and the sight of its rising.

Confess as Patrick
Share Christ’s voice as Columba
Spread my cloak across the land as Brigid
Teach and write as Finbarr, Aidan, and Bede
Navigate the way as Brendan

Blessed be
the shelter, the sustenance, the faith.
Follow.
Be present.
Be open.

Blessed be we.

20/52 – St. Elen, my patron saint

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There is very little information on St. Elen, the saint I chose for my confirmation. She is the patron of road builders and travellers. She is coincidentally from the place I visited in 2009 without knowing it as well as one of her holy wells being in the town I visited in 1987, also unbeknownst to me. I’m hoping to pilgrimage there this summer if at all possible.

Here is some insight into some of the reasons I chose her.

This is copied from my original post about St. Elen.

Initially, I was seeking out a Welsh saint because of my long spiritual connection to Wales and the Celtic peoples, but upon discovering St. Elen, I discovered that there were several other reasons why I connected to her.

First and foremost, Ellen was my mother’s middle name and it gives me a connection to her as I join the church. My first teacher, who taught me lessons of generosity and the importance of family.

Secondly, Elen is from Caernarfon, the town in which I stayed for three nights in 2009. It hadn’t been on my list of places to visit until a Welsh friend randomly suggested it that I should go there and see the castle.

Her daughter is said to have married Vortigern, the only source for their marriage being carved on the Eliseg Pillar which is very near Valle Crucis Abbey, another Welsh place I gravitated to.

Ellen is also one of my favorite television characters: mother, business owner, independent, smart, how could I go wrong?