St. Mary Magdalene and Me  


It is July 22nd, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and I am caught up in the mystery that has surrounded her life, or more accurately, people’s interpretations of her through the ages.

In my youth, I first saw her as the woman in Luke’s Gospel chapter 7, who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with ointment from an alabaster jar, and then dried them with her hair. I admired how she showed her love for Jesus. If only I could show that depth of love!

Then came the story of how Jesus had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene in Luke chapter 8. I also heard, that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, yet a faithful bearer of the Good News that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was too confusing for my young mind. I could have said, “Will the real Mary Magdalene please stand up!”

Being a cradle Catholic, I was shocked that there was no biblical evidence that she was a prostitute or public sinner. As I later discovered, she is mentioned twelve times in the Gospels, most of the references being around the crucifixion and the empty tomb.

Mary of Magdala remained an enigma to me as I was growing up. Fast forward to the summer of 1972, that found me watching the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” outdoors in the Hollywood Hills. That starlit night, I found the character Mary Magdalene sensually singing, “I don’t know how to love him.” How was I to take all this, having newly arrived from Bombay, India?!

Then came Mary Magdalene depicted as the sexy saint in Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The film falsely identified Mary Magdalene as the woman in John’s Gospel chapter 8:3-11 stoned for adultery.

As I began to study God’s Word, I found out that Mary Magdalene has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misconstrued through the centuries as a prostitute, when in reality she was called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” She was a beloved disciple of Jesus, and an early church leader.

When talking about Jesus’ resurrection, scripture scholar Mary Thomson author of Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader says, “It’s really remarkable that all four gospels have the same story.” In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, Mary actually sees the Risen Lord. John’s Gospel however has details of Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, and mistaking Jesus for the gardener. It is only when Jesus calls her by name that she recognizes him, and joyfully runs ahead announcing, “I have seen the Lord.”

The Gospel stories took on new meaning for me when I first visited the Holy Land in 2008. As we drove through Magdala, a centre of commercial fishing on the northwest bank of the Sea of Galilee, I pictured Mary Magdalene leaving her home to follow Jesus.

We are told that she was independent and appeared to be well-off, yet her debt of gratitude to Jesus for driving away her demons knew no bounds. She was present during Jesus’ public ministry, at the foot of the cross, and at the burial. Grief stricken, Mary was also at the tomb on Easter Sunday. Jesus rewarded her faithfulness by choosing her to be the one to spread the news that he had risen.

In Mary Magdalene I recognize a lived discipleship. Changed by her encounter with Jesus, she realized that she was a loved sinner, as I see myself now, having walked through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Great was her love for Jesus, because she had tasted the healing love of forgiveness.

I foolishly told myself that I was not going to cry when watching the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany in 2010. However, when I heard Jesus cry in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani”, and saw the group at the foot of the cross, my tears flowed freely.

The woman who had served us a meal earlier that day, was now Mary Magdalene, in the role of a life time. I suddenly saw Mary of Magdala as the faithful, devoted follower of Jesus who had experiential knowledge of him, and that changed her forever. She was called by name, “Miriam,” and so have I, in the garden of my life, by “Rabbouni” her divine teacher, and mine.

Richard Rohr says it best when he exclaims that, “Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself – needed, given, received, and passed on. She is a stand-in for all of us who seek an intimate and loving relationship with the divine.”

It is fitting that Pope Francis in 2016 elevated her memorial to a feast day on the Roman calendar. The woman once shrouded in mystery is celebrated the same way as the male apostles.

Viola Athaide, a student of Theology, is actively involved in parish life, leading Bible courses, the Prayer Group, and the Ministry with Maturing Adults.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 08:52h, 18 September Reply

    Thank you Viola!

  • Sylvia Lee
    Posted at 09:09h, 18 September Reply

    Thanks Viola for sharing your understanding of Mary Magdalene from your young age to the present. Incredible sharing ! I learned more about this early church leader today.

    Mary Magdelene is a beloved disciple of Jesus, the “Apostle to the Apostles” indeed !

    God bless you, Viola !

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 09:28h, 18 September Reply

    A relatable overview of Mary Magdalene, Viola.
    Her story outside the tomb has always been a meaningful light of hope for me.

  • Sami Helewa, SJ
    Posted at 11:29h, 18 September Reply

    Thank you for an honest reflection of one of the great figures in the Gospels.

  • Linda Rego
    Posted at 11:31h, 18 September Reply

    Wonderful insight into the life of Mary of Magdala, Viola. Thank you again.

  • Grace Colella
    Posted at 13:27h, 18 September Reply

    Informative and touching. Thank you Viola!

  • Sr. Teresita Kambeitz, OSU
    Posted at 15:15h, 18 September Reply

    I share your excitement in discovering the real Mary Magdalene whose name means ‘tower’. A favorite icon of mine shows her standing at the foot of the cross with her arms around the shoulders of Jesus’ mother as her tower of support. Thank you ever so much for sharing your story, Viola!
    Sr. Teresita Kambeitz, OSU

  • Doreen Pinto
    Posted at 12:03h, 19 September Reply

    Thanks Viola for your beautiful article on Mary of Magdala. I have learnt a lot from it. I think meditating on Mary of Magdala – her presence at the foot of the cross, and how grateful she felt for being healed by Christ would be a powerful way to help others be healed too.
    God Bless.

  • Fay Vaz
    Posted at 19:33h, 19 September Reply

    Thanks for sharing – so well written and great learning of your discovery of Mary Magdalene for me.
    God bless you Viola

  • Christine Domingo
    Posted at 08:20h, 20 September Reply

    Viola, thank you for this beautiful sharing of your reflections on Mary Magdalene. I have often questioned who the real Mary was and I appreciate the detail you bring to the fore. God bless you for allowing us to walk with you through this journey. ❤️

  • janet
    Posted at 17:22h, 20 September Reply

    Thanks Viola. Thanks for bringing Mary Magdalene alive on paper.

  • Jacqui
    Posted at 08:11h, 21 September Reply

    You never cease to bring new insite. Thank you for my new appreciation of Mary of Magdelene and her role in the life of Jesus and my own.
    God bless you.

  • Lorella D'Cruz
    Posted at 08:47h, 24 September Reply

    Viola has contributed to my understanding of one of the first female followers of Christ. Like many others, I did not (until Viola’s exposition) comprehend her true identity. Mary Magdalene will henceforth always represent, for me, service and devotion to Christ, who fittingly rewarded her when she visited His sepulchre on Easter morning.

  • Bonnie Azevedo
    Posted at 13:42h, 24 September Reply

    Thank you Viola, for sharing, Mary Magdalene has been my icon and
    your message is interesting.
    God bless you.

  • maria susanto
    Posted at 07:56h, 25 September Reply

    Thank you Viola, having read your writting, changed my perception on her. Well written.

  • maria susanto
    Posted at 07:57h, 25 September Reply

    Thank you Viola.

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